Why It Works
- Whole wheat flour provides flavor and tenderness, while all-purpose flour adds strength.
- Compared to my old-fashioned flaky pie dough, this recipe uses less butter and more water to offset the natural tenderness of whole wheat flour.
- One round of folding creates eight major layers of flakiness with minimal fuss.
- Refrigerating the dough after shaping ensures it's fully chilled and relaxed, preserving its flakes in the oven.
Okay, let's get this out of the way upfront: This is not a gnarly guide for those who want to up their dietary fiber or cut calories. This is a recipe for those who want to put whole wheat flour into a pie crust for flavor rather than health. And if the flavor of whole wheat doesn't strike your fancy, then maybe it's time to go ahead and click on through to this article on cake.
Whole wheat flour is the defining magic of a graham cracker, the irresistible nuttiness of a bran muffin, the subtle crunch of a digestive biscuit, and the toasty sweetness of a Wheat Thin (homemade or otherwise). Put all those qualities into a pie dough, and you've got the perfect foundation for anything from apple turnovers to chicken pot pie.
If you've made my old-fashioned, flaky pie dough, then you'll notice that the method and ingredients are very similar. What's different is the 50/50 blend of whole wheat and all-purpose flour. Because whole wheat flour inhibits gluten development and can soak up far more water than all-purpose, the recipe requires a few minor tweaks.
First, to account for the tenderness whole wheat flour naturally brings to the table, the butter is reduced by 25%. That makes it a little easier for gluten to form, which makes the dough supple and strong so it doesn't tear or crumble apart. Second, to account for the absorbency of whole wheat flour, the water is increased by 25%. That makes it a bit easier for gluten to form, but it also ensures there's enough moisture to form a smooth and pliable dough.
Aside from those changes, the technique remains the same overall. Start by whisking the whole wheat and all-purpose flours together with a bit of salt and sugar (I recommend using sugar even for savory jobs, as it improves crispness and browning, while also helping to round out the flavor of the crust).
If it's warm in your kitchen, say, over 73°F (23°C), be sure to consult this guide to navigating room temperature before proceeding to the next step. If the flour in the bowl is warm, it will transfer heat to the butter, and your dough will be a mess.
But, assuming your flour is reasonably cool, or that you've taken steps to make it so, you won't run into any trouble at all.
Add the butter in big, 1/2-inch cubes, and then smash each one between your thumb and forefinger, like popping bubble wrap. You don't want to rub the butter into the flour, or form pea-sized bits, or work it into a mealy mix. Nothing like that at all! The goal is simply to create a bunch of big, flattish chunks of butter that will translate into a super flaky dough. Overwork the butter, and your crust will be mealy and crumbly without any flake at all.
After smashing the butter, stir in the water, then knead the dough against the sides of the bowl until it comes together in a rough ball. Rough being the operative word—if kneaded until smooth, the butter will be overworked and those chunky pieces will disappear.
Using all the whole wheat flour you need (seriously, don't skimp), roll the dough until it's about 10- by 15-inches. If the dough is sticking to the counter or your rolling pin, that just means you're not using enough flour. Be generous! Excess flour can be brushed off later on. Once the dough is rolled out, bring each 10-inch side toward the middle, then close both sides together like a menu, and fold the whole thing in half (top to bottom).
Unlike a fancy puff pastry or croissant dough, this sort of folding isn't about precision, it's about throwing in a few quick and dirty layers that will be thinned and lengthened as you roll out the top and bottom crusts later on. For that modicum of effort, you'll be rewarded with tons of flaky layers.
Next, divide the block of dough in half.
If it feels soft or sticky, chill the dough until the butter begins to firm, about 30 minutes or so if your kitchen is warm. Otherwise, go ahead and roll each portion of dough as needed, whether as two 9-inch pies, or as the top and bottom crust of a single pie. Whatever the case, the dough absolutely must be refrigerated two hours before baking in order to relax the gluten and chill the butter to preserve the layers. If this process is rushed, the crust will have a greasy, mealy consistency. This is true even if you refrigerate the blocks of dough to roll at another time; the dough will always need two hours to chill after rolling and shaping (whether that's a simple lattice or a fancy herringbone design).
