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November 29, 2008 / Tony

My Favorite Pie Dough


Pie Dough

Ah, pie.  The quintessential American dessert than almost nobody makes.  Instead, we Americans prefer to let the bakeries handle our pies and hence we eat so many tasteless, soggy crusts with fillings full of off flavors.  That is why an accomplished pie maker has no shortage of friends and is always invited to picnics and potlucks. 

I admit that I have struggled mightily with pie crust.  I have tried forks, pastry cutters, food processors, and my fingers.  Yet, that tender but flaky and slightly crispy case eluded me.  Not to mention having doughs that were too wet and too dry.  I’m not sure I have it down pat just yet but I’ve found that this recipe works really well for me.  It’s from Baking with Julia, which is one of the finest books on baking I’ve ever read.  Here’s the recipe:

Flaky Pie Dough

(enough for four 9-10 inch open faced pies or 2 double-crusted pies)

26.25 oz (about 5 1/2 cups) all purpose flour, chilled

1 T kosher salt

6 oz (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

11 oz (1 3/4 cup) solid vegetable shortening, chilled

1 cup ice water

Mix the flour and salt together in a large bowl.  Add the butter.  Then, using your fingers, rub it into the flour until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs.  Break up the shortening and add it in bits to the bowl.  Rub the shortening into the mixture until it has small clumps and curds.  Switch to a wooden spoon and add the ice water, stirring to incorporate it.  Turn the dough out onto a work surface and fold it over on itself a few times-don’t get carried away.  The dough should be soft but it will firm up sufficiently in the refrigerator.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and for as long as 5 days.  It is now ready to roll out and used in any recipe calling for flaky pie crust.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. . . I’ve read a thousand pie recipes and they never turn out for me.  I know, I’ve been there and felt the same thing.  But there’s nothing secret about making a good pie crust.  It just takes some attention to detail.  The first thing to keep in mind is to keep everything cold.  This means putting the flour, butter and shortening in the freezer about 1/2 hour or so before you’re ready to make the dough.  That extra “cold” in the dough will make it easier to make the crust flaky.  Why?  It is layers of solid fat that make the layers in the dough.  If the fat is melted, it won’t make the layers and you’ll have a tough crust.  Cut the butter into pieces before you chill it in the freezer so that you don’t impart any heat into it by cutting it after it’s been chilled.  Also, keep your ice water, well, ice-cold.  Give the water a chance to get good and cold before you use.  Your patience will be rewarded.

The second thing to keep in mind is to keep a light hand.  Flour plus water plus agitation means gluten production.  Gluten, of course, is that wonderful stuff that makes breads chewy and that enables the dough to rise.  Think of it as the frame of a house.  It provides structure to whatever you’re making.  Some gluten is necessary to provide some structure to a pie dough but too much will make it too tough.  So use a very light hand after the water is added.  Handle is just enough so that the dough comes almost completely together.

The third thing to remember is that we’re not looking for uniformity in the dough.  It’s a good thing to have larger and smaller pieces of visible fat in the dough.  Those bigger pieces will make nice layers in the finished product.  So, don’t worry if your dough doesn’t look the same all the way through and don’t work the dough to get to that point.  You’ll end up overworking it and ruin your crust. 

The fourth thing to remember is to measure accurately.  Unless you’re some old grandma who has been making pie for years and years, I think it’s pretty difficult to get the proportions of flour, fat and water right.  That’s why I use a digital scale to measure the flour and fat. 

Finally, there’s no real technique to rubbing the fat into the dough.  Just use your fingertips and rub the fat in between your fingers and your thumb.  Use two hands at a time and the task goes pretty quickly. 

And that’s pretty much it.  If you’re successful, you’ll have created an incredibly flaky and flavorful dough.  Here’s a picture of Katelyn putting the dough into a pie plate.  Enjoy!

Katelyn's Pie Dough


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