Genius Recipes

5 Genius Pie Tips for Our Beloved Super-Flaky, No-Stress Dough Recipe

All the do's and don'ts to win at Stella Parks' Genius technique.

November 21, 2018

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.

When I discovered Stella Parks' no-stress, super-flaky pie dough technique (that requires no food processor, and no prior pie know-how) last year after seeing the Food52 community rave about it, I loved it so much that I haven't gone back to another dough recipe since.

In one of the easiest cookbook-building decisions I've ever made, I then decided to make it the standard flaky crust for every pie and galette in Genius Desserts.

I did my due diligence first, of course—putting it to the test with bakers across the Food52 team (from my pie-pro bosses to one brave volunteer who'd never made a homemade pie) and the Food52 Baking Club, to make sure it was a dependable all-purpose dough in many cooks' hands—the answer was a universal yes. Many of the reviews from Food52ers since I shared it here last year have glowed with that same enthusiasm:

This was my first attempt at making pie crust and what a win!
Stacy I., Food52er
Heavens... I have been making pie crusts for umpteen years ... This beats them all to heck and beyond.
Kathy K., Food52er

But there are also a handful of pesky issues that have popped up for bakers on Food52 and over on Serious Eats where Stella first published the recipe—like melty butter and not quite enough dough to crimp fancily—and we want to do whatever we can to steer you clear of them! (Seriously, go check out how dedicated Stella has been in troubleshooting any time there's a question on Serious Eats.)

The basic rule to live by is, as usual: Follow every one of Stella's instructions and recommendations in the recipe. They are all there for good reason, and you will be all-but-guaranteed spectacular pies.

But to help you understand some of Stella's specifics, in consultation with the genius herself, I gathered the five most important tips to follow closely, and why off-roading from them isn't advisable.


5 Tips For Success With Stella Parks' Genius Super-Flaky Pie Dough

1. The #1 rule in all of pie baking: Any time your dough starts to get sticky or melty, give it a brief time-out in the fridge or freezer.
Prevents: Sticky dough, breakage, personal meltdowns.
Bonus tips: In warm kitchens (warmer than 72°F / 22°C), Stella likes to cool down her counter with big Ziplock bags full of ice and a little cold water before she rolls. Also, lots of pie pros—Rose Levy Beranbaum, Dorie Greenspan, and many Food52 team members included—like to roll their dough between two floured sheets of plastic wrap (no tears!).

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Top Comment:
“And I will be making my pie dough tonight as I, like many I am sure, are a day beyond in my prep work for tomorrow!”
— Sadie G.
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2. Choose bleached (1) all-purpose flour, preferably Stella's favorite Gold Medal brand (or if you must, use unbleached brands that aren’t too high in protein, like Gold Medal's unbleached cousin Immaculate that's 10% protein), and don’t work the dough more than the recipe says.
Prevents: Elastic dough that springs back and tough crusts (i.e. too much gluten development).

3. Roll your dough out 1/8-inch (3mm) thick, not thicker.
Prevents: Running out of dough!
Bonus tips: After you chop in "half," one portion of dough will likely be slightly bigger—use that for your bottom crust. And if your pie pan is wider than 9 inches (23cm), you may need extra dough—double the recipe and freeze any leftovers for future spontaneous galettes.

4. Use glass pie pans (Stella’s favorite) or metal—not heavy stoneware or ceramic.
Prevents: Butter melting and pooling before it can steam and puff the layers.
Bonus tips: Don’t try to get fancy with high-fat, European-style butter either—use regular American unsalted, which has enough water content to steam and poof into flaky layers.

5. Don’t bake on a pizza stone or baking steel (or very close to the bottom or top of the oven, or in an oven hotter than 400°F/200°C—if your recipe calls for 425°F, just turn it down to 400°F to be safe).
Prevents: Same deal as above with melty butter, but in more concentrated hotspots.

Now you're armed not only with the Genius pie dough technique that might just ruin you for all others, forever (hi, ruined over here), but the hows and whys of all the particulars. Happy pie partying, and let me know what questions you have! I'll try to do them justice, just like Stella would.

(1) To learn more about why Stella is pro-bleached flour (and why that's not scary), read her post here. "Mostly I'm trying to win over the anti-science folks who don't even know what they're protesting (hint: there's no bleach involved)," Stella told me.

Photos by James Ransom

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

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29 Comments

Pat E. November 29, 2018
Just a thought on shaping...when you get to the “cut in half” part make your cut lengthwise then, from the short side, roll the dough up in a spiral. Now you’re starting with a round shape and it’s easier to roll into a circle. I love this recipe although I do wish it held the crimp a little better and would appreciate any tips out there on resolving that issue.
 
Amy R. November 29, 2018
How can this recipe be adapted to accommodate savory pies? I regularly make creamy seafood pot pie or veggie pot pie and would like to know the amount of salt to use to replace the sugar. Thanks!
 
St. P. November 25, 2018
I'd love to know where to buy the lovely tall-ish glass measuring cups you used in this video (for the VERY cold water).<br />Thanks.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 25, 2018
I think these are some of our Art Director's vintage finds—she loves scoping out flea markets for the best deals, but antique shops often have kitchen goods like this, too. You can also try searching online merchants like Etsy and eBay. Good luck!
 
