How many times has a pie crust or biscuit or scone recipe insisted that you start with cold butter and make sure it stays cold at all costs?
This, we are told, is the secret to success. Because when cold butter bits nestled in pillowy dough hit a hot oven, they melt, producing steam, creating layers, yielding flaky baked goods. Hence the proceed-with-caution signs for warm fingertips and summery kitchens.
Any liquid ingredient is held to the same standards. Water must be cold or better yet on ice. Same goes for milk, heavy cream, and friends. All of which is easy enough when the starting place is a cold faucet or colder fridge.
But what about flour? From a distance, this is complicated—many people store this dry, shelf-stable ingredient in the pantry. And because it’s the main ingredient in just about any buttery pastry, its temperature matters.
There are work-arounds here. In BakeWise, Shirley O. Corriher recommends that you cut the fat into the flour, then transfer this mixture to the freezer for 10 minutes. Over at Serious Eats, Stella Parks recommends chilling all ingredients, tools, and even your countertops during swampy months.
My personal favorite? A baking hack that’s actually a storage hack.
Instead of keeping flour in your 70°F kitchen, keep it in the freezer. This trick is a reliable way to extend the life of whole-grain or fresh-milled flours that are quick to go rancid. But it’s just as fair game for all-purpose, or whatever you use for baked goods. This means not only will your butter tumble into a delightfully chilly landscape, but your flour will stay fresher longer, to boot.
There’s always a bag of white whole-wheat in my freezer, along with rye, buckwheat, and then some. So whenever a weekend scone craving strikes—this happens, uh, every weekend—I’m already a step ahead.
Emma is the food editor at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles “on the fly,” baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma’s cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she’s up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.