Homemade pie crust in pie plate. Cooking apple pie, dark background
How Cream Cheese Can Take Pie Crust From Good To Great
By Kalea Martin
Gluten is a necessary component of many baked goods since it provides structure, but too much of it can easily make things tough. The best way to prevent gluten from forming is to simply avoid overworking the dough, but if you end up undermixing it, your pie crust will turn out crumbly — for an easier approach, add cream cheese.
Flakiness is a result of the fat creating pockets of steam in the dough as it cooks, but fat also acts as a barrier between the flour and the liquid, thereby inhibiting the formation of gluten. The cream in cream cheese allows it to inhibit gluten, tenderize the dough, and add a distinct flavor that's impossible to achieve from butter or shortening.
In addition to being a source of fat, cream cheese is also a source of moisture, so adding too much will make the dough too sticky to handle. For the best results, either substitute cream cheese for the water in your recipe, or swap half the amount of butter for cream cheese, and make sure to use a full-fat variety.