St. P. November 25, 2018
Thanks so much, Kristen. I thought these might be vintage.<br />
 
FourCats November 24, 2018
Used to be wealthy people would install a section of marble countertop in their kitchen for rolling out pastry dough to keep the butter cool. Now that many kitchens have stone countertops why do cooking shows always show pastry being rolled out on a wood cutting board? And why do you not recommend it here? Like so many other myths, has it turned out for rolling dough wood is better than stone?
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 24, 2018
Honestly, I roll on whatever I've got! Marble, stone, and wood all work well, though as you noted marble and other types of stone can be helpful for keeping dough cool, both naturally and if you use Stella's trick for icing down counters mentioned above.
 
Doris November 25, 2018
I have made many pies over the years and the most important thing that I learned in Bravetart is to keep the kitchen at 70 degrees.
 
Mike B. November 21, 2018
Another article that complicates this with BS. Never use bleached flour. Why? Use ACV in combination with water. It will restrict gluten formation. Just another so called expert trying to justify their minimal knowledge
 
Terri S. November 21, 2018
What is that pie that you are eating? The criss-cross crust one? I see the recipe for the pie dough, but am I overlooking the name/recipe of the pie? Thanks! I'm making a wild plum tart for Thanksgiving and using this pie dough, but the one you guys baked looks pretty amazing!<br />
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 21, 2018
Hi Terri, thanks for asking—it's Four & Twenty Blackbirds' delicious Cranberry Sage Pie, which is in Genius Desserts, and there's also a version on Food52 over here: https://food52.com/blog/8991-four-twenty-blackbirds-cranberry-sage-pie
 
M November 21, 2018
It's good practice to scale Stella's recipe to 1.5 as you're getting used to it, or if you have a glass pie plate with a larger, crimped edge. It's not just a matter of how thinly you roll it, but how good you are at rolling dough into a circle. The extra bit of dough gives wiggle room for accidentally rolling it a little oblong, edge tears, or to cover a big crimped edge (as some glass pie plates have). The extra can be used to make a mini pie to eat before the big day, or for extra flourishes on top, like leaf cutouts, braided edges, etc.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 21, 2018
Great point—extra insurance is always helpful!
 
Sadie G. November 21, 2018
I cut and pasted the link you shared above about the "bleached flour" and it does work, thanks! I read through it as I had no idea what the difference between them was so I can now happily, and without guilt, use bleached flour again. Thanks! And I will be making my pie dough tonight as I, like many I am sure, are a day beyond in my prep work for tomorrow!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 21, 2018
Stella is such an amazing resource for the hows and whys of baking. I highly recommend her book BraveTart if you want more of that!
 
Danielle R. November 21, 2018
These are fantastic tips that I will def integrate!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 21, 2018
Hooray! Glad it'll be helpful.
 
michael H. November 21, 2018
I have been making pies and pastry for forty years, mostly learned from my mother and mother-in-law. But this recipe looks great. Will try in a few minutes. I need pie. Maybe blueberry from wild blueberries from the summer.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 21, 2018
I love your gusto, Michael.
 
leithplus4 November 21, 2018
How far in advance can I bake the apple pie? Today? And then reheat gently tomorrow?
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 21, 2018
Yes, that sounds delicious!
 
Denise November 21, 2018
I'm super confused about tip #5. I am making the apple pie from Genius Desserts right now. It is in the oven as I type this -- at 425 on a baking stone on a rack at the bottom of the oven, just as the cookbook says, which is exactly the opposite of tip #5 above. What should I do? I don't know which set of directions to follow!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 21, 2018
Hi Denise, great point and very sorry to confuse! Everything in Genius Desserts has been tested six ways from Sunday so you’re fine to follow the instructions in the book exactly. This list was a combination of mine and Stella’s advice and meant to help people who are taking the dough off-recipe avoid issues from a combination of unknown factors (but you’re not!). Happy Thanksgiving!
 
Denise November 21, 2018
Thank you so much! In the end, I left it where it was and it came out looking great! Can't wait to dig in tomorrow. Happy Thanksgiving!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 21, 2018
Excellent! Hope it tastes just as good as it looks.
 
ellen November 21, 2018
I so enjoyed the two of you and your lovely prattle. Not only do I have a new recipe but I have a joyful feeling about trying this. <br />I feel funny about using bleached flour. Does stella Parks discuss this further in her book? Thanks and have a wonderful Thanksgiving
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 21, 2018
Thanks Ellen—Danielle is such a joy to be around, so unsurprisingly baking pie together is no different! Stella breaks down the term "bleached" really thoroughly in the link I posted in the (1) footnote above, and also addresses this in her book here (not sure if this Google Books link will work, but I highly recommend checking out the real thing when you get a chance!): https://books.google.com/books?id=rWtIDQAAQBAJ&pg=PT25&lpg=PT25&dq=bleached+all+purpose+flour+stella+parks&source=bl&ots=k-CYCVKDHn&sig=9jOSH6fvli7Swo4SrLjEzIje1mE&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwix7Y_NveHeAhWLc98KHdXwBHsQ6AEwFXoECAgQAQ#v=onepage&q=bleached%20all%20purpose%20flour%20stella%20parks&f=false<br />
 
Cheryl S. November 21, 2018
You guys are so cute together. This recipe looks fabulous...definitely trying on my next pie!!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 21, 2018
Thank you, Cheryl—hope it’s a hit!