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Science

How to Make the Flakiest Pastry

Butter makes baked goods like biscuits, pie dough, and croissants taste great. But it's also a key factor in creating flaky texture—if you handle the butter right.
By Published June 25, 2019

Numerous baked goods (think croissants, pie dough, and biscuits) incorporate super-thin layers of solid butter to develop a flaky texture. To illustrate the importance of getting the butter layers just right, we designed a unique experiment.

Experiment

We started with a traditional rolled and cut biscuit dough and treated the butter three different ways. For the first sample we used the most common method of incorporating butter: We cut cold butter into the flour (using a food processor) until it resembled pebbly pieces. We also made a batch with melted butter and another where we cut thin slices of cold butter and pressed them between well-floured fingers until they resembled nickels. We formed identical doughs with each batch from which we then rolled and cut biscuits.

Results

A post-baking lineup told the whole story. The melted-butter biscuits sat squat, dense, and uniform next to the moderately flaky traditional biscuits, both of which paled in comparison to the height and flakiness of the biscuits made with the thin pieces of butter.

Takeaway

The key to making flaky biscuits is to get layers of solid fat spread between the layers of dough. This way, the thin layers of fat (butter) will melt when they hit the hot oven. And because butter is part fat and part water, the water turns to steam, filling the now-empty spaces between the dough, and giving rise to flaky layers.

Melted butter, on the other hand, is incapable of forming discrete layers of solid fat between layers of dough; this is why our biscuits made with melted butter turned out dense and flat. Similarly, the standard pebbles of butter can't begin to form layers of fat between layers of dough until they soften enough to spread out. Even when they do start to spread in the oven, the softening pebbles can't spread far enough, forming only small regions of fat that will not give rise to much flakiness at all.

The lesson? If flaky biscuits or pastries are what you desire, be sure to use techniques like lamination, the process of repeatedly rolling and folding the dough over itself, or fraisage, where you smear the dough with the heel of your hand, to get thin, long layers of solid fat in the dough.

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.