How To Hack The Flakiest Pie Crust With A Cheese Grater

Want to bake a pie like a pro and get the best pie crust? Here is an industry secret that will help you get that crust flakey every time you bake a pie.

Raise your hand if you think making pie crust is the most challenging part of making pie. Now, put your hand down and reach for a cheese grater because we're going to learn a cool trick to help the crust come together a whole lot easier.

Three Thanksgiving Pies
Photo by Allrecipes.

The lightest, flakiest pie crust happens when fat, flour, salt, and liquid combine in just the right way, and most importantly, at just the right temperature. In fact, temperature comes into play from the very start, because the fat (in this case, butter) needs to stay very cold so it doesn't melt into the flour before the crust goes into the oven. Once in the oven, that's when the fat should melt, leaving gaps in the dough that puff up with steam to create flaky layers of pastry deliciousness. But keeping everything very cold is hard to do when you're working butter into flour, no matter what method you use:

  • Using a pastry cutter takes a lot of time, and butter softens quickly.
  • Using a food processor is quicker, but you need to chill the blade and bowl, and clean-up is a chore.
  • Using your fingers to rub the in butter without melting it from the heat of your fingers is only for the very skilled.

Here's the solution: Freeze the butter to keep it cold, and grate so it combines with the flour very quickly.

This aha moment was demonstrated recently in my own kitchen when a friend came over to share his pie crust expertise. He'd asked me to freeze the butter beforehand, and when he hauled out his cool little IKEA Cheese Grater at Amazon, I knew things were about to get interesting and I needed to share it in turn with you.

How to Grate Your Way To Flaky Pie Crust Perfection

1. Freeze

Freeze the amount of butter you'll need for your recipe until very firm. You can keep it in its original wrapping, or wrap it in foil or plastic freezer wrap.

2. Grate

Rub the frozen butter against the largest grating surface on a box grater or other cheese grater, catching the shreds in a bowl. Cover the bowl and put it back in the freezer while you prep the dry ingredients.

Frozen Grated Butter
Photo by Vanessa Greaves.

3. Mix

Toss the frozen shreds of butter with the dry ingredients until all pieces are coated. Pro Tip: If your kitchen is on the warm side, put the butter and flour mixture back in the freezer or refrigerator to chill it again before adding the liquid.

Proceed with your recipe, making sure that the liquid you add to the butter and flour mixture is also very cold. If you're using water, put a couple of ice cubes in the measuring cup and sprinkle the water over the flour a tablespoon at a time. If you're using cream, set the measuring cup in a bowl containing water and ice.

Butter and Water Incorporated in the Dough
Photo by Vanessa Greaves.

4. Chill

Gather the dough into a ball. If your recipe makes two crusts, divide the ball into two halves and pat them into disks. Wrap them in plastic and put them into the refrigerator to chill for about 30 minutes before rolling them out to form pie crusts. You'll chill the pie crusts again after they're in the pie pan before they go into the oven.

Pie Dough Wrapped In Plastic
Photo by Vanessa Greaves.

Try this grated frozen butter technique on these all-butter pie crust recipes:

We made a simple apple pie, like this, but you could use this crust for any sweet or savory pie.

Frank's Apple Pie
Photo by Vanessa Greaves.

Check out the collection of Pie Recipes.

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