French

Fraisage Your Way to Flaky, Crumbly Pastry

February  6, 2018

American-style pie dough—cutting fat like butter, shortening, or lard into flour, then adding water—comes with a lot of don’ts: Don’t let the fat melt. Don’t use room-temp or even just-cold water (it has to be ice cold) and don’t use too much of it. Don’t overwork the dough. Did I mention, don’t let the fat melt? Seriously, don’t, that’s so important!

These rules become engrained, eventually, but for most of my life, they scared me away from pastry. Then, a few years ago, while working as a middle-of-the-night baker, I was introduced to pie dough’s laissez-faire French cousin: the fraisage method.

At the bakery, we likened it to a cat kneading a blanket, stretching its paws and claws outward, again and again. In this case, you are the cat. The blanket is shortcrust pastry dough. And instead of worrying about the butter staying in pea-sized pieces and not melting, you, well, don’t worry:

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Make the dough in a food processor by pulsing together flour, salt, and butter pieces. Add ice water, splash by splash, until a dough just forms. Dump onto a lightly floured work surface, then smear outward with the heels of your hands. Aim for shallow strokes, pushing forward a small amount of dough—figure a couple tablespoons.

From the 1967 copy of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." (Thanks, Grandma!) Photo by Emma Laperruque

In Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child is all about the fraisage. She describes the motion as a way “to ensure an even blending of fat and flour.” So why, exactly, is this good thing? Doesn’t it go against all American-style-pie-dough rules? It does. But it also works—producing a different but just as indispensable pastry. Instead of the butter being cut into bits and bobs, which bounce here and there, it is spread into thin, long streaks. When these melt in the oven, they produce steam, creating a crust that is flaky and crumbly, crunchy and tender.

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Top Comment:
“After cutting in the fat, leaving some in pea size bits, all I had was crumbly dough. I knew not to add water...the source of all my failures in pastry. So I dumped everything out on the counter and just worked it all with my hands until, voila, a dough! Pate sucree is easier than brisee. But now I can make pies! Yay!”
— Rosalind P.
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Fraisage anytime you’re making pâte brisée and pâte sucrée—so, any kind of tart or quiche—or if you’re making a free-form pie like a galette. These recipes are a perfect place to start:

Have you ever tried the fraisage method? Tell us about the recipe in the comments below!

5 Comments

Soozll August 8, 2018
I use this method for all my pie crusts. I got the recipe and method from Epicurious, it's from Gourmet Magazine from a cherry pie recipe from June of 2007.. There is also a video from Gourmet showing the process. The crust is sooo flakey and the method makes the dough much easier to handle (read: roll out) than any other method I've tried.
 
Rosalind P. February 12, 2018
I came to fraissage out of desperation. I knew all the don'ts and yet my pie dough just wouldn't come together. After cutting in the fat, leaving some in pea size bits, all I had was crumbly dough. I knew not to add water...the source of all my failures in pastry. So I dumped everything out on the counter and just worked it all with my hands until, voila, a dough! Pate sucree is easier than brisee. But now I can make pies! Yay!
 
Mimi February 11, 2018
Can you simply use this method with any standard pie dough recipe?
 
Author Comment
Emma L. February 11, 2018
Hi Mimi! Personally, I fraisage mostly for pâte brisées and pâte sucrées. But you can definitely apply the method beyond that. For instance, our contributor, EmilyC, uses it here for a pie crust: https://food52.com/recipes/65286-cranberry-apple-pear-slab-galette.
 
jthelwell February 11, 2018
I was halfway through the explanation when I said, "Wait, isn't this the way I've been doing it since I first made pâte brisée from MASTERING THE ART? Of course, I'm probably as old as your grandmother!