However you shape it, this dough holds its form well in the oven, and bakes up tender, flaky, and crisp, but instead of the buttery simplicity of a classic pie crust, it has the hearty, nutty flavor of whole wheat. That makes it a perfect match for autumnal flavors like apple and pecan, as well as the perfect counterpoint to super rich or tangy flavors like cream cheese and key lime.
4 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1 cup minus 1 tablespoon; 110g)
4 ounces whole wheat flour (about 1 cup minus 1 tablespoon; 115g), plus more for dusting
1/2 ounce sugar (1 tablespoon; 15g)
1 teaspoon (4g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use half as much by volume or use the same weight
6 ounces unsalted butter (about 12 tablespoons; 170g), cold
5 ounces cold tap water (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons; 140g)
For the Dough: Whisk all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, sugar, and salt together in a medium bowl. Cut butter into 1/2-inch cubes (this size is important, as smaller pieces will melt too fast) and toss with flour mixture to break up the pieces. Using your fingertips, smash each cube flat—that's it! No rubbing or cutting. Stir in water, then knead dough against the sides of the bowl until it comes together in a shaggy ball. Dough temperature should register between 65 and 70°F (18 and 21°C); if not, refrigerate briefly before rolling and folding (see notes).
Make the Layers: On a generously floured work surface, roll dough into a roughly 10- by 15-inch rectangle. Fold the 10-inch sides to the center, then close the newly formed packet like a book. Fold in half once more, bringing the short sides together to create a thick block. Divide in half with a sharp knife or bench scraper. Dough temperature should still be somewhere between 65 and 70°F (18 and 21°C); if not, refrigerate briefly before proceeding (see notes).
For Single-Crusted Pies: Using as much flour as needed for dusting, roll one piece into a 14-inch circle and drape across a 9-inch pie plate; it will be super easy to lift by hand. Dust off excess flour with a pastry brush, using it to nestle dough into the very corners of the pan. With scissors or kitchen shears, trim the edge so that it overhangs by 1 1/4 inches all around. Fold overhang over itself to create a thick border that sits atop the rim of the pan. Crimp or shape crust as desired. Repeat with remaining dough. Wrap with plastic and refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to overnight. Use as directed in your favorite recipe.
For a Double-Crusted Pie: Using as much flour as needed for dusting, roll one piece into a 14-inch circle and drape across a 9-inch pie plate; it will be super easy to lift by hand. Dust off excess flour with a pastry brush, using it to nestle dough into the very corners of the pan. With scissors or kitchen shears, trim the edge so that it overhangs by 1 inch all around. For a solid top crust, roll remaining dough as before, or roll into a 9- by 15-inch rectangle for a lattice-top pie. Transfer the entire sheet, uncut, to a baking sheet or parchment-lined cutting board. (The parchment will prevent dough from absorbing any savory odors from the board.) Wrap both portions in plastic and refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to overnight. Use as directed in your favorite recipe.
For a Blind-Baked Pie: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat to 350°F (180°C). Line chilled pie shell with a large sheet of aluminum foil, pressing so it conforms to the curves of the plate (a second sheet of aluminum may be needed for full coverage). Fill to the brim with sugar, transfer to a half sheet pan, and bake until fully set and golden around the edges, 60 to 75 minutes. Fold long sides of foil toward the middle, gather short sides, and use both hands to carefully transfer sugar to a heat-safe bowl. Let sugar cool to room temperature. If needed, continue baking crust a few minutes more to brown along the bottom. A full explanation of this process can be found here.
Rolling pin, 9-inch pie plate, pastry brush
When room temperature exceeds 74°F (23°C), kitchen equipment and pantry staples will act as a heat source to the butter, creating a sticky dough. If it’s warm in your kitchen, take these proactive steps to manage your dough temperature.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 7g||9%|
|Saturated Fat 4g||22%|
|Total Carbohydrate 9g||3%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||3%|
|Total Sugars 1g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||0%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|