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Feb 3, 2014 06:57 AM

Need a pie dough expert's opinion...flour to water..

Howdy Hounds,

Pie dough remains my nemesis, and yesterday was no exception.

I've tried a few times over the years, but not enough to develop any sense about "right and wrong"....if there is such a thing.

The recipe I used, yesterday, called for:
- 5.25C of AP flour
- .5t salt
- One pound of butter (I used salted)
- .5C of ice water

I froze the butter and then put it through my grating blade on the food processor. Thought being that I would get the smaller chunks, faster.

Cut the grated butter in and proceeded to fork in the half-cup of cold water, as per the recipe.

From my perspective, that was nowhere near enough water for 5.25C of flour. I tried desperately to knead the mealy mess, thinking that the warming butter would give up some moisture and the flour would begin getting hydrated.

In the end, I just started pouring more ice water in and the four balls of dough are in the fridge, for tonight....all this was yesterday, prior to the Superb Owl, and I was over-scheduled.

Two main questions:
- Given that amount of flour, was a half cup of water EVER going to get it done?
- Was the freezing/grating of the butter a bad choice?


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  1. Monch,

    I can't really comment on your recipe or questions but can say that piecrust was also my nemesis until I started using the CI "vodka" pie crust recipe. That, combined with a Tupperware plastic pie guide (a plastic mat that shows you how big your roll out needs to be) has essentially rendered my pie crusts perfect. Some find the CI recipe results in a sticky dough but I've had no problems adding in flour during the roll out process - enough to make it roll out just fine.

    2 Replies
    1. re: owen_meany

      Many thanks,

      I just googled it. The CI recipe uses the same amount of liquid, .5C, but the amount of flour they're using is less than HALF of what I was using.

      If what's in the fridge won't roll out, I'll be re-starting with the vodka recipe.

      1. re: Monch

        While the proportions in the CI recipe are good, it's really the technique that sets this pie crust apart from most other recipes. By fully incorporating the fat with some of the flour in the first step, you protect the dough from forming too much gluten when the water is added (vodka helps here too, but it's actually unnecessary if you do the first step correctly). The CI recipe calls for much more water than most recipes do, which makes the dough very pliable and easy to work with, IMO.

        If you stick to this technique, you can actually play with the proportion of fat:flour:water a bit - I've cut the amount of fat down several times (when I didn't have enough butter in the house) and added just a little additional liquid to compensate - it works fine. JungMann's suggested ratio of 3:2:1 is definitely a good rule of thumb, especially for a standard-technique crust, but you have a lot more flexibility if you use the CI technique.

    2. Grated butter is supposed to incorporate more quickly into flour. I find it actually takes more work AND dirties up another dish, so it's not my preferred technique. And no matter how much you tried, 1/2 cup water cannot hydrate 5 cups of flour.

      Pie crust can be thought of as a ratio of 3 parts flour : 2 parts fat : 1 part water. The recipe's suggestion of 4 oz. of water for 42 oz. of flour is, as you found, significantly off.

      1 Reply
      1. re: JungMann


        Thank you for the reply and for ratifying the idea that the proportions were WAY out of whack.

        It also explains why it took about another .5C of water for the dough to even begin to come together.

      2. I think your problem is that you were baking using volume measurements (e.g. cups) and not weight measurements (ounces, grams, etc.)

        5.25 cups of flour, depending on how it's packed, what elevation you are at, and what kind of flour used, will all affect how much that 5.25 cups of flour actually turns out to be.

        In many instances your 5.25 cups of flour will not be the same as the recipe's author's 5.25 cups because of all the variables noted above.

        You're best bet is to look around for a basic recipe with weights, not volume, measurements and go from there.

        And also get yourself a simple scale -- doesn't have to be digital or anything. BB&B usually has them on sale for less than $20 (even more with their $5 coupons they send out in the (junk)mail).

        Your technique generally seems fine. Just remember, cold cold cold.

