Pastry

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:
“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!”
— Rosalind P.
Comment

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!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Rosalind Paaswell
    Rosalind Paaswell
  • Smaug
    Smaug
  • Soozll
    Soozll
  • Mimi
    Mimi
  • jthelwell
    jthelwell
Emma is the food editor at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.

9 Comments

Rosalind P. February 22, 2020

This is a request for information about pie doughs/pastry to the expert and knowledgable chefs in the Food 52 world. After years of abysmal failure at making any kind of pie crust, I had a series of epiphanies (from reading and testing) that led me to have ONE successful method for flaky crust and ONE successful method for what I call crumbly (as opposed to flaky.) And ONE successful method for puff pastry (a subset, I guess, of flaky.) Now when I bake pies, I use my tried and true methods rather than the one(s) given in the recipe. MY QUESTION: how do I recognize, from the recipe alone, whether the crust is in the flaky category (the American pie dough?) or in the "crumbly" category n -- "tart dough?" , so I can use my own method, which is foolproof (for me.) And, a related question: which category is pate brisee? Which one is pate sucree? Is "tart dough" always the crumbly one? I have tried to recognize which is which; usually, if there is an egg involved, I assume it's crumbly. If it's only flour, fat and water I assume it's flaky. So a plea to you experts out there to help me understand. Thank you!!
 
Smaug February 22, 2020
Sounds like you're doing pretty well actually. I wouldn't call myself an expert, but I've made a zillion pies and tarts and I'll tell you what you can. First off, pate sucree and pate brisee (and a few other "pates") are tart doughs. Traditionally, an American pie dough is a 3/1 ratio (by volume) of flour to fat, while a tart dough is 2/1, but modern chefs, in their attempt to stuff as much fat as possible into everything, are ramping that number up in pie doughs. You are right about the egg/ water (though I've seen tart doughs using small amounts of water or milk)- the water promotes gluten development, a certain amount of which is necessary to support a flaky structure. Pie dough recipes will usually instruct you to leave fairly large pieces ("the size of peas"), while tart doughs need an even mix. Tart shells are generally made without a rim, at most they're built up a bit above the edge of the pan, but often they're just cut off flush- so if there's talk of crimping the rim or some such it would be a pie shell. I've never come across a tart with a top crust. Probably forgetting some stuff, but I hope that helps. A caveat- in the internet age, cooking (as with all the arts) is pretty much all fusion in one way or another, and you'll find hybrids of one sort or another. Usually the recipe will give some pretty clear indications (another one- if they give storebought dough as an option it would be pie dough, at least in America), but as long as your shell will contain the filling you'll be fine, even if you miss the recipe writer's intention.
 
Smaug February 21, 2020
I have mostly used this in the past for doughs that were disinclined to come together- particularly nut based doughs such as for Linzer torte. However, I saw a recommendation to use it for galettes (with an otherwise fairly standard American type crust recipe) to produce a somewhat sturdier crust; I tried it and was surprised how flaky and tender the crust turned out. I also tried it on an empanada dough (similar to pie crust, but lower fat and an egg added), also with excellent results.
 
Smaug February 21, 2020
Hey, I wasn't done- I learned to make pie crust (from my mother) using a combination of cutting and rubbing the butter in- the rubbing tends to coat the flour, thus shortening the dough more than you get by just cutting it in, while resulting in larger, flatter pieces of fat (tending in the direction of puff pastry). Fraisage (or "pushing off", in English) has a somewhat similar effect.
 
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!