Perfect Flaky Pastry

One of the most common frustrations I hear in regards to baking is how people can’t seem to make a nice flaky pie crust.  This is exactly what happened with Jason, a recent guest of mine earlier this spring.  He and his fiance had joined me earlier in the year and we had started trading emails about cooking questions.  When they returned in spring for my “Tantalizing Tarts” class, he said he was on a quest to make a better crust for a tomato pie recipe which he’d recently been trying.  At that point he liked how the filling was, but wasn’t having the best luck with the crust.  His crust seemed to be lacking in the fat department.  Despite playing around with it a bit he still wasn’t satisfied and said he was going to the cream cheese dough that we made in class as part of a savory mushroom & boursin cheese tart.  He emailed me a few weeks after the class and rejoiced with success!

Cream cheese dough is an incredibly easy dough with amazing versatility.  This is a recipe I often suggest that people commit to memory because it’s pretty darn easy (equal parts by weight if you have a scale) and is useful for both savory and sweet items.  I first learned about it years ago while attending a chef’s conference in Las Vegas and listened in on a presentation by the pastry chef of Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago.  She said she always kept it on hand to make spur of the moment fruit tarts and other sudden inspirations.

One of the reasons that I love to teach how to make this dough is most people have issues with toughness.   Adding too much water or overworking dough are the culprits of a tough pie crust.  It’s virtually impossible to make this dough tough because two-thirds of the dough is fat!  (Ok now…I said it was easy, not low-fat!)  Technically though it would be Low Carb!  Plus, the moisture from the cream cheese is what brings the dough together so there’s no concern or debate of how much water needs to be added.  It’s virtually fool-proof! 

Cream Cheese Pastry Dough

This dough can be made savory by adding chopped fresh herbs or spices such as curry powder and other blends.  Replacing a portion of the cocoa powder will make a chocolate version.

Yield: 2 9-inch pie or tart crusts

2 cups all-purpose flour
8 oz. butter (2 sticks) cold butter, cut in small pieces

8 oz. cold cream cheese, cut in small pieces

Place flour in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add butter and turn mixer to speed 1 or low.

Mix until butter is cut into flour and resembles coarse meal.

 fat worked into flour for dough 

Add cream cheese and mix just until mixture comes together.

Cream Cheese Dough

Shape dough into disks or rectangles no more than 1-inch thick.

cream cheese dough disc

Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before using.  Store in refrigerator up to 5 days or freeze for longer storage.

To use:

Remove dough from refrigerator and let soften at room temperature very slightly for a few minutes. When dough is beginning to soften slightly, roll out on a floured surface as needed for necessary preparations. Keep dough chilled to maintain flakiness.

When re-rolling scraps, do not mash together in a ball and roll out. Instead, layer scraps one on top of another and then roll out to maintain flakiness and prevent overworking the dough.

Bake at 400 degrees F.


7 Comments on “Perfect Flaky Pastry”

  1. This is really good and so easy. Can you sub lowfat cream cheese? At my age I have to watch my weight you know.

    1. Hi Gin,
      Considering that the dough has such a high ratio of fat it should be ok from that perspective. The only possible concern might be the moisture content and whether there is enough in the low-fat cream cheese to bring the dough together but I think it probably would work. If you try it with low-fat let me know how it turned out.

  2. Pingback: Tomato Pie

  3. One question I have about “Perfectly Flaky Pie Crust” Do I need to bake this before using? Temp and how long?

    I used this with Tomato Pie and did not bake it, probably dumb but that is what I did!

    Also one thing I did was flour wax paper, put my dough in middle, lightly flour top and put 2nd wax paper on top, press to 1″ and fold sides to seal, put in fridge for 30 min then roll out to 1/8″, much easier as it does not stick like when using plastic wrap.

    Added 1 cup of finely cut green peppers this time, mmmmm..

    1. John,

      Anytime a liquid filling is going to go into an open-faced pie shell (quiche, pumpkin pie, etc.) I always recommend baking the shell first. This technique is known as “blind baking”. Line the pastry with a piece of parchment paper and then weight it down with pie weights, dried beans, or even several metal teaspoons (make sure they’re all metal and they don’t have plastic handles!). Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until the bottom of the crust looks to be nearly dry and lightly golden or at least blond. Once the crust has been baked blind, fill it with the filling and bake according to the amount of time called for in the recipe. If the edge of the crust is getting dark too quickly, crimp foil around the edge of the crust. Blind baking will allow you to have a custard based pie without the wetness and sogginess that can occur when the liquid filling is poured directly into an unbaked crust. A moist dough bottom crust has no chance of getting crisp if there’s an inch or more of liquid above it! I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it.

    1. Yes, wrap tightly in parchment or waxed paper and then in a freezer bag or plastic wrap. It should be good for about 3 months.

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