Let’s remove the mystery and intimidation from making pie pastry, okay? This simple Flaky Pastry with Butter and Lard and a few tips will put you on the right track to making tasty, flaky pie crusts every time.
I’m a self-confessed pastry aficionado. For as long as I can remember, the best part of a classic fruit pie or even a butter tart is the pastry. In fact, I’m generally more interested in it than the filling (except for pumpkin pie, but even then I still want that crust to be flaky).
Sad to say, it’s hard to find a flaky pie crust in most establishments. Luckily for me, my favourite bakery cafe, the Black Walnut here in London, makes ahhh-mazing flaky pastries and I doff my hat to them every time I leave with flakes all over my shirt.
See the flaky layers in the close-up picture of that peach pie above? That’s what I’m talking about. Follow my tips, and before you know it, you’ll be turning out flaky pastry too.
Flaky Pastry for Pies: The Fats
There are different types of pastry doughs, like short crust, filo and puff pastry, but it’s flaky pastry that holds first place for me.
Fat is a key ingredient in making pie pastry. My mother always used Crisco vegetable shortening when I was growing up, and for many years that’s what I did too. And mostly I used the recipe right on the box.
But my tastes have changed and these days I prefer my crusts to be made with either all butter or a mixture of butter and lard. Since recommended to me by a friend a few years ago, my preference has been to make a butter and lard crust. But not always.
But no matter the fat you use, you can make a flavourful crust that flakes up most satisfyingly if you follow the tips below.
Eggs and Vinegar or Not?
You don’t need to add egg and vinegar to your pie dough, but it’s something I almost always do. Maybe because that’s how Mom did it, and if you ever had a piece of Mom’s pie you wouldn’t want to change things either.
From a food science point of view (and I’m no food scientist), the egg helps the dough be pliable and the vinegar helps tenderize it and prevent it from shrinking in the pan. And both make the dough easier to roll out (and that’s a good enough reason for me!). Check out this short article, Food Science: The Anatomy of a Pie Crust, for more information.
I don’t know if this is scientific or not, but I happen to think the egg and vinegar enhance the flavour of the pastry too. I’ve made pastry using neither, and it just wasn’t the same for me. Now I’m thinking I need to conduct some side-by-side taste testing. But let’s keep it real … that likely won’t happen.
Tips to Ensure Flakiness
Before I get into that, would you like to see another picture of the results of this exercise in flakiness? How about this one …
Now, carrying on, let’s dispel the mystery surrounding flaky pastry. There are two key tips to ensuring flakiness:
- Keep things cold
- Work the dough lightly
Keeping Things Cold
For me, this means using cold fat, a cold egg, and cold water. Then work quickly to bring the dough together and get it into the fridge to chill before you roll it out.
Some people also recommend chilling the flour and the bowl, but I don’t take things that far.
So, why is chilling so important? Here’s my layperson explanation: if you allow the fat to warm, it will melt into the dough, resulting in a tough crust. If there are still little bits of cold fat in the dough when it goes into the oven, the heat will cause the fat to melt and some steaming action to occur, both of which create little pockets in the dough. The result? A layered, flaky crust.
How long to chill that dough? I’ve seen ranges from 20 minutes to a couple of hours. Personally, I don’t like it to be too stiff when it’s time to roll it out. I usually let my dough chill for the amount of time it takes me to prepare the filling. If I do make it a few hours or a day or so ahead, I let it sit out until it’s still quite cool but more pliable before attempting to roll it.
Working the Dough Lightly
Since you’re working with flour, if you overwork the dough you’ll overdevelop the gluten and it will become tough. I work quickly using my trusty pastry cutter. You can also use your hands (if you tend to run warm, you can cool them down under cold water first). Some people cut the fat into the dough using two knives — that method just doesn’t work for me, but it doesn’t mean it won’t work for you.
(Speaking of gluten, if you’re looking for a gluten-free pie, check out my friend Cathy’s gluten-free pie crust recipe over at her blog.)
When a pinch of the dough holds together, it’s time to pull the dough together into two disks, working quickly and with a light touch. Wrap them up, and get them chilling. And you can take a deep breath and chill a bit too.
When the dough is ready to roll, again you want to work fairly quickly. Remember, if the dough warms up too much, the fat will melt into the flour mixture. The result will be a dough that’s harder to pick up and put into the pie plate without tearing, and a tougher, non-flaky dough.
Let’s Make that Flaky Pastry Now
The following is the recipe I used to make the pastry you see in the peach pie that’s featured here. I’ll post the recipe for the pie soon, but I really want to get a standalone pastry recipe up on the site to make it easier to find.
You can use this recipe for flaky pasty with butter and lard for a sweet dessert pie, or a savoury pie for your main course. Like this tourtière I made for Christmas dinner one year.
And one last thing … try to relax and ease into the whole pastry-making thing. There’s an idea out there that making pie pastry is difficult. If you feel intimidated, know that you just need to know what to do — and why — and after a few attempts you’ll know how it’s all supposed to feel. And then you’ll be saying, “That was easy as pie!”
This butter and lard-based pastry creates a flavourful and flaky pie crust. Just keep the dough cool (and keep your cool too) and before you know it, you'll be turning out pies like nobody's business. This recipe makes enough for one double-crust pie. You can use this pasty for a sweet or savoury pie.
- 21/3 cups flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup butter, cold
- 1/2 cup lard, cold
- 1 egg, cold
- 2 tsp vinegar
- 2 tbsp water, very cold
Stir the flour and salt together in a large bowl.
Cut the butter and lard into cubes and add them to the flour. Using a pastry cutter or your cool hands, work quickly to cut the fats into the flour, until the mixture forms large crumbs (about the size of peas).
Briskly stir the egg and vinegar together in a glass or small dish, and stir lightly into the flour and fat mixture using a fork. Add the first tablespoon of cold water and continue to lightly stir the dough. Add more water if needed so the dough just holds together when you pinch a dollop.
Quickly pull the dough together into a large ball. Divide it in half and lightly pat each half into a disk with smooth edges (don't fuss to much about that). Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to an hour or so.
To roll out the dough, lightly flour your surface, the top and bottom of the disk you're working with, and the rollling pin. Quickly roll the dough from the centre to the outside, rotating it aas you go. When it's about half the size you're looking for, lightly flour the top of the dough again, as well as the rolling pin if needed. Flip the over and continue to roll until it's the desired size.
When all is going as it should, the dough won't get cracks, but sometimes it does (yup, for me too). You can push the cracked edges together and maybe patch them with a little more pastry if need be.
To put the dough into the pie pan, loosely roll the dough about 2/3 of the way onto the rolling pin. Lift the dough and postition the hanging part of it over the back of the pie plate. Then unroll the rest of the dough over the pan.
Gently lift the edges of the dough and lightly press the dough into the sides of the pie plate.
Work quickly to prepare the top crust in the same way. Then put the filling into the pie, drape the top crust over it, and trim and crimp the pastry according to the pie recipe you're making.