Taming the Unruly Pie Crust
Yes, it’s time to devote an entire post to discuss pie crust. Why?
- Because a lot of people think it’s difficult and really, it’s not that bad.
- Store bought pie crusts are yucky (they have hydrogenated oil and a bunch of weird things I can’t pronounce)
- Pie crust is used for SO many things and once you know how to make it, you can put anything you want in them (yesterday I made a kale, belgian endive, and pecorino tart because they were all lying in my fridge begging to be used for something).
- Because I posted the Grand Marnier Orange Walnut Tart yesterday, and you might be less intimidated to make it after reading this post.
There are only a few components in pie crust, and they are flour, fat, and liquid. I always choose butter as my fat because I think shortening is really gross (it tastes bad and coats your teeth with this awful film).
There are three major kinds of pie dough:
*Pate Brisée-This is just plain pie dough, used mostly for savory tarts or quiches.
*Pate Sucrée-This is a sweet dough, and you usually add a tablespoon or so of sugar to sweeten it slightly (I add 1 tbsp sugar per cup of flour)
*Nut or Cheese Dough-You can add a couple tbsp of grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese or finely ground nuts to replace a small amount of the flour in either a Pate Brisée or Pate Sucrée.
You can make the pie crust three ways: by hand, in the food processor, or in the stand mixer. Using the food processor is the quickest and by far the easiest method for cutting the butter, and I like to mix the liquid in by hand at the very end. Basically, you put flour, sugar if using, and a pinch of salt in the food processor, pulse to aerate them, then add the butter, pulse 10 times or so until it gets crumbly, then dump the mixture into a bowl and slowly add some sort of liquid (water, cream, or egg) by hand. Okay, now let’s try!
First, dice your butter up into small pieces, like so:
Put the flour, sugar if using, and salt in a food processor, pulse a couple times to aerate it and combine. Add the diced up butter and pulse about 10 times, being careful not to overpulse. You want chickpea size pieces of butter still visible in the dough, like this:
Dump the mixture into a big bowl, and add ice water to bind, mixing by hand. Chill the dough for at least 1-2 hours.
After the dough is thoroughly chilled, roll it out into a circle and press it into your pan:
See how the dough is marbled with butter? That means flaky, delicate, and delicious pie crust.
Important things to remember:
The most important: do not let your pie dough get warm. If you only focus on one thing, this is the one. You want to keep the butter from melting, because if it does, you won’t get the crumbly or flaky pie crust you’re working for.
Do not overwork the dough. In my experience, it is always better to have to patch little parts of the pie together a little bit later rather than have a tough pastry. When your pie or tart crust is flaky, tender, and delicious, it really accentuates what’s going on in your tart, whether it be something savory or something sweet. When your pie or tart crust is tough, it tastes like cardboard, and maybe I’m extra picky, but it really detracts from whatever is inside the tart.
Different flours in various parts of the country have different gluten contents, so you will always have to make adjustments to suit the characteristics of your flour, butter, and humidity. The best way to ensure a good pie crust time after time is to learn how it should feel.
- 12.5 oz all purpose flour (2.5 cups)
- 1/4 tsp fine salt
- 20 tbsp (2.5 sticks) unsalted butter, diced into cubes
- ice cold water
- Put the flour and salt in a food processor, pulse a couple times to aerate it and combine. Add the diced up butter and pulse about 10-15 times, being careful not to overpulse. You want chickpea size pieces of butter still visible in the dough.
- Dump the mixture out into a big bowl and add two installments of 1/4 cup ice water to the flour, tossing the ingredients around gently with a spatula, to distribute the liquid and moisten the flour. Now, pinch a small piece of the dough. Does it crumble or does it hold together? If it holds together, dump the contents out onto the counter, bring it together with your hands (quickly, so you don’t warm the dough), wrap it in plastic wrap, and stick it in the fridge for an hour or two. If it doesn’t hold together, add more ice cold water, 1 tbsp at a time.
- After the dough is thoroughly chilled, lightly flour your countertop, and start rolling it out into a circle big enough to fill your pie or tart pan. Roll your dough around a rolling pin to lift it onto your pie plate. Press the dough into your pie or tart pan, and you are ready to proceed with your recipe!