Epic pie crust failure

Joined Oct 19, 2009
Sorry this may be a little long.....a little backround first, I've made pies in school (about a year ago though) and successful pate brisee, and this Thanksgiving I figured I would try out an apple pie. I tried to make a flaky crust.

Attempt 1: I made a test pie by using the formula in Professional Baking; I used crisco shortening, cake flour, ice water, etc. and cut the fat into the flour until it formed large pieces. The crust turned out waaaay to crumbly. More crumb than crust really. I mixed in the water till the dough was moist and came together, later I thought I mixed in too much water as the dough was actually moist and somewhat sticky.

Attempt 2: I thought my problem was too much water and maybe flour too strong as the formula called for pastry flour and I used cake. I used the same formula only I used lard, and to compensate for the stronger flour I used Calvados which is 40% alcohol (alcohol will not form gluten). I let the dough rest a couple hours but when I rolled it out it barely held together and the baked product was also extremely crumbly.

The lard crust had great flavor but it was somewhat dry and crumbled completely. I'm starting to think the cake flour I used is too fine for a pie crust and the reason for my failure. Where did I go wrong?
Joined Feb 13, 2008
First and most obviously: Your flour is too soft. Switch to AP flour and that will probably fix the problem. Not many pie crust recipes call for pastry or cake.

As a rule, the less flour glutens are developed the better, which means the less raw dough is worked, the better. As part of the same rule, the work the dough gets when rolled out is enough. You, on the other hand, may want to work it just a bit. Try kneading it two or three times before wrapping and resting. At this stage, we're more concerned about some integrity than maybe getting a little too tough. It's a bridge you don't have to burn until you get to it.

Speaking of resting -- you didn't mention whether you did or not. If you didn't, that's another likely cause of your overly-crumbly crust. Next time separate it into pieces of whatever size you'll be using (e.g., top and bottom crust amounts) as soon as you've got the dough mixed, wrap each piece separately in cling wrap, press into a disk, and refrigerate for at least 1/2 an hour.

Your dough may have been too slack (wet), but there's no way for me to know without getting my own hands on it. Be aware that as long as you're trying to keep liquids to a minimum, you're probably fine. It's not really that sensitive.

Use ice water.

The alcohol was not your friend. There are ways to make booze work for you, as in the pasta frolla dough for the crostata ricotta recipe in this forum, but straight pie dough is not the right place. Lose it.

Joined Oct 19, 2009
Hmmm thanks for the feedback BDL, I did scale the dough into disks and rested it in the fridge for about 2 hours before rolling and baking. I agree you are right in that I think my flour was the fault here, and the alcohol probably didn't help :smiles:. My goal with the Calvados was to incorporate some flavor into the crust just for something different.
Joined Jul 28, 2006
BDL is right on in all points. Be sure all your ingredients are very cold. I keep my flour in the refrigerator or freezer, mainly to discourage weevils, but having the flour that cold is a real plus for pie dough. Also, but careful not to overwork the dough, and be sure to start with the oven preheated to the proper temperature. When I make pies, I begin with a hot oven (425 t0 450), then reduce the temp after 15 min. Some swear that only lard should be used, some say a combination of lard and butter, while others use only margarine. I've eaten a lot of pies in my day, and have come to the conclusion that a decent crust depends as much on the cook as it does the ingredients. A bad baker can make a bad pie crust, even with "the best" ingredients.

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