Flaky Cream Cheese Pie Dough

This is my be-all-end-all pie crust. I can’t bring myself to ever use shortening, and I think this is better than an all-butter crust. The cream cheese gives it some tang. It’s super easy to roll out and shape.

marbly-goodness
marbly-goodness

1/8, give or take
1/8", give or take

Basically it’s all you want for every sweet pie you ever make. I like to pinch my crusts, but there are a million ways to crimp them—using forks, etc. I think the ol’ thumb and forefinger of one hand against the thumb of the other creates a nice little wave.

ready to be filled
ready to be filled

I use the “Food Processor” method but instead I put it in my KitchenAid with the paddle attachment. Sometimes the flour explodes out, but mostly I think this works just fine. I’ve also heard grating the frozen butter in using the largest holes on a cheese grater gets them down to a small size easily so you don’t have to waste your time with 2 knives or a pastry cutter. Rose fusses–a LOT. There’s a lot of freezing things that I skip if I can. To be honest, I don’t really notice much of a difference if I didn’t freeze the bowl before I mix the ingredients. So, you can be obsessive about it if you want, and I’m sure your pie crusts will be divine. I choose to ignore what I want. Environmentally, I save a ziploc bag or 2 every time I make a crust my way instead of Rose’s….so that’s all the justification I need to be lazy.

Flaky Cream Cheese Pie Crust
from The Pie and Pastry Bible

Pastry for a 9-inch pie shell or a 9 1/2- or 10- by 1-inch tart shell

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
  • 1 cup + 1 tablespoon pastry flour or 1 cup (dip and sweep method) bleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt (for savory recipes, use 1 1/2 times the salt)
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 cup cream cheese, cold
  • 1 tablespoon ice water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar

Pastry for a 9-inch lattice pie, a 9-inch deep-dish pie, a 10-inch pie shell, or a 12- to 14-inch free-form tart

  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
  • 1 1/3 cups + 4 teaspoons pastry flour or 1 1/3 cups (dip and sweep method) bleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt (for savory recipes, use 1 1/2 times the salt)
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
  • one 3-ounce package cream cheese, cold
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons ice water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar

Pastry for a two-crust 9-inch pie

  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
  • 2 cups + 3 tablespoons pastry flour or 2 cups (dip and sweep method) bleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (for savory recipes, use 1 1/2 times the salt)
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 3-ounce packages cream cheese, cold
  • 2 tablespoons ice water
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar

Preparation

Food processor method:
Cut the butter into small (about 3/4-inch) cubes. Wrap it in plastic wrap and freeze it until frozen solid, at least 30 minutes. Place the flour, salt, and baking powder in a reclosable gallon-size freezer bag and freeze for at least 30 minutes.

Place the flour mixture in a food processor with the metal blade and process for a few seconds to combine. Set the bag aside.

Cut the cream cheese into 3 or 4 pieces and add it to the flour. Process for about 20 seconds or until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the frozen butter cubes and pulse until none of the butter is larger than the size of a pea. (Toss with a fork to see it better.) Remove the cover and add the water and vinegar. Pulse until most of the butter is reduced to the size of small peas. The mixture will be in particles and will not hold together. Spoon it into the plastic bag. (For a double-crust pie, it is easiest to divide the mixture in half at this point.)

Holding both ends of the bag opening with your fingers, knead the mixture by alternately pressing it, from the outside of the bag with the knuckles and heels of your hands until the mixture holds together in one piece and feels slightly stretchy when pulled.

Wrap the dough with the plastic wrap, flatten it into a disc (or discs) and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes, preferably overnight. (For a pie shell and lattice, divide it in a ratio of two thirds:one third — use about 9.5 ounces for the shell and the rest for the lattice, flattening the smaller part into a rectangle.)

Hand method:
Place a medium mixing bowl in the freezer to chill.

Cut the butter into small (about 3/4-inch) cubes. Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes.

Place the flour, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Add the cream cheese and rub the mixture between your fingers to blend the cream cheese into the flour until it resembles coarse meal. Spoon the mixture, together with the cold butter, into a reclosable gallon-size freezer bag. Expel any air from the bag and close it. Use a rolling pin to flatten the butter into thin flakes. Place the bag in the freezer for at least 10 minutes or until the butter is very firm.

Transfer the mixture to the chilled bowl, scraping the sides of the bag. Set the bag aside. Sprinkle the mixture with the water and vinegar, tossing lightly with a rubber spatula. Spoon it into the plastic bag. (For a two-crust pie, it is easiest to divide the mixture in half at this point.)

Holding both ends of the bag opening with your fingers, knead the mixture by alternately pressing it, from the outside of the bag, with the knuckles and heels of your hands until the mixture holds together in one piece and feels slightly stretchy when pulled.

Wrap the dough with plastic wrap, flatten it into a disc (or discs), and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes, preferably overnight. (For a pie shell and lattice, divide it in a ratio of two thirds:one third — use about 9.5 ounces for the shell and the rest for the lattice, flattening the smaller part into a rectangle.)

Store:
Refrigerated, up to 2 days; frozen, up to 3 months.

Understanding
A classic cream cheese crust contains no water and is more tender than an all-butter crust but not at all flaky. I have found it to be so tender it is impossible to use for a lattice top and the bottom crust often develops cracks through which a filling will leak and stick to the bottom of the pan. Very little water is needed, because the cream cheese contains 51 percent water. The addition of a small amount of water connects the two gluten-forming proteins in the flour, producing the rubbery, stretchy gluten that strenghtens the structure just enough to prevent cracking when the crust bakes. This pie crust does not shrink or distort as much as an all-butter crust because there is less development of gluten. The acidity of the vinegar weakens the gluten that forms, making the crust still more tender and less likely to shrink. If desired, it can be replaced with water.

Cream cheese is 51 percent water and 37.7 percent fat, so 3 ounces contain 1.53 ounces (about 3 tablespoons) or water and 1.13 ounces of fat. That means that the pie crust with 6.5 ounces of flour contains the equivalent of about 4 1/2 tablespoons of water. Compared to the all-butter crust, this crust has about 1 tablespoon more water, 1.13 ounces more of fat, and .34 ounce more milk solids. The extra fat in the cream cheese coats some of the proteins in the flour, limiting the development of gluten, which would make it tougher. The milk solids add both flavor and smoothness of texture.

The baking powder lifts and aerates the dough slightly without weakening it, but it also makes it seem more tender.

In developing this recipe, I found that if not using the vinegar and baking powder to tenderize the crust, it is advisable to add one quarter of the butter together with the cream cheese when using all-purpose flour. This helps to moisture-proof it but, of course, takes away a little from the flakiness, as there is less butter available to add in larger pieces to create layers.

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Author: katboda

Hey, cram it.

4 thoughts on “Flaky Cream Cheese Pie Dough”

  1. Hey Katrina! I know this is like, a million years after the post, but would this be good with a berry pie? Specifically, the only pie I ever make and have brought to your house a few times?

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