Big Little Recipes

100% Whole-Wheat Pie Crust Is a Bad Idea. Or Is It?

This rebellious pie crust is malty, nutty, and flavorful as heck.

August 24, 2021

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. That means five ingredients or fewer—not including water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (like oil and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Psst, did you hear we’re coming out with a cookbook? We’re coming out with a cookbook!


Let’s get this out of the way: 100-percent whole-wheat pie dough is a bad idea. You don’t need to tell me, because I’m telling you. It is dense and tough and unagreeable. That’s why smart recipe developers take a different path.

Stella Parks, a pie genius, uses 50 percent whole-wheat flour in her recipe on Serious Eats. The whole-wheat offers “flavor and tenderness,” which the all-purpose flour backs up with “strength.” And Erin McDowell—another genius! Food52’s resident baker! She wrote The Book on Pie!—uses even less whole-wheat flour (44 percent). And whole-wheat pastry flour at that, which has a lower protein content and yields a softer dough.

As Erin explains in her book, “While it is possible to make a dough 100 percent regular whole wheat flour, the dough requires significantly more hydration, and I find the resulting crust dense. Using a combination of whole wheat pastry flour and all-purpose flour is the perfect solution.”

A few years back, I whole-wheat-ified a bunch of baked goods and, while whole-wheat cookies were “even better,” the whole-wheat pie crust was worse. Not worth it, I said. Do 75-percent max, I said. But I was wrong.

Photo by Julia Gartland. Prop Stylist: Gerri Williams. Food Stylist: Kate Buckens.

Turns out, I wasn’t asking enough questions. Like, what is whole-wheat flour, anyway? And what the heck is pie dough? With a fresh perspective, 100-percent whole-wheat pie dough not only becomes possible—but also a very good idea.

As its name suggests, whole-wheat flour includes the whole wheat kernel (endosperm, bran, germ, and all). This means more protein, more fiber, more flavor—and more bulk to weigh down breads and pastries as they attempt to rise in the oven.

But just as there’s more than one kind of wheat—actually, there are thousands—there’s more than one kind of wheat flour. Depending on where you live and your supermarket, you’ll probably find a couple types: For me, in the Northeast, the default is labeled as “whole-wheat flour,” milled from hard red wheat. There’s also white whole-wheat flour, milled from hard white wheat.

So no, white whole-wheat flour is not a mix of white and wheat flours. But funnily enough, it acts just like that in baked goods. Think of this ingredient as the compromise between the nourishing nuttiness of traditional whole-wheat and the creamy fluffiness of all-purpose. Aka, the best of both worlds.

This isn’t to say you should swap white whole-wheat flour into recipes willy-nilly. When I started working on this column, I tried just that in an all-butter pie dough recipe, and I still ran into the same hurdle identified by other bakers (good flavor, bad texture).

Photo by Julia Gartland. Prop Stylist: Gerri Williams. Food Stylist: Kate Buckens.

The popular solution is to reduce the percentage of whole-wheat to 50 or fewer, as Stella, Erin, and many other bakers have proven works well. The other option is to leave the flour as it is, and rethink the other main ingredient in pie dough: fat. Besides butter, pie dough recipes can use shortening or lard.

Or, less commonly, cream cheese. This ingredient is crucial in Jewish rugelach—a traditional, flaky-crumbly cookie my grandma taught me how to make around the age when I still worried about monsters under the bed. The ratio you’ll see over and over is easy enough for a kid to memorize: one part flour to one part cream cheese to one part butter. Buzz them all in a food processor, roll out a circle, cover it in jam and nuts, cut out triangles, curl them into little crescents, let your grandma pinch your butt.

When I worked as a baker at Scratch, Phoebe Lawless’s pie shop in North Carolina, one of the most popular pies ditched a flaky butter crust in favor of a tender rugelach one. Likewise, one of Rose Levy Beranbaum’s go-to pie doughs hinges on cream cheese. As Sarah Jampel wrote about it, “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).”

Because rugelach doesn’t need any water—the cream cheese has more than enough moisture—it avoids the catch-22 of whole-wheat, where you have to add more water to fully hydrate the flour, but then the excess water yields a dense crust.

All you’re left with is a super flavorful, super tender, super forgiving pie dough that just happens to be made with 100 percent whole-wheat. The only question is: What recipe will you put it toward first?

What have you baked with white whole-wheat flour? Let us know in the comments!

