Pâte brisée is a classic French pie dough with a delicious buttery flavor and a flaky texture. That's why it's a favorite for savory and sweet pies, tarts, and quiches. Luckily, it's also easy to make from scratch without special equipment. Once you understand the tricks to avoid common problems like cracked crusts or over kneaded dough. You'll want to read the recipe throughout to the end of this post to learn all the tips like the importance of chilling to make the flakiest pâte brisée.
Usually, I use a food processor to make my pie crusts because it requires less elbow grease and is easier to get right. But I don't always have a food processor available, especially at my parents' house. Maybe Alex isn't around to move the heavy food processor, so I can't use it because it's too heavy for my back.
That's why I have this pâte brisée recipe in my back pocket. For special occasions like Christmas when I need to make a pie from scratch but I don't have special equipment, I love this minimalist recipe and approach to pâte brisée. This post shares all my tips to make a successful pie crust and how to get it ready for baking. Make sure you read past the recipe so you get the time-tested tips on how to roll out the pie dough and how to freeze it.
What is pâte brisée?
Pâte brisée is a classic French pie dough that uses flour, butter, and water. It has a delicious buttery flavor and a flaky texture that makes it a great choice for sweet and savory pies. This versatile pie crust is amazing as the foundation of fruit pies, custard pies, and quiches.
Pâte brisée differs from many American pie crusts because it is a butter-only pie crust whereas many American pie crusts use shortening, lard, vegetable oil, or a combination of multiple fats.
RELATED: For a more crumbly, shortbread-style pie crust, check out Doreen's pie crust which uses a different slurry technique to make the pie dough.
How is Garlic Delight's pâte brisée different?
My pâte brisée recipe is inspired by the Marmiton pâte brisée vite faite recipe. As such, I adopted the heavy whipping cream substitution for water to add extra richness. You can skip the cream and replace it with iced water if you want a lower fat option.
I use salted butter. Why? Because I buy salted butter from Costco, and it still works for me. But I'm a lazy person who believes in using the ingredients I've got. If you are a fastidious baker and want to use unsalted butter, you should add 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the flour if you use unsalted butter.
Tips for successful pie dough
Baking pies terrifies me. Making the pie crust feels overwhelming and scary. It's hard to know whether the dough is too wet, too dry, or over kneaded. How do you know it won't crack and fall apart? If you have these fears too, you'll want to follow all my tips to increase your chances of making a successful flaky pie crust.
These tips work for pâte brisée and most other pie dough recipes. I picked up these tips from Stella Parks, copious Internet research, and my kitchen experiences. If you have additional tips I haven't included, leave a comment at the end of this post.
The most important steps (and where pie crust making goes wrong) to making pâte brisée is:
- How to crumble the butter into the flour
- How to add liquid until you form a dough.
- How to prepare the dough on the pie pan
Let's dive into the steps you can take to ensure your pie crust will be sturdy and flaky.
1: Crumble cold butter quickly
I like to freeze my butter to keep it cool for making pie crusts. I defrost the butter for approximately 20 minutes in a kitchen at 65ºF/18ºC until it is just soft enough to cut into cubes with a chef's knife.
I first coat the butter cubes with flour. Then I push the butter cubes with the tines of a fork to break up the butter as much as I can before I touch the butter with my warm fingers.
When I crumble the butter into the flour with my hands, I work as quickly as possible. I aggressively crumble the butter between my fingers until I get a texture that looks like bread crumbs. It has pea-sized pieces of butter and that's OK.
I'm not looking for perfection. I simply need the butter to be evenly distributed throughout the flour as quickly as possible without melting the butter too much.
2: Add liquid slowly
Once the flour and butter are crumbled evenly, make a well in the middle of the flour-butter mixture.
You want to avoid making the dough too wet because adding more flour to avoid a gummy pie crust risks overworking the dough. You don't want pâte brisée that's too dry because it will crumble and fall apart after baking. You don't want pâte brisée that is hard as a rock which happens with over kneading the dough. To avoid these problems, add the liquid one spoonful at a time. Knead carefully until just combined and no more.
Combine the liquid (whether you're using heavy whipping cream or iced water) and the flour-butter mixture. Scrunch the dough with your fingers and keep adding liquid until it begins to form a ball of dough.
Once it looks like the dough is forming into a ball, you want to knead the dough enough to form a ball. I used to believe the myth that you want to avoid gluten forming at all costs, which means knead as little as possible. Thanks to Stella Parks (Brave tart), I understand that some gluten is desirable because it makes the dough easier to roll out and work with. But you don't want too much gluten forming which makes the pâte brisée hard to roll out and the final baked crust will be too chewy. That's why we don't overmix the fat (butter) into the flour because the fat cuts down on the gluten formation. Distinct balls of butter also make a flaky and tender crust.
