Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Growing up I thought that all pie crusts were gross. They looked nice (most of the time) and lots were very flaky but sure enough every time I bit into a piece of pie one of two results awaited me. Either the crust was so dry, bland, and moisture sucking that I'd rather have eaten a stick of chalk, or it left a weird film of something akin to a liquid plastic chemical over the entire surface of my mouth and I'd feel the urge to scrape it off. Thankfully, Mom agreed that the efforts of making a pie crust weren't worth the unappealing results (and the results of store bought crusts were even worse) and skipped the process entirely, always choosing instead to use graham cracker crusts.
While in college one of my roommates made a pie for a Thanksgiving dinner we were hosting. I didn't want to offend her, leaving the crust she had worked hard to make very obviously sitting on my plate with only the filling gone, so I quickly took a bite of the outer crust side. I had thought to get the gross part over quickly so that my last bites would be nearly all delicious filling, but as I ate that bite I knew it had been a mistake. It was the best pie crust I had ever tasted. I don't mean to say that it was just better then all the other gross ones but still not worth eating. No, this crust was incredible. It was worth savoring. I should have been taking small bites of the buttery, moist flakes to make it last as long as I could and here I was chomping away trying to get it over with so I could get to the good stuff. Oddly enough I can't tell you now what kind of pie it even was because the awesome crust pushed all other memories of the experience out of my head.
Now that I knew good pie crust wasn't a myth I knew I was going to have to learn how to make one myself. After some consultation I was made aware of the standard tips, not to overwork the dough, keep everything cold, use all butter for better flavor use some shortening if you want it flakier (no thanks, that would be the liquid plastic I have always hated), etc. So I tucked that knowledge away for the next pie crust making opportunity. Which didn't happen for quite a while.
Since that first experience, I have learned a couple of other things. If you freeze your sticks of butter and then run them over the coarse side of a box grater it will be easy to toss them together with the flour using a fork. Use less water then you think you will need. Leave dry spots even. Otherwise you will just add a ton of flour later, toughening up your crust. I tend to like using my food processor to grate the butter because it is quicker so I also use it for the mixing part, but if you use a hand grater you can mix this with a fork. Also, who says that you can't flavor the crust? Recipes don't usually call for any, but I like to add some spices in with the flour that work well with the filling (cinnamon for apple pie readily comes to mind). Really it seems that good pie crust comes more from practice and a gentle touch then from any specific "best pie crust" recipe, but I have used this one with great success. One of the benefits of baking is being able to eat your mistakes as you learns from them so get in the kitchen and give it a try.
All Butter Pie Dough
-= Ingredients =-
2 1/2 cups Flour
2 tablespoons Sugar(for savory applications, reduce this to 1)
1 teaspoon Salt
1/2 tsp ground spice, like cinnamon (optional, use whatever will best complement your filling)
2 sticks unsalted butter, frozen
1/2-34 cup ice cold water
-= Instructions =-
To the bowl of your food processor add the flour, salt, sugar and spice. Pulse once or twice to mix it up. Open up the processor and remove about a cup of the dry ingredients. Using the coarse grating disk, feed the first of your frozen sticks of butter carefully through the tube. Pour the dry ingredients in. Feed the second stick through.
Switching back to your s-blade, pulse two or three times and then begin to drizzle 1/2 cup of ICE cold water into the feed tube while pulsing. The dough will look like it is starting to think about coming together. Maybe. Dump it out into a bowl (or your counter top) and use your hands to finish mixing and bringing it together. If you really need it, add another tablespoon of water at a time to the dough, but only just enough to make it barely clump together.
Divide the dough in half, and place each half on a large piece of plastic wrap. Use the sides of the plastic wrap to pull in the dough and shape it into a disk. The thinner the disk is now, the less work you will have to do later, but don't go too crazy. Let the dough chill in the fridge for at least two hours before rolling it out. This helps the butter to get cold and solid again (we don't want it melting into the flour) and also allows the water we added so stingily to distribute more evenly.
Your dough should keep at least a week in the fridge, and in the freezer longer. This will make enough dough for one double crust pie.
Just a couple of rolling tips: When you are ready to roll out your crust, lightly flour your workspace and leave the plastic on the top of the dough. Turn the crust often so it doesn't stick to your counter. Halfway through rolling it out, peel off your plastic wrap since it will have been stretched quite a bit by now and may be at risk of tearing. You can stick it back on if you like, but removing it will have released the tension that was building up (learned that the hard way, see the below photo). We don't want it to rip and leave behind bits of plastic. If you use plastic all the way to the end of your rolling, allowing the dough to chill again will make it easier to remove the plastic without ripping your hard work to shreds.