Saturday, November 17, 2007

pie crust 101

pastry blender

To begin, I want to make a note about the zillions of pie dough recipes out there: I barely buy it. Not the value of a recipe, mind you, but that new ones will ever come to pass. At their very base, they’re all just some type of solid fat (butter, shortening or lard) cut with powdery ingredients (flour, sometimes salt and sugar) bound with a liquid (usually water, but some folks get creative with milk, cream, buttermilk or vodka), and I’m amused that every year, so many cooking publications feel a need to pronounce that By Golly, They’ve Got It! They’ve found the perfect pie dough. In my mind, it was never lost.

That said, Cooks Illustrated is really onto something grand this year, so thank you to all who pointed me in this recipe’s direction. That thing is vodka, my friends. Yes, I think they’re brilliant too. But really, vodka, because it is 80-proof, will mostly evaporate in the oven, meaning that your crust gets the liquid it needs but much of it will not stay. Worried about a boozy vibe to your pie? Vodka is, by definition, colorless and odorless, so once it’s baked, you’ll forget it was ever in there. Of course (aheeeeem) if you are the sort that likes to pick up small scraps of raw dough and eat them because, mm, butter is awesome, let’s just say that things can get a little messy and leave it at that. Really, it’s not always a bad thing.

pie crust 101, step onepie crust 101, step twopie crust 101, step threepie crust 101, step four

So let’s get started shall we? As I noted yesterday, I am a fan of the humble pastry blender–it’s simple, lo-fi, and uses minimal dishes–so I’ll be using that today. However, these same steps could be taken with your food processor or Kitchen Aid, if you’re partial to them.

First, measure your flour. Measuring cups work just fine, but since I had a lot to measure, I weighed it, which makes my life much easier. You’ll need 2 1/2 cups* for one double-crust pie, plus one teaspoon of salt and two tablespoons of sugar. Whisk all of these dry ingredients together.

pie crust 101, step fivepie crust 101, step six

Now is the point where I suppose I should jump in on the Great Butter versus Shortening, but yawn, you can get that elsewhere. I tend to go the all-butter route but this year put my trust in the CI recipe, which calls for some shortening. Feel free to use all of one or the other, if that’s your preference, simply by swapping out the ingredient with the same volume of the alternative.

Dice your butter and shortening–cold from the fridge–into smaller bits with a knife, toss them into the dry ingredients bowl and start cutting away with your blender.

pie crust 101, step sevenpie crust 101, step eightpie crust 101, step ninepie crust 101, step ten

The first picture shows the dough after a few cuts with the blender, i.e. big chunks. The second picture shows it a minute later, and you can see the chunks getting smaller. In the third picture, you’ll see that the dough is beginning to align itself with the blades, becoming more of a solid mass–you’re almost there. Another minute later, it should resemble a coarse cornmeal. You’re almost done! Wasn’t that easy?

pie crust 101, step elevenpie crust 101, step twelve

Next comes the moment you have all been waiting for: vodka. Add 1/4 cup vodka (we keep ours in the freezer, like good Russians, so it’s always icy) and 1/4 cup very cold water to this cornmeal-textured mixture and fold it all together with a rubber spatula. It should easily come together in a mass with a little stirring. This CI recipe is on the sticky side, to compensate for the vodka that will burn off.

pie crust 101, step thirteen pie crust 101, step fourteen

Mound the dough into one pile, and divide it into two balls. If you are OCD, as I am, you might weigh the dough to make sure you are dividing it evenly, but this is not mandatory. Flatten the balls into discs, wrap them in plastic and chill them in the refrigerator for at least 45 minutes and up to two days. (If you want to store it longer, triple wrapping them and then sliding them into a freezer bag in the freezer is recommended.)

Aren’t you proud of yourself? You have made a pie dough! Pat yourself on the back and leave others to wonder how you got the floury handprint! The mysteries never cease…

pie crust 101, step fifteenpie crust 101, step sixteen

At this point, you can prepare your pie filling, be it apples or pumpkin or something even awesomer that I hope you’ll share with me. Set it aside.

Once your dough is thoroughly chilled, and I mean thoroughly–my fridge is on the warm side and I didn’t feel that 45 minutes was sufficient. The dough should feel as firm as a cold stick of butter–it’s time to roll it out.

Rolling the dough out between two pieces of plastic is a great trick, as it keeps your counter clean and keeps you from having to flour and re-flour and, if you’re me, scrape and flour again because it keeps sticking anyway. Make sure you pull any folds out of the plastic every few rolls to ensure that the dough remains smooth.

To fit this in a standard 9.5-inch pie dish, you’re going to want roll it out to a 12-inch circle. I find that a ruler, or the side of the plastic wrap box which just happens to be 12 inches, is helpful to have around. If your dough has gotten soft or warmer in the time you have been rolling it out, I find it helpful to slide it onto the back of a tray and into the freezer for 10 minutes to get it firm again.

preparing a tart shell

Carefully transfer your dough to the pie plate by peeling off the top piece of plastic, and rolling the dough around the rolling pin, leaving the bottom piece of plastic on the counter, and unrolling it into the pie plate, or by folding the dough gently into quarters and unfolding in the pan. Working around the circumference of the pie plate, ease dough the dough into the corners by gently lifting dough edges with one hand while pressing around pan bottom with other hand. If you’re making a single crust pie, crimp the edges decoratively with your fingers at even intervals and add the filling according to your recipe’s instructions. If you’re making a double-crust or latticed pie, leave dough that overhangs the lip of plate in place and refrigerate dough-lined pie plate, proceeding according to that recipe’s instructions, or, heck, mine.

And if you’re me, and decided at the very last minute to mess with you guys by using a tart pan instead and par-baking it, but not telling your what I actually put in it until tomorrow, you’ll do just that. Nya-nya! I can assure you, it was amazing.

One year ago: Jacked-Up Banana Bread and fiittingly, How to Make a Lattice-Top Pie

NaBloSlackerMo Yes, peeps, it was a late night. Did I mention I had a wee dinner party? And there was wine, so much of it? And it was late? And because a great time was had by all, I’m not sorry? Fine, a tiny bit. But I wouldn’t take it back.

Update 11/25/08: New year, new tutorial. I have added some additional tips and a vodka-free crust recipe in Pie Crust 102: All Butter, Really Flaky Pie Dough. Check it out!

Foolproof Pie Dough
Cooks Illustrated, November 2007

Makes enough for one 9-inch double-crust pie

2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons sugar
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into small bits
1/4 cup cold vodka
1/4 cup cold water

1. Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogeneous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds (dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour). Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.

2. Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

* Note: I was making a double recipe, because, well, I make a lot of pie and wanted a stash of dough, so don’t freak out if your dough is smaller than mine. It’s supposed to be.


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