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. As an Amazon Associate and Skimlinks affiliate, Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.
Preorder now

Put down those long grocery lists. Inspired by the award-winning column, our upcoming Big Little Recipes cookbook is minimalism at its best: few ingredients, tons of flavor.

Preorder now

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Tammie Grant
    Tammie Grant
  • Kaytay
    Kaytay
  • Michele
    Michele
  • Ruzysoo
    Ruzysoo
  • Sarah Roberts
    Sarah Roberts
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.

20 Comments

Tammie G. August 29, 2021
Excellent pie crust! Unlike no other and was easy and quick! We have unbelievable nectarines in N CA and this galette was amazing. The whole wheat flour I used was from a small batch flour farm and it worked out beautifully! One thing…I thought the dough size was a bit too small for a big galette so I doubled it and it worked out just right.
 
Kaytay August 29, 2021
Thank you so much for this fabulous whole wheat pie crust recipe! I made a peach galette this morning with it. It turned out delicious, crunchy, flaky, nutty, good! I don’t have a food processor so I did it all the old fashioned way, by hand! Really appreciate the info you provided about whole white winter wheat!
 
Michele August 27, 2021
Haven't tried this yet, but the end of the video had me cracking up! Thanks for the laugh :)
 
Ruzysoo August 26, 2021
Question: I’m making the stone fruit galette, can you tell me what you added to the fruit before baking? Thanks
 
Author Comment
Emma L. August 26, 2021
Hi! I eyeballed granulated sugar, cornstarch, salt, and pepper.
 
Sarah R. August 26, 2021
Omg, I can’t tell you how excited I am about this!!! Any thoughts about whether it would work for a double crust pie? Thanks for continuing to be an absolute genius!
 
Author Comment
Emma L. August 26, 2021
Yay, thanks Sarah! A double crust should work. I'd just lean toward a filling that isn't too juicy/soupy, since rugelach-style doughs are tender.
 
Sarah R. August 26, 2021
Thanks!!!

Ps as part of my attempt to try everything while-grain, I’ve had good results with sprouted spelt flour for pie crust, using this brand: https://secondspringfoods.com/sprouted-whole-grain-spelt-pie-crust/. I find much easier to work with than even white whole wheat flour
 
Allison B. August 25, 2021
I use King Arthur whole white wheat flour for a lot of my baking, but my favorite use for it is for buttermilk pancakes. They are so wholesome. My husband and I even prefer them to the lighter, fluffier version with AP flour. My second favorite is for pizza dough, made with 1/2 bread flour and 1/2 www flour.
 
Julie August 24, 2021
Is there a recipe for the pie shown in the photo? It looks like possibly something chocolate??
 
Smedley532 August 24, 2021
Julie, I was interested in the pie shown in the photo as well. It looks like a Chocolate Chess Pie. Hoping for the recipe for it!
 
Allison B. August 25, 2021
I'm also hoping for the recipe for this pie. It looks amazingly delicious!!
 
Michele August 27, 2021
Here ya go:
https://food52.com/recipes/29939-bill-smith-s-atlantic-beach-pie
 
marla G. August 24, 2021
I use King Arthur’s white whole wheat flour all the time in quick breads and muffins. I use 1/2 AP flour and 1/2 white whole wheat. I also use it when I make pancakes.
 
Mary L. August 24, 2021
Did I miss something? Why is frozen whole wheat flour preferable?
 
Author Comment
Emma L. August 24, 2021
Hi Mary! More details on that in the recipe headnote: "I like to keep my white whole-wheat flour in the freezer for a couple reasons: It stays fresher longer. And it’s the perfect temperature for buzzing up pie dough—chilly enough that the butter wouldn’t even think of melting before it hits the oven."
 
Jennifer K. August 24, 2021
Okay, I have to say ... I've been substituting white whole wheat forAP flour in my pie crust for a while now. Mostly for savory pies, with a full stick of butter and 1/4 cup ice water. That being said, my family LOVES rugelach ... so, something tells me my Thanksgiving pies are going to be a little different this year. Thank you!

Side note: Still making your turmeric sugar cookies on a regular basis, and they never disappoint :-)
 
Author Comment
Emma L. August 24, 2021
Oh yay! So happy to hear it, thanks Jennifer.
 
Bonnie August 24, 2021
I adore rugelach and am so excited to have this “variation on a theme.” Thanks for another wonderful recipe Emma.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. August 24, 2021
Thanks, Bonnie, hope you enjoy!