In her cookbook What's For Dessert, Claire Saffitz swears to have uncovered the method for the easiest and most foolproof ultra-flaky pie pastry. She brings the dough together with a bench knife, then cuts and stacks it to create lots of layers without sacrificing tenderness. While this pastry might require a bit more hands-on time to make than other versions you’ve tried, it yields a generous quantity of supremely flaky pastry, so you’ll likely have extra to freeze. Use it in Claire’s Walnut and Oat Slab Pie or your favorite pie recipes for excellent results.
2 hrs 25 mins
enough for 2 single-crust pies, 1 double-crust pie, or 2 galettes
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt.
Add the butter to the bowl with the dry ingredients and toss, separating the pieces and coating them in the flour mixture. Use your fingertips to quickly break and smash the pieces of butter into smaller bits (it’s OK if some of the butter is left in large pieces; you’ll break it up more in the next step). Make a well in the center of the bowl and add 2/3 cup (152g) of the ice water. Toss with a fork to distribute the water until you have a clumpy mixture with lots of dry spots.
Tip the contents of the bowl out onto a clean work surface. Use a bench knife or bowl scraper to chop up the mixture, breaking up the clumps and pieces of butter and periodically using the scraper to toss and push the mixture back into a pile. Continue to chop and toss the mixture until it’s broken down into small, uniform pieces with very few floury spots and the butter pieces are no larger than a pea. This process helps bring the dough together without working it excessively, increasing tenderness.
Push the mixture into a pile and squeeze it with your hands so it holds together in large pieces. If you still have some dry floury areas, move any large pieces to one side, leaving the dry bits in the pile. Drizzle 1/2 tablespoon of ice water over the floury area, then use the bench knife or bowl scraper in the same chopping motion to evenly distribute the water. Squeeze the dough to bring it together, move the large pieces to the side, then repeat with more ice water as needed until no dry flour remains on the surface.
Use your hands to pat the dough firmly into a square, then use a floured rolling pin to flatten the square until it’s 3/4" thick. Pat around the four sides with your hands or the scraper to square off and compact the dough then cut it in half.
Lift one half up (again, using the scraper to help) and place it directly on top of the other. Use the scraper to lift the stack of dough and dust underneath with more flour, then roll over it with the pin to flatten and lengthen it slightly, dusting the top with flour if needed to prevent sticking. Cut the dough in half again, this time crosswise, and stack the halves again. The stacking and flattening increases the flakiness of the dough and further distributes the moisture, making it easier to roll out.
Working quickly, use the scraper to loosen the dough from the surface and dust underneath and on top with more flour, then flatten it with the rolling pin into a long rectangle measuring 3/4" thick.
If making the Walnut & Oat Slab Pie leave the rectangle whole. If making a round pie, cut the rectangle in half crosswise to make 2 equal portions. Whatever form the dough takes when it’s chilled is the form it will most easily assume when being rolled out, so if it’s destined to be round, as for a pie, use the heel of your hand to round off any corners and press the portion(s) into more of a disk shape. If it’s destined to be rectangular, pat around the sides to straighten and square off the corners.
Wrap each piece in your favorite reusable wrapper, maintaining the round or rectangular shape. Roll over the wrapped pieces with the rolling pin to flatten the dough and force it to fill out the wrap (applying this pressure will help prevent cracking later).
Transfer the dough to the refrigerator and chill until it’s very cold and firm, at least 2 hours. If a recipe requires a single portion of dough, freeze the other portion and save it for another use.
To roll out the chilled pastry dough: Remove the cold pastry dough from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for a minute or two to soften slightly. Unwrap the dough and place it on a lightly floured surface.
Use a rolling pin to beat the dough evenly across the surface, applying enough force to leave an imprint but not enough to crack or splinter it. If rolling it into a round, lift and rotate the dough every couple of whacks to keep the round shape. If rolling it into a square or rectangle, beat the dough lengthwise across the entire surface, then rotate it 90° (a quarter turn) and beat crosswise, repeating several times in both directions. Continue to beat the dough, lifting it frequently and adding more flour if needed to prevent sticking, until it’s just under 1/2" thick. This will make the dough pliable and easier to roll out while still cold.
Dust underneath and on top of the dough with more flour, then roll it out, frequently lifting and rotating the dough to work it into a round, or turning it 90° every so often and rolling it lengthwise and crosswise for a square or rectangle. Continue to roll, keeping the dough moving on the work surface and dusting it with more flour as needed to prevent sticking, until you have the size and/or thickness specified in the recipe. If it starts to feel soft or sticky, transfer the dough to a baking sheet and refrigerate until it’s cold and firm, about 10 minutes, then proceed.
Tips from our Bakers
If you’re working in a hot kitchen, the butter might soften and make the dough sticky and difficult to handle. If this happens, transfer the dough to the refrigerator or freezer and chill until it’s firm, 10 to 15 minutes, before proceeding.
Don’t skip the stacking process, as it’s needed to give the dough some structure. Bringing the dough together with the bench knife or bowl scraper is such a gentle method that it might not develop sufficient gluten, so without stacking, the dough could crack during rolling or baking.
If your dough is slightly underhydrated, meaning it doesn’t have enough moisture to bind the flour (unlikely given the above method, but not impossible), it might crack in places. If this happens, stop rolling and trim off a piece of dough from along the edge large enough to cover the entire cracked area. Press the piece of dough firmly over the area and proceed with rolling.
For more beautiful and flavorful recipes from Claire Saffitz, see her cookbook What's For Dessert: Simple Recipes for Dessert People. It's a favorite of the King Arthur editorial staff! (Heads up: At King Arthur, we only recommend the ingredients that we, as bakers, truly love. When you buy through external links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.)