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Pie dough frustrations

I'm determined to conquer pie dough! I know it takes practice but there's one element that is driving me crazy.

Everything is nice and cold. The recipe is simple. I use pastry/cake flour, unsalted butter, a tsp of salt and tblsp of sugar. I cut in the butter with a pastry blender until I THINK the pieces look 'pea sized'. Then I add the water (1/4 cup at first as per the recipe) then a tablespoon at a time. No matter how careful I am, the dough will not form into a ball. I don't want to add too much water but when I try to form it, it crumbles and falls apart. If I add too much water, it gets sticky (no good). Tonight it somehow achieved both - I think it was on the verge of too much water and yet it still wouldn't hold together.

When I finally got it into a ball, divided it and wrapped it in plastic wrap it didn't look anything like the picture. I could see larger pieces of butter (even though I cubed it) in the dough and sections were starting to fall apart so it wasn't a nice neat disk.

What am I doing wrong????

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  1. You're not kneading (or working the dough) enough.

    Even though the common refrain of "don't overwork the dough" is true when it comes to making pie crusts, the key here is "overwork".

    You still need to do some kneading.

    1. A little kneading is in order. Think smear the dough across the worktop, and then gather together again. Then rest/chill to let the gluten relax again.
      And if you think the dough needs a bit more liquid, use vodka; the alcohol (mostly) evaporates in cooking, but holds the dough together for workability.

      1. You can try Beranbaum technique of working the dough using the plastic bag. I think it helps keep the heat of your hands from melting the butter, not to mention keeps your hands clean!

        1. Yes, it sounds like a kneading problem. But to be honest.............about 80% of the time now I use one of those Pillsbury crusts. They are so easy and really quite good.

          1 Reply
          1. re: FriedClamFanatic

            For me, the crust is everything. I have no problem with fillings. Lemon meringue, chocolate cream, apple, pecan...no problems there. If I bought the crust, I might as well buy the whole pie! But that's just me. I get something like 'pie crust' in my head and I won't stop until I learn how to do it.

          2. Very interesting suggestions! It's true that I am leery about working the dough too much. Everything I've ever read about pie crusts warns you about that. Also, the recipe I'm using has you working the dough together in the mixing bowl, not on the worktop. Maybe I'll try that next time.

            My hands do tend to be warm so I run them under cold water and then dry them before touching the dough.

            Maybe like some other people have suggested on other posts - I'm thinking too much! ;)