Here's the recipe for pâte brisée. Keep reading after the recipe to learn my tricks on rolling the dough out and freezing it.
- Rolling Pin
- pie pan
- 1/2 cup Butter (salted butter, about 1 stick, frozen butter defrosted for 20 minutes)
- 2 cups Flour (all-purpose)
- 4 tablespoons Heavy whipping cream (use as needed, can be replaced with iced water)
- 3 tablespoons sugar (optional to add if making sweet pies and you want a sweet crust)
- Gather the ingredients.
- Cut the butter into small cubes, about half an inch/1 cm.
- Add the cubed butter to the wheat flour. Toss the cubes of butter until they are coated with the flour.
- Use your hands to rub the butter into the flour. Work very quickly with your warm hands to avoid melting the butter too much. Use a rubbing motion to rub the butter between your fingers. This step should take less than 5 minutes if you're working very quickly. If you are in a very warm kitchen, check out How to bake pies when your kitchen is hot for tips.
- After the butter is evenly crumbled into the flour, add one tablespoon of heavy whipping cream at a time. You can also use iced water if you prefer a lower-fat liquid or you don't have whipping cream at home. Mix the liquid with the flour and butter until the dough comes together.
- Add an extra tablespoon of liquid (either cream or water) at a time until the dough forms into a ball. You may need to knead the dough a few times for the liquid and dry ingredients to combine. Avoid overworking the dough at this point. Stop once the dough is just combined into a ball. It should take you 5 minutes or less of mixing and kneading from the moment of adding the first tablespoon of liquid.
- Your ball of dough is ready. Keep reading for advice on how to roll out the pâte brisée (pie dough) or how to freeze it for later use.
How to freeze pâte brisée (pie) dough
If you know you're not ready to use the pâte brisée, you can freeze it for later. Wrap the ball of dough in plastic wrap. Then store it in a sealable plastic bag. Push all the air out of the bag and seal it tight. Freeze the pâte brisée in the freezer. Ideally, you should use it within 3 months to avoid freezer burn.
When you're ready to thaw the frozen pâte brisée, move it to the refrigerator and allow it to defrost for a day. If you're in a rush, you can defrost it on your kitchen counter. When it's soft enough to roll out, it's ready for you to use.
How to prepare your pâte brisée for baking
After you form the ball of dough, if you plan on using the pâte brisée in the next 2 days, you should roll it out and form it in your pie pan. If you don't plan on using it for a week or longer, then you can freeze it.
To roll your pâte brisée and prepare it for baking, make sure you use a clean surface. Roll the pastry dough from the center outwards, trying to keep the sides as even as possible. Ideally, you should make a round shape that is an inch / 2.5 cm larger in diameter than your pie pan. See this image as an example:
Having excess pâte brisée around your pie pan allows you to create a fluted edge and have enough dough to patch holes if necessary.
If you look carefully, you'll notice I have plastic wrap underneath the pie crust. I continue to roll out the dough on top of the plastic wrap. Once I'm ready to put the crust into the pie pan, it's a breeze to support the pie dough and hold onto the plastic wrap as you lift the pâte brisée to manipulate the dough. Then I peel off the plastic wrap and discard once the pâte brisée is in the pie pan.
If you don't have plastic wrap under your pâte brisée as you are rolling it out, another way to get the pie crust into the pie pan without tearing it is to gently roll the pâte brisée onto a rolling pie. Use the rolling pin to transport the crust over your pie pan and gently transport the crust from the rolling pin to the pie pan. If you tear the pâte brisée or discover holes after this process, patch up the holes with the excess pâte brisée. Simply stick the dough and pat in with your finger to blend the seam. Nobody will be able to tell once they take a bite.
Once the pâte brisée is in the pie pan, the last 2 steps are to crimp the edges and poke holes in the bottom of the crust to allow the steam to escape. You can use a fork to press into the edges of the pâte brisée. In this case, I've simply turned the edge inwards to create a simple fluted edge. You can also use special pie crust cutters to form beautiful shapes if you are an expert baker.
Then use the tines of a fork to poke holes in the bottom of the crust.
Before you bake your pie, I'm a huge believer in resting and chilling the pâte brisée. This gives the gluten time to rest so it shrinks less when baking. This allows you to avoid problems like cracking crusts or edges that shrink so far back that they pull away from the pie pan. You can freeze the pâte brisée with the pie pan in the freezer for 30 minutes before using filling the crust. Or you can put it in the fridge for at least an hour before you fill the pâte brisée.
I know that making pie crusts from scratch is daunting. If you have questions about anything I've missed or if you have expert tips to share, please leave a comment to help other readers.