How to make a flaky whole wheat pie crust, step by step
Practice, practice, practice!
Remember the old adage, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" The answer: "Practice, practice, practice," holds just as true for making good whole wheat pie crusts.
The more pies and pastries you make, the more your hands, eyes, and in my opinion, heart understand the living thing that is whole grain flour.
Just as practice helps a toddler learn to walk, then to run, so practice helps the baker learn when the flour is too wet or too dry, when it requires a little more kneading, and when it is time to stop and roll out the dough.
If you are just learning to use whole wheat in pastries, you may find it a little daunting. I'm here to prove to you that a delectable, tender whole wheat crust is within your reach.
As a young bride, when I first started making whole wheat crusts, they came out tough and heavy. I was so discouraged, in fact, that I stopped making pies altogether.
Years later, my expert pie-making mother-in-law was gone, and I lived nowhere near my mom, who can throw a white-flour pie crust together in minutes.
With no one to bake the pies we loved for holidays and special occasions, I decided I had better learn how to get the flaky, tender pastry I craved.
Experimenting time and again, I tried dozens of "no-fail" recipes, tweaking and changing them every step of the way.
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A whole wheat recipe we love
At last! All those more--and less--successful attempts paid off and I had a recipe I could rely on. You can get my recipe here: Tender, Flaky Delicious Whole Wheat Pie Crust.
This page is a companion to that one. While the recipe is highly important to the outcome, this page is about the equally important techniques.
Whether you are an inexperienced baker as determined as I was to learn to make a healthier, whole wheat pastry shell, or you are more experienced but leery of getting a whole wheat pie crust you like as much as your white flour version, this page is for you.
Think of it as Whole Wheat Pie Crust 101.
Easy? Yes, if you are patient and understand a few things about whole wheat
There is nothing difficult about any of these steps. Each is easy to do. But because of the nature of whole wheat, getting a consistently good pie crust depends a bit on practice--getting a feel for the dough.
Unlike highly processed white flour, which has additives to make it behave just the same every time, whole wheat is unrefined. That means it is far less predictable, a changeable thing.
Subject to temperature, humidity and a host of factors beyond our control--from growing to harvesting to milling--the route to making good pie crust every time is dependent on the knowledge that comes only from working with flour again and again and again.
Through experience, you will begin to feel whether the dough is too wet or too dry, when it needs a little more liquid and when not, when it is ready to roll, and when it needs a little more working, or a good chill.
Be patient, and if you can, find ways to make it fun. Working with flour is often rhythmic, like a dance.
Step-by-step in pictures
On this page, I show you, step by step, the techniques I've learned to obtain a flaky whole grain crust.
Because the right tools are so important to the success of any endeavor, we start with a check-list of the tools the beginner baker will need to make a pie crust with ease.
1-2 qt. lidded, stainless steel bowl
Stainless steel pastry cutter
Stainless steel chopper/dough scraper
Unbleached, compostable baking parchment
Fine mesh strainer
French rolling pin
9-inch pie plate
9-inch pie crust shield
Tools you will need
Very likely you already have most of these tools, but if you are new to baking pies, you may need a few more. Most of these tools will serve you a lifetime. Many of mine are decades old.
Don't feel you have to rush out and buy these brand new. Quite often, longtime cooks have extra tools in their kitchen and would be happy to lend or gift spares just to get them out of their hair. Cooks love to share!
You may also find free baking supplies on Freecycle.org, or look for inexpensive supplies in your local thrift stores.
Immediately below, you will see examples of the tools I recommend, along with the reasons why.
A 1-2 quart lidded, stainless steel bowl
I am especially fond of these deep, lidded stainless steel bowls because they are easy to hold, have a silicone non-slip grip on the bottom, and lids, so I can mix and store in one bowl.
The middle bowl in this set is just right for making crust, because it is deep enough that flour doesn't fly out when sifting and whisking the dry ingredients.
Stainless steel pastry cutter
It may be a small thing, but this stainless steel pastry cutter has saved me hours of time and tons of elbow grease over the years.
Cutting butter into pastry with this tool is far easier and less time consuming than either the wire pastry cutter I used to use or the two knives I learned to use in Home Economics back in junior high.
The tines are fairly heavy-duty and sharp. The handle is comfortably cool and rounded, so it fits the hand easily without tiring somewhat arthritic hands such as mine.
