Summer is closing its doors and autumn is just around the corner, which means apples, pumpkins, and pears are coming to our markets. You could get back to the traditional apple and pumpkin pies, or you could switch things up a bit and make a whole wheat pie pastry! What about a whole wheat peach-thyme galette, or a whole wheat lattice-top apple and rosemary pie? The possibilities are endless, dreamy, and soul-satisfying.
In this article, I discuss some tips for making pie pastry, how to measure the sizes of different pies, and the Golden Ratio for pie pastry ingredients. I’ll also provide a delectable, tried-and-true recipe for whole wheat pie pastry and some ideas for fillings.
Keep your butter as cold as possible while making the pastry.
Melt or soften the butter, like you would for cookies.
Use your fingers, a pastry blender, two knives, a cheese grater, or a food processor to cut the butter into the dough.
Use a really weak pastry blender, a wire whisk, or just one knife to cut the butter in.
Make sure your dough comes together so it isn’t too dry, and that it can form a disc.
Knead the dough more than just enough to get it to stick together.
Add a little bit more water if it seems too dry.
Add more than about half an ounce at a time.
Add all the butter at once (if you want. You don’t have to.)
Add all the water at once. Some days you won’t need all the water, and some days you will need more. Add it about 1/4 at a time (so 1/2 an ounce at a time for 2 ounces of water.)
Adjust your recipe slightly as the seasons and weather change. More humidity means adding less water, because the dough will absorb water from the air.
Double the amount of water…you really shouldn’t need to.
Let the dough chill in the refrigerator if you plan to use it within 24 hours.
Let it stay in the refrigerator for longer than ~36 hours*.
*The refrigerator is a cold and wet environment, while the freezer is a cold and dry environment. The wetness promotes spoiling, while the dryness helps preserve (as does the significantly lower temperature.) A lot of foods (such as pie pastry) absorb water from the air, so by leaving your pastry in the refrigerator for a long time, you’re letting it get wetter and stickier. Which brings us to the next Do/Don’t:
Let your dough rest in the refrigerator overnight if you think it’s too dry. It’ll get a little wetter in the refrigerator.
Throw it in the trash. If it’s really too dry, you can mix some more ice water in on the counter or add everything back to a mixing bowl/food processor and mix it again.
Let your dough rest and warm-up for about 15 minutes on the counter after you take it out of the refrigerator.
Let your dough sit out at room temperature for longer than ~30 minutes.
Lightly flour your dough, hands, rolling pin, and work surface if you’re rolling the dough and not using parchment paper or plastic wrap.
Flour your dough too much or it’ll taste like chalk. (A cleaner and simpler way to roll out your dough is sandwiched between two sheets of plastic wrap or parchment paper, with just enough flour that the dough doesn’t stick to the sheets.)
Lift and lower your dough into the pie plate so there aren’t any air bubbles. Press down gently along the bottom, corners, and sides once the dough is in the pan.
Stretch your dough or try to push it down to release air bubbles. If you see any trapped bubbles after lifting and lowering, you can pop them with a fork.
Freeze or chill your prepared pie shell until you’re ready to fill and top it. (Freezing is the better option because you can leave it longer without the dough getting wetter.)
Leave your empty pie shell out on the counter while you make your filling.
Freeze your filled, or filled and topped, pie until you’re ready to bake it. You can wrap the unbaked pie in plastic for freezing more than 24 hours, or you can leave it unwrapped in the freezer for less than 24 hours.
Leave your filled pie on the counter or in the refrigerator for longer than ~30 minutes, or the bottom will get soggy as the filling macerates.
In summary: the butter is the star of your dough, both in terms of flavor, chemical reactions, and physical properties. The goal with something like pie crust is to get the dough to hold together with as little water as you can manage.
A mentor once blew my mind by telling me that nearly all pastries have a golden ratio. It isn’t the same ratio for each pastry. Eclairs and cookies, for example, aren’t even remotely similar.
The golden ratio for pie crust is 3-2-1: Three parts flour, two parts butter/fat, and one part ice water (or other cold liquid.) If you swap the water for sugar, you get sweet pastry dough for French tarts. If you add an egg, you can make cookie dough!
I’ll talk about pie crust sizes below, and you’ll see in the whole wheat pastry crust recipe what a good average amount of each ingredient is, but for reference: 3 ounces of flour makes one 7-inch pie. About 12.5 ounces by weight of flour makes four. My small food processor can prepare two batches (6.25 ounces of flour, two 7-inch pies) at once. One typical stick of butter is 4 ounces, which will make two 7-inch pies.
You can increase or decrease the amount of butter and water if you want, within reason.
Comparing Pie Sizes
The first rule of measuring pie sizes is knowing what part of the pie to measure: The width of a pie is the width at the top, from inside rim to inside rim. A nine-inch pie plate is nine inches along the top, and probably seven or eight inches along the bottom. A seven-inch pie plate, therefore, is seven inches along the top surface of the pie, and from five to six inches along the base. This is especially important because pie plates have slanted sides. If you don’t know the size of your pie plate, and you measure the width of the bottom and use that for your recipe, you’ll (probably) come up short (if the recipe you use is accurate.)
Now let’s say you find a recipe for a ten-inch pie, but you 1) don’t have enough ingredients, 2) only want to test the recipe, 3) want to make more than one pie, or 4) don’t have a ten-inch pie plate, and you would rather make a smaller pie, what on earth do you do?? If you’re lucky enough to remember geometry, algebra, or whatever math is relevant, then you could reinvent the wheel every time you make a pie and calculate the exact volume of a ten-inch-by-two-inch pie, then a seven-inch-by-two-inch pie, and find the ratio. Or you could use this simple formula* and the following guide:
*The formula assumes that the depth of the pie is negligible, or that all of your pies are approximately the same depth, which should be one to two inches. Thus, the formula represents the area of the top surface of the pie plate.