        You can try the vodka version, and different types of fat as well (e.g. butter, lard, etc.) but until you get a good handle on the volume of each ingredient you need, pie crust will be like playing the roulette table in Vegas. Sometimes you hit, sometimes you walk home.

        Hope that helps. Good luck.

        2 Replies
        1. re: ipsedixit

          Many thanks....the scale is in the cupboard and will be used for all future pie dough efforts!

          The only things that were not cold, cold, cold were the flour and the salt.

          I thought that the grated, frozen, butter was a good idea....I was willing to dirty another implement for results...and the water was iced.

          In the end, I probably should not have relied on the in-book recipe for the dough...should have turned to my King Arthur, or even a River Roads book for advice.

          The end product is Donald Link's Natchitoches Meat Pies....and the filling is damn delicious....just can't wait for the end product.

          1. re: Monch

            Using a food processor to grate the butter is going to warm it up more than grating frozen butter by hand, on a box grater. It goes pretty fast, and if you use the wrapper the butter comes in to hold it as you grate, the stump doesn't warm up too much.

            If you use vodka or any other alcohol, you have to calculate volume based on proof. 100 proof means 50% alcohol, so half will evaporate during baking. If you wanted 2 oz. of water, you'd add 4 oz. of 100 proof alcohol, so the dough would be wetter and easier to handle.

            The amount of liquid absorbed by the flour also depends on the type of flour. You should always refrigerate the dough for 30 min or more, to give the dough time to fully hydrate, and for the gluten to relax, which will make rolling it out much easier. If the dough's too sticky to roll, mix in more flour and rest again. If it cracks along the circumference, it's too dry. Spritz it with a mister bottle, form it back into a thick round, and re-rest it.

        2. I have not had success with the CI vodka recipe, but it seems like everyone else in the world has. I have had good success with the pie dough from Baking with Julia, and I've probably taught ten friends to make crust that way. I prefer to make it by hand than in a processor, because I feel more in touch with it. Recently, I've made a bunch of pies with the french-style pie crust off of the blog For Love of the Table. Under "basic techniques" Paige has several really detailed posts on short crust pastry (pie dough / pate brisee). The crust is great, and I highly recommend the posts for their beautiful descriptions of technique. Here is one:

          1. Hard to be sure what factors are principal here. Some thoughts.

            1. Any pie crust that was kneaded "desperately" is likely to suffer from excessive gluten formation. The idea is to gather together the wet and dry ingredients with as little manual mashing as possible.

            2. A food processor is actually a great tool for pie crust, because the blade works fast and doesn't heat up the dough like hands, but be sure not to make the butter or other fat too fine. It helps flakiness to have random chunks of fat in the dough. I would say that fat chunks between the size of a pea and a bb (like in a bb-gun) should be visible in every square inch of dough.

            3. I am not sure, but I suspect that pie dough should not be made far in advance of cooking. Water and flour together develop gluten with time. That's what people count on in the no-knead crusty bread camp (autolyse effect). But you don't want gluten in pie dough, of course.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Bada Bing

              Sorry, BB, but you are giving incorrect advice here. 1. google fraisage and you'll see that a certain amount of mashing helps create a flaky crust. 2. Processors do heat up the dough, though you are right about visible bits of fat (ideally the streaks created by fraisage). 3. Pie dough very much needs to rest before rolling and baking.
              It is much better to leave a wrapped ball/round of dough chilling in the fridge for days than to roll it right after mixing. Gluten forms by mixing, not by time. Time is needed to allow the gluten to relax. Yeasted bread dough does not follow the same rules as pate brisee.

              1. re: greygarious

                Thanks, very interesting, that distinction of yeasted dough and pate brisee!

                I wonder if it's the presence of fat or the paucity of hydration in pie dough that keeps the gluten-forming effect of autolyse at bay?

                I'll just add that I'm all on board with a "certain amount of mashing," provided the effect of streaks and pockets of fat remains in place.