Change the Way You Bake

The Storage Hack That Leads to Flakier Pastries

January 18, 2021
Photo by Bobbi Lin

How many times has a pie crust or biscuit or scone recipe insisted that you start with cold butter and make sure it stays cold at all costs?

This, we are told, is the secret to success. Because when cold butter bits nestled in pillowy dough hit a hot oven, they melt, producing steam, creating layers, yielding flaky baked goods. Hence the proceed-with-caution signs for warm fingertips and summery kitchens.

Any liquid ingredient is held to the same standards. Water must be cold or better yet on ice. Same goes for milk, heavy cream, and friends. All of which is easy enough when the starting place is a cold faucet or colder fridge.

But what about flour? From a distance, this is complicated—many people store this dry, shelf-stable ingredient in the pantry. And because it’s the main ingredient in just about any buttery pastry, its temperature matters.

There are work-arounds here. In BakeWise, Shirley O. Corriher recommends that you cut the fat into the flour, then transfer this mixture to the freezer for 10 minutes. Over at Serious Eats, Stella Parks recommends chilling all ingredients, tools, and even your countertops during swampy months.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I think the whole keep it cold thing is overdone- if your fat isn't warm enough to actually melt you're fine, it just needs to stay coherent- it's going to melt in the oven before it actually does anything for the pastry. A lot of baking tricks seem based on the notion that you can somehow trick something into cooking before it gets hot, which doesn't really make a lot of sense.”
— Smaug
Comment

My personal favorite? A baking hack that’s actually a storage hack.

Instead of keeping flour in your 70°F kitchen, keep it in the freezer. This trick is a reliable way to extend the life of whole-grain or fresh-milled flours that are quick to go rancid. But it’s just as fair game for all-purpose, or whatever you use for baked goods. This means not only will your butter tumble into a delightfully chilly landscape, but your flour will stay fresher longer, to boot.

There’s always a bag of white whole-wheat in my freezer, along with rye, buckwheat, and then some. So whenever a weekend scone craving strikes—this happens, uh, every weekend—I’m already a step ahead.

What’re your go-to tricks for buttery, flaky pastries? Share in the comments! This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. As an Amazon Associate, Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Lee
    Lee
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    Lea
  • Kathryn Hedges
    Kathryn Hedges
  • Smaug
    Smaug
  • JCCraves
    JCCraves
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., and writing about the history of pie in North Carolina. Now she lives in New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's award-winning column, Big Little Recipes (also the cookbook in October 2021!). And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.

7 Comments

Lee January 21, 2021
is keeping flour in the refrigerator as opposed to the freezer an acceptable alternative?
 
Liza P. January 22, 2021
It might, but it will also absorb all the fridge odors.
 
Lea January 21, 2021
Grated frozen butter!!!!
 
Kathryn H. January 18, 2021
I wish I had a freezer big enough to store dry goods! Some people who bake live in apartments with tiny freezers. I'm lucky to have a real freezer; previous apartment had a dorm fridge with an ice cube tray. I need all the space in the freezer of a 14cuft fridge for frozen ingredients and meals.
 
Smaug January 18, 2021
I do my baking in the morning (my kitchen gets pretty cool-on summer nights that stay really hot I don't feel like baking in the morning anyway). I have cool hands and work pretty fast; don't really have any need for further precautions. I think the whole keep it cold thing is overdone- if your fat isn't warm enough to actually melt you're fine, it just needs to stay coherent- it's going to melt in the oven before it actually does anything for the pastry. A lot of baking tricks seem based on the notion that you can somehow trick something into cooking before it gets hot, which doesn't really make a lot of sense.
 
JCCraves January 18, 2021
...assuming one has that kind of room in the freezer.
Two other hacks: measure the fat and flour then freeze before making the recipe.
Some people grate butter, others roll out between sheets of parchment or waxed paper. Working quickly on a cool surface with as much prep as you can muster. I realized in my small kitchen, the work space I normally use for pastry is right in front of my fridge. This is warmer than just the other side of the island! Took me years to figure out. 🙄
 
Rosalind P. January 21, 2021
I agree. It's not a bad idea to keep the flour cold -- whole grain flour, especially. But so many of these ideas are not useful for people who don't have huge freezers or refrigerators. And American/Canadian refrigerator/freezers are gigantic compared with even middle-class norms in even most other Western countries. I just use the fridge to chill the pastry between steps if the room temperature is high-ish.