You want to make a perfect pie crust. You read the recipe, you measure and mix and everything is looking great.
Then, you go to roll the dough out on your work surface, and it just falls apart. The dough is no longer a nicely blended mass but a pile of pieces, all crumbling apart.
What can you do?! Don’t panic- you can fix that dough!
Why Does Dough Get Crumbly?
Pastry dough becomes crumbly mainly when it is too dry. If there is not enough moisture to hold the dough together, it will just fall apart. Simple as that!
Well, it’s not actually quite so simple as there are a wide variety of reasons why the dough became dry in the first place.
Understanding what caused your dough to dry out and crumble will help you repair it and get that pastry dough back to a nice smooth ball!
- Too Much Flour- If you add a little too much flour, your dough will be crumbly. It doesn’t take a lot of excess flour to make a dough fall apart. In fact, just a tablespoon or too more than the recipe calls for and your dough will be falling apart at your fingertips. Be sure to measure the flour accurately to prevent the dough from drying out.
- Too Much Salt- Salt absorbs water so, when it is used to make pastry dough, it will suck up some of the water inside the dough. If you add too much salt, it will absorb a lot of the moisture in the dough therefore drying the dough out and (you guessed it!) causing it to crumble. Be sure to measure the salt accurately and don’t add too much (you don’t want salty pastry dough anyway!).
- Not Enough Water- Once again, measuring is key to getting a perfect pastry dough. If you skimp on the water, your dough will be dry and crumbly for sure. Of course, too much water will do the opposite, making a sticky dough. Measure your ingredients accurately, especially the water, to avoid a crumbly dough and to avoid a sticky dough!
- Old Dough- If your dough has been sitting around for a while, you may take it out of the fridge to find that what was once a nice smooth dough is quite dry and crumbly. Old dough has a tendency to do this as the fridge will dry out your dough quite quickly especially if the dough was not wrapped tightly. Dry dough equals crumbly dough!
- Not Mixed Enough- If you do not mix your dough fully, the gluten in the flour which holds the dough together will not be developed. Without mixing and letting that gluten get firm, your pastry will be crumbly.
- Different Type of Flour- If your recipe called for All Purpose flour but you opted to use whole wheat, your dough may be quite crumbly. Different types of flour absorb water at different rates and whole wheat flour will absorb water quite quickly, drying out your pastry dough and making it crumble. Always stick to the type of flour your recipe calls for or search for a recipe that utilizes the flour you would like to use.
- Weather- If you are making your pastry dough on a dry, cold winter’s day, your results will be much different than if you are making it on a hot, humid summers day. The moisture level in the air can make a huge difference in the texture of your dough. You may measure your ingredients the exact same way each time you bake but on a dry day, your pastry may crumble much easier.
How to Fix Crumbly Pastry Dough
Once you have diagnosed the reason why your pastry is crumbly, you will know how to fix it. For example, if you did not mix the dough enough, just mix it for a little while longer to get a nice smooth pastry.
However, one method of fixing crumbly dough will work for almost any dry dough issue you may have and that is adding more water.
Now, you don’t want to just start pouring water over the dough and hoping for the best. Do this and you will go from having a crumbly pastry dough to a wet, sticky pastry dough.
Then you would have to add more flour, then more water, then more flour….you’ll end up with something that is inedible and not even close to the pastry dough you wanted!
To add more water in order to make your pastry dough bind together, use the following technique:
- Get a small bowl of cold water and dip your fingers into the bowl.
- Flick some water over your dough using your fingers and then lightly mix the dough. You should essentially be adding about a teaspoon of water to the dough.
- Assess the texture and see if the pastry is no longer crumbly.
- If the pastry is too crumbly still, dip your fingers in the water and spray the dough again.
- Lightly mix once more and assess.
By adding a very small amount of water at a time, you will fix the problem of the pastry being too crumbly but you won’t ruin the dough.
Water is a powerful ingredient and a tiny bit can work miracles! It can fix your crumbly dough but it can also give you the opposite problem of a wet pastry dough. Slowly but surely will win the race!
Perfect Pastry Dough
When pastry is too crumbly, it can be frustrating- you just want a dough that is soft and holds together, is that too much to ask for!?
Being aware of why your pastry crumbled and the method to fix it will solve all your crumbly pastry problems. Once you know why your dough crumbled, you can take steps to fix it the next time you bake (aka, don’t leave the pastry uncovered in the fridge or try to avoid baking on really dry days).
If your pastry is still too crumbly, a little water will help solve your problem. Just remember to go slow and add just a splash at a time!
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.