Area of the surface = pi times the radius of the top surface squared = r^2(pi)
The radius = half of the width (or diameter) of the top surface = D/2; r^2 = (D^2)/4
Area = (pi)(D^2)/4
So, a ten-inch pie has a diameter of 10 and a radius of 5: Area(10) = (pi)(100)/4 = 25 x pi
And a seven-inch pie has a diameter of 7 and a radius of 3.5: Area(7) = (pi)(49)/4 = 12.25 x pi
Continuing on, if you want to know the ratio of the ten-inch pie to the seven-inch pie (so how much less or more of each ingredient you would need to make a small recipe larger or a large recipe smaller), you divide Area(10) by Area(7):
25pi divided by 12.25pi = 25/12.25 = ~2, more or less (2.04, to be exact.) If you cut a ten-inch pie recipe in half, you’ll have 2 seven-inch pies and some leftover filling, or you’ll be able to really mound up the pie; conversely, if you double a seven-inch pie recipe, you’ll be able to make one ten-inch pie but maybe just a tiny bit shallower.
To make all of that simpler, here are some ratios:
1 ten-inch pie = 1.23 nine-inch pies (1 1/4) = 1.56 eight-inch pies (1 1/2) = 2 seven-inch pies
1 nine-inch pie = 1.26 eight-inch pies (1 1/4) = 1.65 seven-inch pies (1 2/3) = 2.25 six-inch pies (2 1/4)
1 eight-inch pie = 1.3 seven-inch pies (~1 1/3) = 1.78 six-inch pies (~1 3/4) = 3.16 four-and-a-half-inch pies (~3 1/2)
1 seven-inch pie = 1.36 six-inch pies (~1 1/3) = 2.4 four-and-a-half-inch pies (~2 1/2) = exactly 4 three-and-a-half-inch pies
1 six-inch pie = 1.78 four-and-a-half-inch pies (~1 3/4) = 2.9 three-and-a-half-inch pies (~3)
1 four-and-a-half-inch pie = 1.65 three-and-a-half-inch pies (~1 2/3)
1 three-and-a-half-inch pie = ~1/8 of one ten-inch pie
Let’s say you have a recipe for a ten-inch pie but you want to make small, 4.5-inch pies…how many could you make? You could make about five small pies, or even eight smaller pies, with some leftover filling. On the other hand, if you’re making an odd number of tiny pies, you could find one recipe for a six-inch pie, divide it into three mini pies, and then go from there!
You’ll find the most useful ratio is that 1 ten-inch pie makes 2 seven-inch pies, and 1 nine-inch pie makes about 5/3 of a seven-inch pie.
makes enough for one 9- or 10-inch pie or two 7-inch pies
3 ounces all-purpose flour
3 ounces whole wheat flour*
hefty dash or pinch of salt
1 tsp Demerara sugar (or any other type of sugar except brown or powdered)
4 ounces (1/2 c or 1 stick) cold, unsalted butter
2 ounces of ice water
1 tsp vanilla extract
*You can adjust the ratio of all-purpose to whole wheat flour as you like, but it’s best to have at least some all-purpose flour, and note that more whole wheat means your dough will be drier, and adding more water to compensate means it’ll be tougher and less flavorful.
Food Processor Version
Chop or slice butter into at least 8 pieces (no larger than 1 Tablespoon), and place in the refrigerator or freezer in a bowl.
Place water in the refrigerator or freezer while combining the dry ingredients and butter.
In a small food processor, combine flours, salt, and sugar, and pulse briefly.
Pulse in the butter until it forms coarse crumbs and there are still some butter lumps left.
Blend in the water about 1/2 an ounce at a time. The dough is ready when it starts forming larger clumps like wet sand or mud. Finally, blend in the vanilla. You may not need all of the water.
Lay out a sheet of plastic wrap flat on the counter and dump the dough into the middle.
Quickly form a ball with the dough by just squeezing all the loose pieces together. Do not knead the dough.
Wrap the dough and flatten slightly to form a thick disk. If you’re going to use the dough within 24 hours, keep it in the refrigerator. Otherwise, keep it in the freezer.
Chop or slice butter* into at least 8 pieces (no larger than 1 Tablespoon), and place in the refrigerator or freezer in a bowl.
*You can also use a cheese grater to grate chilled/frozen butter into the flour.
Place water in the refrigerator or freezer while combining the dry ingredients and butter.
In a large bowl, whisk together flours, salt, and sugar.
Using a pastry blender, your hands, or two knives, chop the butter into the flour until it starts to look like damp sand: shaggy, coarse, and with a few larger lumps of butter.
Whisk in the water, about 1/4 of an ounce at a time, until the dough gets shaggier and larger clumps start to form. Briefly whisk in the vanilla.
Lay out a sheet of plastic wrap flat on the counter.
Lightly squeeze together the loose pieces to form a ball of dough, and place the dough in the middle of the plastic wrap. You can continue to squeeze the dough together into a ball as you wrap, and then flatten it slightly into a thick disk.
If you’re going to use the dough within 24 hours, keep it in the refrigerator. Otherwise, keep it in the freezer.
What Should I Make with my Dough?
Here are some ideas for types of pies and fillings to make with your whole-wheat dough:
whole wheat peach-thyme galette (what is a galette?)
whole wheat caramel-pear pie with whole wheat cinnamon streusel
whole wheat double crust apple pie
whole wheat cranberry, maple, and sage pie
whole wheat smoky pumpkin bourbon pie
whole wheat lattice top cranberry apple pie
whole wheat dark chocolate sea salt crostata (what is a crostata?)
whole wheat fig, walnut, and goat cheese crostata
whole wheat cranberry orange hand pies