In my opinion the best part of a pie is the crust. The crunchy, buttery, flakes just falling apart as my fork cuts into the crust really excites me! I have been known to not allow guests to actually eat my pie until they see those pretty flakes and appreciate them.
Did you ever wonder what creates that flakiness in a pie crust? I bet you are one of those crazy pie people that just scarfs the whole piece down without really savoring it. Not good! I will now explain the art of the flake with a little pie background first.
When you make a pie crust it is actually named after a method known as the “flaky pie crust” method. The flour and salt are mixed together and then cold fat like BUTTER or shortening is cut into small chunks and “cut” into the dry ingredients using a pastry blender, or a fork and a knife, until it gets to pea sized pieces. It is crucial that the fat is cold and in small pieces but NOT completely blended into the flour. Explanation to follow. Keep reading. Ice water is then added. Only enough to be able to form a dough.
If too much water is added, the pie can become tough with too much gluten forming. Remember gluten is a protein matrix that forms when the proteins in wheat flour mix with water. Gluten gives strength and structure to all baked goods. Some more than others. Too much water, and the crust can be tough. Too little water and the crust falls apart due to not enough structure.
Too much mixing also develops gluten which will give the pie crust a tough texture. Not a positive attribute for a pie crust! A perfect flaky crust for a pie should be crispy, yet tender and flaky.
Flakiness. How does it happen? In the oven, the fat pieces melt and leave spaces where they used to be. These spaces fill with air and steam. Both are powerful leaveners. And remember the water in the dough ? It also forms steam when heated. Pies are typically baked at a high temperature, about 425 degrees. At this temperature the trapped steam that forms inside pushes up onto the layers of dough above and beneath, causing those layers to separate and the flakiness that we all know and LOVE!!!!!