The New Normal—Reflections and Stories from the EAT Family—Pastry Dough Made Simple by Denise Marchessault

As the world shifts and changes below our feet right now, EAT thought it might be a good time to check in with our family of contributors, supporters, and friends to see how they are dealing with daily life in this new reality. This is a temporary stage in the world timeline, we realize, but one few of us will forget. Read on for the ninth story in our series.


Pastry Dough Made Simple

by Denise Marchessault

Photography by Deb Garlick


As the isolated find solace in baking, it’s the perfect time to up your pastry game.

If you’ve sworn off homemade pastry because it never turns out, or it’s too messy, or too difficult, grab an apron and let’s put your pastry woes behind you.

And, when our lives return to normal, you’ll take great satisfaction in having mastered the simple art of pastry. You’ll soon push your grocery cart right past the packages of frozen pie shells, knowing you can do better.

You’ll find the recipe below completely straight-forward, but I’ve highlighted a few key points to help you get started.

Type of fat: For the flakiest crust, you’ll want to use lard (such as Tenderflake brand). Vegetable shortening, unsalted butter and coconut oil are excellent choices, too. It’s the fat that creates the flakiness, regardless of the type you choose. During baking the fat melts and creates steam that pushes the dough up, expanding it with flaky layers.

Low-tech tools: I find a simple pastry blender, or two knives, the best way to cut the lard (or other fat) into the flour. The idea is to form a mixture of small and large (bean-sized) pieces of lard coated with flour. You don’t want a homogenous mixture (which is why I don’t bother with a processor; it offers too little control).

Combining the flour and liquid (ice water, egg and vinegar): This is where things can go wrong. The idea is to add just enough liquid to the flour, so the mixture comes together in a rough or shaggy mass. I can’t specify the exact amount of liquid because it varies depending on the humidity, age of your flour and other factors. You’ll know you’ve added enough liquid when there are few crumbs at the bottom of your bowl, and when you grab a portion of dough and it holds together.

Dough sticking to your work surface or rolling pin: A light touch and minimal use of flour is the key to working with pastry, but that’s difficult when your dough is sticking to everything in sight. The way around this is to place your dough onto a sheet of parchment paper dusted with flour, then cover the dough with plastic wrap. You can then roll a rolling pin over the plastic wrap to flatten the dough. This prevents the dough from sticking your work surface and rolling pin. More importantly, it prevents you from adding too much flour or overworking the dough. And, it doesn’t make a mess of your kitchen!

Temperature and time: Dough needs to be refrigerated to allow the fat to firm and the gluten to relax (which makes it easier to roll out). Chilling also prevents the dough from shrinking in the oven.

Because dough contains a high ratio of fat, it’s easiest to handle when cool. If your dough becomes too warm and floppy, return it to the fridge to firm up. Likewise, if your dough is too cold and firm to manage, leave it on the counter for a couple minutes before handling.

Yes, pastry takes patience, but you’ll be rewarded with the best pastries imaginable.

Flaky Pastry Dough

Makes 1 double-crust pie

You can easily double the recipe, but if you’re not accustomed to making pastry, it’s best to start with smaller, more manageable portions.

2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp table salt

½ pound lard, vegetable shortening or unsalted butter cut into 1″ – 2″ pieces

1 Tbsp white or cider vinegar

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 cup ice-cold water

Parchment paper

Plastic wrap

Place the flour and salt in a large bowl and mix well with a fork or a whisk. Cut the lard into the flour with a pastry blender or two knives until the mixture is crumbly with some larger (bean-sized) pieces of flour-coated lard, along with the finer particles.

A pastry blender (or two knives) cut the lard into the flour.

A mixture of small and large (bean-sized) pieces of lard create the flakiest pastry.

In a measuring cup with a spout, combine the egg, vinegar and enough ice water to equal 1 cup; mix with a fork.

Gradually pour about half the liquid into the flour and mix with a fork, adding only enough additional water to make the dough cling together in an untidy mass. You likely won’t use all the water.

Transfer half the dough to a flour-dusted sheet of parchment and shape it into a rough squat disk using your hands, being mindful not to overwork the dough. Cover with a generous sheet of plastic wrap and roll the dough, over the plastic, into a disk about half an inch thick (it will be rolled thinner later). Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour. Repeat with the other half of the dough.

Parchment paper is a baker’s best friend.


Pastry won’t stick to your work surface (or rolling pin) when dough is rolled between parchment paper and plastic wrap.

Working with one portion of dough at a time, place the chilled dough onto a sheet of parchment dusted with flour. Lightly dust the dough with flour and cover with plastic wrap. Roll the dough, over the plastic, starting in the center and working outwards in all directions, into a circle 1/8″ thick.

Transfer the dough to your pie plate and proceed with your recipe according to the instructions.

The pastry is transferred to a pie plate with the help of a rolling pin.



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