Pie

Your All-Butter Pie Dough Has Been Working Against You (& You Deserve Better)

August  3, 2016

In a cruel confluence of events, peak pie season comes at the worst time of year. Because the peaches like it hot, but pie crust wants to be cold. So we fight with butter that oozes out of dough; we persevere through crumbling and sticking; we wince at shrinking crusts. And we get really frustrated. All in the name of pie.

But there's an easier way, and that way is Rose Levy Beranbaum's Cream Cheese Pie Crust. According to the prolific baker and cookbook author herself, it's "the best thing [she's] ever done" (followed closely by her cream of tartar-egg white revelations).

First published in her 1998 book The Pie and Pastry Bible, the "Perfect Flaky and Tender Cream Cheese Pie Crust" has been refined and expanded in later works; it was also published in the Washington Post in 2008, where it remains one of the most-requested online recipes of all time: "It’s so important to people. They want to be able to bake pies but they’re baking it at the time of year that’s the hardest time because it’s hot!"

Shop the Story

Rose understands our struggles. She developed the recipe by thinking about how to turn a cream cheese-enriched dough, like the kind used for rugelach or pecan tassies—into something with a consistency flaky enough to work for pie crust. What came about was a dough that, she says, is the best in taste, the best in texture, and the most forgiving.

Above: Rose's pie crust; the Hesser family peach pie.


Whereas a regular pie crust will shrink away from the pie tin— curling in on itself like a sad skeleton of what it once was—Rose's cream cheese pie maintains its volume and, for a number of reasons, is less likely to turn tough.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“It also fares well for galette dough, Rose's peach galette in particular, which I have on my blog! Happy pie-ing : )”
— Two T.
Comment

First, the fat and milk solids in the cream cheese inhibit gluten formation (and provide a flavor that makes the crust tasty enough to eat bare). Then there's the baking powder, which makes the dough tender after baking but not too fragile to roll out or shape. The liquid comes from cream and vinegar, with none of the guesswork of "Add a tablespoon of ice water, or more as needed." The pressure's off! The cream tenderizes (yes, even more); the vinegar relaxes.

It's the best thing I've ever done.
Rose Levy Beranbaum, baker extraordinaire

Rose has made the crust with both all-purpose flour and pastry flour, the latter for an even more tender crust. But by adding sugar to the all-purpose flour dough (1 tablespoon for 1 crust), Rose discovered she could achieve the same effect as pastry flour but without requiring a speciality ingredient. (Stay tuned for that information in her next book.)

And after all that experimenting, "I can't think of anything more I'd want to do with it," Rose says. And for an endless tinkerer, a tireless improver, those words mean a lot.

(Though, for the curious among you, there's this: Rose has always wanted to try balsamic vinegar instead of cider for a savory crust. If you try this, let us know.)

Below, you'll find a slightly streamlined version of Rose's recipe, adapted by Amanda Hesser and featured in A New Way to Dinner (Amanda uses all-purpose flour, with no added sugar to tenderize; she also uses water instead of cream, though feel free to do either). For all of Rose's nitty-gritty details, reference The Baking Bible.

A couple of tips from Rose, to make a foolproof recipe more foolproof:

  • You'll want to chill the dough at two stages: Once when you form it into a ball, and once after you roll it out and nudge it into the pie plate.
  • It's ideal to make the pie crust and refrigerate it for 45 minutes, at which point it's cold, but not too cold—perfect temperature for rolling out and shaping.
  • And while the pie isn't going to hold its edge or crimp like a Crisco crust would (Rose says you might as well use modeling clay), the colder you get it before baking, the more likely it is to maintain its shape. Cover it after you roll it out and put it in the fridge: It's ideal to chill it—try for overnight, but even a half-hour or an hour will make a difference—before filling it.
  • You can also bake the pie dough directly from frozen: Chill the dough disc, roll it out, place it in the pie tin, then freeze the whole thing. (Don't put a Pyrex or ceramic dish on a solid hot surface, like a preheated pizza stone or baking sheet—instead, place it on the oven rack to ensure your pan does not crack).
  • And, all that being said, if the dough isn't too soft or too hot after working with it, you really can bake it right after making it and it won't shrink on you. "I consider it really a miracle," says Rose.
  • Use non-sodium baking powder, which lends a sweet, but not sugary, aromatic flavor and creates an even loftier and flakier crust by lifting the layers. Rose says that the sodium-based stuff is "bitter and nasty." So stay away.
  • If you do skip the baking powder, double the salt.
  • Bonus points if you roll the pie out with Wondra! Rose discovered that this flour works "like little ball-bearings": It's both fine and rough, which means you don't have to use as much of it when you're rolling out the dough. And by introducing less flour, you ensure the crust is even more tender. Everything is working in your favor!

Other doughs to compare (and experiment with):

Name your go-to pie dough in the comments below.

13 Comments

Flour G. May 19, 2017
* correction:1/2 c butter is 113 g. Rose's orig recipe used 184 g flour.
 
Flour G. May 19, 2017
1/2 c butter is 57g not 110g.
 
Lydia M. September 16, 2016
I noticed in Rose's tips for this dough she recommends using sodium free baking powder. Is the recipe assuming that you're using sodium free or Is the amount going to need to be adjusted. Also, does she recommend a specific type of butter? I usually use unsalted European style.
 
Stacey G. September 2, 2016
Does this recipe make a double crust pie or only a single crust? Recipe description is unclear
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. September 2, 2016
Single crust!
 
Stacey G. September 5, 2016
Thanks!
 
Catherine August 7, 2016
I have used this recipe for years and recently tried it with pastry flour from King Arthur. I've always gotten great results with AP flour (and adding a little sugar to suit our tastes), but the crust had such a lovely flakey texture with the pastry flour, I'm probably never going back.
 
Donna H. August 3, 2016
I use juice sometimes in the crust, rather than ice water. Apple juice is fantastic for an apple pie. I'll try this one for sure, love the idea of cream cheese in anything!
 
Susan W. May 19, 2017
Sounds like a good idea. I usually add cinnamon to the crusts for fruit pies and herbs and/or cheese to the crusts for savory pies.
 
Lynn August 3, 2016
I have always wondered why pie recipes call for bleached flour. What does bleaching the flour do to help the pie crust?
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. August 3, 2016
According to Rose, unbleached flours have even more gluten-forming proteins.
 
Smaug August 3, 2016
I've made this dough (the version from the "<br />Baking Bible". It was interesting- the procedure was pretty bizarre, which appealed to me (it was assembled in a plastic bag). It handled and rolled absolutely beautifully, and the taste was good, but I didn't really like it; it was TOO tender for my tastes, more like a Danish pastry than a pie dough.
 
Two T. August 3, 2016
I Love this dough!! I've been using it since last summer when I discovered it and said goodbye to "adding ice water as needed." It also fares well for galette dough, Rose's peach galette in particular, which I have on my blog! Happy pie-ing : )