Several readers have written in to inquire about texture-improving pie crust additives. I didn’t include any in the standard pie crust recipe below because, well, it’s just the standard. But I frequently do add things like a little baking powder or an acid of some sort to my crusts to enhance their flakiness.
Lemon juice, vinegar or cream of tartar are great for tenderizing a crust because acid undermines gluten development. As I recall it inhibits the ability of the molecules to bond end-to-end. Something about a change in polarity that I’d need to look up, but really wouldn’t completely understand once I did.
Baking powder can be very nice also, but in a different way. Baking powder helps create flakes and lightness. Here I should probably insert that there’s fundamental tension in a pie crust between tenderness and flakiness. “Tender” is a quality most commonly associated with moisture and, well I guess I’d say a spongy-type texture. “Flaky” is associated with drier, brittle textures. It can be a tough balance to strike.
Pretty much all the regular pie bakers I know have their own definition of the perfect crust, but then also more than one crust recipe in their repertoires. If you like pie, you might want to consider a little experimentation. Start with a standard crust, then do a little branching out with some acid here, a little baking powder there, a little modifying of your process at other points.
You’ll probably find you’ll like one crust for open pies, another for dual-crust pies, yet another for savory pies, etc.. Though it might not seem it at first, the world of pie broad and varied. I contains quite a bit more than any single crust can hold.