100 Techniques

Technique #40: Waterproof Pie Dough for the Flakiest All-Butter Crust

Reach for new pie baking heights with his untraditional, yet foolproof, method.

Published Sept. 22, 2023.

This is Technique #40 from our 100 Techniques Every Home Cook Can Master.

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All-butter pie dough bakes up into a flaky, tender dream. And nothing beats the rich flavor of a buttery pie crust.

Why, then, do so many pie dough recipes call for shortening instead of butter?

It’s because in conventional dough recipes, shortening is easier to work with. It has a higher melting point than butter and remains pliable when cold, so it rolls out more readily than cold butter does. Conventional all-butter dough is less supple and tends to crack and tear.

However, our innovative "waterproofing" technique creates foolproof all-butter pie dough that’s extremely easy to roll out and encircles pie filling in layers of golden, supertender flakiness. This dough is our go-to recommendation for all home bakers regardless of skill level.

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Adding Water Leaves Room for Error

Traditional pie doughs involve combining flour and other dry ingredients, and then cutting in pieces of cold butter just until pea-size nuggets form. Then you add ice water—the amount called for is typically alarmingly vague and variable—and mix until the dough comes together in a crumbly mass with visible bits of butter throughout. 

Too little water and the dough will be impossible to roll out and the baked crust will fall apart; too much water and the dough will roll out easily, but it may shrink while baking and will certainly be tough.

Treat Butter in Two Different Ways

With our technique, there's no worry about the cold butter staying in pea-size pieces. Instead, you'll cube some of the butter and grate the rest and put it in the freezer.

Process the cubed butter with some of the flour all the way to a homogenous paste. The fat coats all these flour particles, “waterproofing” them. Then, break that paste mixture into chunks, pulse the chunks with the remainder of the flour to create smaller pieces and add the grated butter.

Finally, sprinkle on ice water and, thanks to the waterproofing step, the water is absorbed only by the second portion of flour.

Benefits of Waterproofing

Our waterproofing technique allows for gluten development (which provides structure), but it keeps it in check by limiting the ability of the flour proteins to hydrate too much and thus form a too-strong gluten network (which would lead to a tough crust). 

The grated butter enriches the dough without affecting gluten development; the small pieces disperse throughout the dough and melt in the oven as the pie bakes, leaving small voids. As moisture in the dough turns to steam, that steam expands the voids to create impressively flaky layers.

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Step by Step: How to Make All-Butter Pie Dough

Now that you know the "why" behind waterproofing, follow these steps next time you're making pie dough at home.

Step 1: Grate and Cut Your Butter

Grate 4 tablespoons butter on large holes of box grater and place in freezer. Cut remaining 16 tablespoons butter into 1⁄2-inch cubes.

Step 2: Make a Paste

Pulse portion of flour with other dry ingredients in food processor; add cubed butter and process to homogeneous paste.

Step 3: Redistribute Paste and Add More Flour

Break paste into chunks and redistribute in bowl. Add remaining flour and pulse into 1-inch or smaller pieces.

Step 4: Add Grated Butter

Transfer to medium bowl, add grated butter, and toss with forks until butter pieces are separated and coated with flour.

Step 5: Add Ice Water

Drizzle half of ice water over mixture. Toss with rubber spatula until evenly moistened. Drizzle remaining ice water over mixture and toss. Press dough with spatula until dough sticks together.

Step 6: Wrap in Plastic Wrap

Divide dough in half and transfer to plastic wrap. Draw edges of plastic over dough and press firmly on sides and top to form compact, fissure-free mass. Wrap in plastic and form into 5-inch disk. Chill.

Watch Cook’s Illustrated’s Andrea Geary demonstrate how to make Foolproof All-Butter Pie Crust.

Recipes That Use This Technique

Ready to put your newfound knowledge of all-butter pie crust to the test? Try it with one of these recipes.


Foolproof All-Butter Dough for Double-Crust Pie

Our ultimate pie dough. It uses all butter, it’s dead easy to roll, and it bakes up tender, crisp, and shatteringly flaky.
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Foolproof All-Butter Dough for Single-Crust Pie

Our ultimate pie dough. It uses all butter, it’s dead easy to roll, and it bakes up tender, crisp, and shatteringly flaky.
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Sweet Cherry Pie

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Fresh Peach Pie

The juiciness of a perfect peach is sublime—except when you want to bake it into a pie.
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Blueberry Earl Grey Pie

An elegant take on a classic blueberry pie.
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