Stainless steel chopper/dough scraper
This is one of the most useful tools a cook can have. You will need it for pastry making, and if you're like me, you will find yourself using it every time you cook.
Made of food-grade stainless steel, this blade is as elegant in its simplicity as it is inexpensive.
Unbleached, compostable baking parchment
Another of those supplies that make my work in the kitchen a pleasure, this Earth-friendly baking parchment comes in handy in dozens of ways.
You will need it more than once in your pastry-making process, but you can reuse the same sheet throughout.
Unlike some baking parchments, this brand is certified compostable, so you know it will biodegrade and go back to the Earth.
Fine mesh strainer
The fine mesh comes in handy when dusting your work surface and dough lightly with flour. You don't want to over-dust and dry out your dough with too much flour. A sieve like this lays just enough to prevent sticking.
Alternatively, an old-fashioned, fine-mesh tea strainer would do the job just as well.
Again, food-grade stainless steel makes these strainers safe for food preparation.
French rolling pin
According to America's Test Kitchen (ATK), an inexpensive French rolling pin is the best one for rolling pies. I own three rolling pins, and I agree with ATK. This one works best for rolling pie crust. Besides, who am I to argue with the French when it comes to pastry making?
Especially good news: This pin is made by a family-owned company right here in the United States. More importantly, it is manufactured of wood from sustainable forests.
A nine-inch pie plate
But of course, you will need a nine-inch pie plate to bake your pie! I've had most of my Pyrex pie pans, well, since the Seventies! They're built to last.
Many recipes, such as quiches and pumpkin pies, call for pre-baked crusts. When you pre-bake a crust, you need pie weights to keep it from bubbling up.
These are ceramic, but a couple of pounds of inexpensive garbanzo or soy beans, from the bulk section of your local grocer, work just as well.
One nice thing about these weights: Their packaging container becomes their storage container. No waste!
9-inch Pie Crust Shield
If you've ever tried to crimp foil around a pie crust without crushing the pastry, you will understand why this shield is so valuable. It keeps the crust from scorching and toughening, so that every bite of your crust is tender enough to enjoy to the last crumb.
A sturdy wire cooling rack
I love these racks because they provide a firm surface beneath my pie pans, yet have plenty of room for air flow. They are especially nice when baking cookies, because you don't have to worry about the cookies falling between the tines, as you do with the old-fashioned style racks.
This extra large size holds two pie plates, two cake pans, and lots of cookies.
One last thing: Take time to enjoy the process
Joy in dough? It is true. Working with dough makes me happy, and you may find it does the same for you.
One of the joys of baking is the feeling that enters my fingertips and flows all the way up to my heart and mind. It is a feeling, an understanding that the wheat and the dough is, well, alive is the only way I know to express it. This is something I never felt working with white flour.
The pleasure of baking is as much in working with the dough as it is in seeing, tasting and sharing wholesome, mouth-watering pies and quiches.
All right. Enough with the preliminaries. Let's get to work.
Whole Wheat Pie Crust 101
Ready? Whether you are using mine or another recipe, get your ingredients together. For a flaky crust, you will need butter for the fat. Oil makes a tough crust, and butter is far healthier for us than hydrogenated shortening or margarine, according to the Weston A. Price Foundation in an article on Mercola.com.
1. Using a fork or wire whisk, combine the dry ingredients.
Whisking them aerates the flour, which helps to obtain that lighter, flakier texture we're looking for.
2. You will need room-temperature butter.* If you're starting with cold, hard butter, see Quick Way to Soften Butter.
Then, using a rolling motion with your pastry cutter, and turning the bowl as you work, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the largest pieces are about the size of a small pea. The mixture will resemble a lumpy cornmeal in texture.
Place the flour and butter mixture bowl in your refrigerator, along with your chopper/dough scraper, and chill for 30 minutes.
*My gratitude to Maria Rodale of Maria's Farm Country Kitchen for sharing her bakery friend Haika's secret to extra flaky pastry: Starting with room temperature butter rather than chilled. It works!
3. Leaving the chopper/dough scraper in the fridge for now, bring the flour mixture out and add moisture one tablespoon at a time, tossing with a fork until the mixture is just moist enough to hold together when you squeeze a bit in your hand.
4. Cut a piece of parchment paper large enough to roll out a 9" pie crust comfortably.
Using a mesh sieve, dust the paper lightly with flour, and turn the mixture onto the parchment paper.
