Pie crust and puff pastry have essentially the same ingredients. Water, flour, butter, a pinch of salt, and sugar. But the way they’re made is the biggest difference between them, because it dictates just what the end result will be like.
And you may be wondering if you can’t use one in place of the other, since they’re the same ingredients so they should work well. In theory you can, but in practice it’s the different texture and flavor that separates them.
Let’s take a closer look at a comparison between pie crust and puff pastry, and understand the main differences between them.
Puff pastry vs pie crust
Puff pastry actually puffs up, while pie crust cook through and simply provides a layer of biscuit. Pie crust can and will be crumbly if cooked right, while puff pastry gets flaky.
There’s a significant difference in how butter is used. In pie crust the butter is cut into tiny pieces and mixed into the dough, forming a texture like wet sand. In puff pastry the butter is added in thin layers. as the dough is laminated and you get thin, alternating layers of dough and butter.
And finally, you get a very different flavor from both doughs. Pie crust has more texture and flavor, the butter is felt more. Puff pastry sometimes has margarine added instead, so the flavor is different. It also flakes and cooks differently.
Puff pastry is a laminated dough
An important distinction between puff pastry and pie dough or crust is the way butter is used. Both use butter, though you can sometimes find margarine puff pastry.
Read also: Puff Pastry VS Croissant Dough
Puff pastry uses the butter to separate dozens of thin layers. You get a layer of water, flour, and a pinch of salt, and spread it. You then add o top of it a layer of cold butter that’s rolled to a similar size as the dough. Fold the dough, roll it again. You now have double or triple amount of layers, depending on whether you fold in two or three.
And you need to keep repeating the folding and rolling at least 4 times, and you need to rest the dough in between rolls to let the butter firm up. Otherwise it will soften and leak from between the layers.
So you’re left with a set of dozens of layers of thin dough, with very thin layers of butter between them. Pie crust is a wholly different animal.
It uses butter too, but it needs the butter cut into very tiny pieces. The whole point is to coat the tiny pieces of butter with the dough, and you end up with a dough that looks loose, like wet sand. When you pat it down to actually use as a pie base or crust, it forms a compact layer.
The butter is within the dough, as opposed to puff pastry where the butter is between the layers of dough.
Pie crust is crumbly, puff pastry dry
Because of the way the butter is used in these doughs, they cook differently. In puff pastry, the butter cooks the dough, separates the layers, and the water in the dough turns into steam and makes the dough rise. Hence the puff name.
Pie crust is much more static, and can get more crispy and/crumbly, depending on how you use it. The butter is spread evenly within the dough, so it will cook it evenly and you get more of a butter taste than with puff pastry.
The downsides to these doughs is that puff pastry can get very puffy and very dry. If you’re using it as a pie base, you need to blind bake it, without weights, but definitely dock it. A lot. This way steam from between the layers will cook them but it won’t rise to the heavens.
As for pie crust, it can get too dry, or crumbly, and you definitely need to know what you’re doing when you take out a slice of pie. And you always need to blind bake a pie shell !
Puff pastry is fragile, can get too flaky
Because of the way puff pastry is made, it can get way too fragile if you’re using it for something with a very heavy, wet filling. So a pumpkin pie made with puff pastry will pretty much break when you try and take a slice out from the baking dish.
It can also get way too flaky, as each layer cooks through. The top layer dry out and when you bite into it, the flakes go everywhere.
Pie crust is more stable, and holds together better. It’s denser, and what you see is what you get, in that it’s not going to puff up and disintegrate once you bite into it.
You can blind bake both doughs
Both doughs can be blind baked, in fact they need it. If you’re making pies, you need to be able to trust that pie shell and blind baking is your friend there.
Just a word of caution for puff pastry. Dock the bottom, but you may want to dock the sides as well. Otherwise they’ll get way too puffy and may even dry out and brown before the bottom is done.
Can you substitute pie crust for puff pastry ?
In some cases you can use pie crust instead of puff pastry, but you need to understand its limitations. If your recipe uses puff pastry for the height and flakiness you cannot get the same effect with pie crust.
Pie crust or dough is much denser, and if you want to wrap it around sausages they will be a hard, crumbly mess with a soggy inside.
But if you’re making something like turnovers then pie crust could possibly work, but don’t expect the same texture. You also need to add a little less filling, to make sure the dough cooks through.
Read Also: Cobbler VS Pie
Where in the grocery store is puff pastry ?
Puff pastry should be right next to the pie dough and frozen croissants and frozen desserts. So look in the frozen aisle, past the frozen fruit and veg. Look for the frozen pizza and burger buns, and you should start to see the frozen doughs.
You can also get puff pastry that is not frozen but only kept in a very cold fridge. It’s the same thing as the frozen version, but it’s easier to use it the day you bought it.
And if you can’t find puff pastry at all, don’t sub for phyllo. It has thicker layers and will dry out more. Sub for croissant dough, if you can find it. Or change your recipe.