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Friday Tip|Fat (keep it cold)

Little butter cubes (backed by the frozen chicken stock Rockettes) waiting to blossom into pie crust...


Happy Friday – time for a tip!

We can’t seem to get away from the freezer (what did we do before there were freezers?). Today’s tip is about fat – the kind you cut into pastry, not the kind that results from eating pastry.

A lot of new bakers – and seasoned ones, now that I think about it – are intimidated by pie crust. I’ve written about pie before, but this tip is so good that I think it warrants its own post. The key to working successfully with pie dough is keeping everything cold, especially the fat. So whatever fat you choose to use, keep it cold.

The reason you need to keep the fat cold is simple and it’s also interesting; flaky pastry is essentially layers of fat and flour. If the fat is warm, soft or (horrors) melted, it mixes in with the flour. Pastry is about getting the two as close as possible while still keeping them separate.

Butter works particularly well for pie crust*, and part of its brilliance is that it’s very easy to make very cold. If you take your butter, cube it up and then put it in the freezer** for at least 30 minutes (longer is fine), you will have very cold fat to work with. This is a great way to start out a pie crust.

Resulting pie crust - this pastry rolled out in four or five passes of the rolling really should be that easy

If you’re working with a pie crust (or any other crust) and you find that it’s getting really warm and smooshy (bad sign), put the whole thing in the freezer for a bit – 30 minutes is great, but often just another 10 minutes or so will do the trick.

Hope that’s helpful!


*If you make my favorite pie crust recipe, it also calls for a little bit of vegetable shortening (Crisco), which I think really makes a difference. All butter crust is a little bit harder to work with, but it is buttery!
**The frozen butter trick works particularly well if you make your pie crust with a food processor, which is what I do. There are people who are thinking “blasphemy” and “treason” as they read this. Honestly, I admire the do-it-by-hand philosophy but I don’t notice that much difference and the food processor is a lot easier. If you do cut your fat into the flour by hand, frozen butter might be a little hard to work with, but you could let it soften for a few minutes and I think it would work great.

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