5. Using your chilled bench knife, quickly and gently work the dough into a lump, turning it against the parchment-covered board again and again. Touch it with your hands as little as possible.
6. Continue working the dough until it resembles a roundish disk. This part of the process should take no more than a minute or two.
7. Dust your fingers lightly with flour and pick up the rounded lump. Hold it between your thumb and forefinger and roll on the board to smooth the edges. I don't know why it works, but this helps give you a nice even circle when you roll it out.
Until I learned this trick, I used to have torn edges that cut deep into the circle. I always had to paste the bits together in the pie plate. Not any more!
8. Roll the disk until the dough is well integrated. This one is nearly there. It still has a few cracks showing, that would result in tears when you roll out the crust.
Keep rolling the disk around the parchment paper till these are gone, but not so long that your hands warm up the dough. Be careful not to press the dough. let the smoothness of the board do the work.
9. When your disk is mostly round and about 3/4-1 inch in height, pull the parchment paper around it, tuck the ends in so they don't come loose, and refrigerate for 30 minutes or overnight.
I find 30 minutes is just right to chill the dough without making it too cold to roll out quickly. Some say that refrigerating overnight helps the wheat to absorb the moisture and become more tender, but I have not noticed a difference in the outcome, and the dough is much more difficult to roll when it is that cold.
10. Open the parchment paper and very lightly dust both parchment paper and dough with flour.
11. Lay your rolling pin on the center of the disk and roll away from you. Turn the parchment paper a quarter turn, lay the pin again in the center of the disk and roll away from you. Continue turning and rolling.
At first, it may seem as though the dough is not beginning to stretch and flatten, but keep going. Soon the circle will begin to shrink in height and expand in circumference.
The goal here is to work gently enough that the flour and butter are not separated, but remain fused, for it is in their fusion that you get the little flaky layers that make pastry so tender and delightful on the tongue.
12. From time to time, flip the disk over. This helps to keep the pastry from sticking to the parchment. If necessary dust very lightly with flour.
The objective here is to keep the pastry from sticking to pin or surface, but not to add so much flour that the dough becomes dry.
13. Roll the dough to about two inches larger than the widest diameter of your pie plate or quiche pan. You need enough to fill the sides with an overhang for turning under to form the crimped edge.
14. Carefully roll the dough away from the parchment and onto your rolling pin.
Now, I realize I discussed using a 9-inch Pyrex pie plate in the shopping list. On this day, I happened to be making a quiche in my fluted quiche pan. My, my. Such inconsistencies.
15. Lift the rolled dough quickly over the pie plate, center it and unroll. Gently help the pastry to settle into the contours of the dish.
16. Trim the edges with your kitchen shears, leaving about a half inch overhang.
17. Working quickly, turn the edge under all the way round.
18. Crimp or flute the edge. For a quiche like this, I simply help the dough to conform to the quiche plate. For a pie plate, I make a scalloped edge by gently pushing the dough with two fingers against the broad side of my thumb.
Prick the bottom of the pie shell lightly with a fork here and there. This helps prevent bubbles lifting the crust while baking.
If you are making a fruit pie, fill and top as usual. If you are making a quiche or cream pie, and need a pre-baked crust, continue with the following steps.
For a pre-baked pie shell
Continue as follows.
1. Preheat the oven to 450F.
Line the unbaked crust with a piece of clean parchment paper with plenty of overhang. You need enough to draw the parchment together after baking, so you can lift the beans from the plate.
You can use the parchment paper in which you wrapped and rolled the dough. Just dust any bits of dough off before you place it in the pan. You also want to make sure you have enough parchment that you can lift it, beans and all, from the pan later.
Fill the plate completely with pie beads or use dried beans you save just for this purpose. I have a stash in a large Fido jar that is enough to fill even my biggest pie plate.
2. Check your oven temperature with an oven thermometer to assure proper baking, and bake at 450°F for 8-9 minutes, until crust is set and just beginning to brown.
Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack completely before lifting beans or beads from the shell.
3. When you're ready to add the filling, fill the shell and bake according to your recipe.
Cover the rim of the plate and crust edge with a shield. Remove shield for last ten minutes of baking to permit edge to brown.
© 2013 Kathryn Grace Last updated on September 7, 2014
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