After that post the other day, I realized I need to be doing this blogging thing more often. Mind you, I come to that realization once or twice a week, and you can see how well that’s been working. Anyway enough about me, let’s talk about you for a change.
How quickly did you shudder when you saw the title of this post? “Pie crust?? But isn’t that super hard? Its an unattainable food item, that will forever be relegated to super chefs, like Nossi Fogel, the likes of which will never be reached by me, a mere mortal.” Well my friend I’m here to tell you that I too once felt that way, but with a little tenacity and only 5 payments of $9.99, pie crusts can be yours too.
So where to begin…first thing first after all the many attempts to get you to purchase a scale, I can only assume you haven’t yet…well here’s your chance to right this ship. This pie dough is really very easy, provided you have a scale. Then again so is practically everything else in the kitchen, such as making custard, which is how you would make a quiche, which spoiler alert: is going to be the next post…sometime in the distant future.
Ok so now that a scale had been procured, the ratio that Michael Ruhlman uses is the 3:2:1 pie dough. 3 parts flour, to 2 parts fat, to 1 part water. So for all you Rhode scholars out there, if say you were using 100 grams of butter, you would need 150 grams of flour, and 50 grams of water. I think you can appreciate how easy and customizable that is if you have a scale, right? So I don’t have to convince you to buy a scale again correct? Moving right along.
The real tricky part of pie dough is accomplishing a sturdy and crispy crust that is not too tough and chewy, and it turns out we have tricks to accomplish this also, so worry not my friend.
Lets review what a pie dough really is. It falls into the category of laminated doughs, which mean there are layers of fat between layers of dough (as I’m sure you’ll no doubt remember from our scallion pancake recipe). The way to accomplish this in pie dough is to disperse small pockets of fat throughout the dough, that will essentially melt into separate layers that will separate the other areas of dough. Now those “other areas of dough” is essentially the part of the dough where the flour and water mixed together. (If you look at the top picture of the post, you’ll see a few distinct layers of dough, and that’s what we’re trying to accomplish..)
If we were to separate these two elements, the fat dispersal and the flour and water mixing, we can really get an understanding why people think it’s difficult to make pie dough, and come up with some solutions.
For the fat dispersal mission – the key is to get smallish pieces of fat, that will melt while the flour-water mixture is setting up. If it melts too soon, then it won’t disperse throughout the whole thingamabob, and it won’t make those distinct layers we talked about. The key to making sure you don’t do this is keeping the fat as cold as possible. The colder it is, the longer it takes for the fat to melt. So what I like to do, is cut the fat into cubes, and then place it in the freezer for at least 15 minutes. If my inner boy scout is calling, and I really want to do everything k’fi halacha, then I will place everything in the freezer…the food processor and all components, the flour, and even the whole kitchen. It all just goes into the freezer.
Then, when ready to mix the fat into the flour, you basically measure out your flour (pop quiz hot shot – what are we using to measure?? A scale! riiiiiighhhht???), if you want it to be a sweet dough, add some sugar, and before adding the fat, I like to aerate the flour (and pulverize the sugar if it’s in there) by pulsing a few times. Oh and salt, always add salt, because salt isn’t just a spice, it’s a flavor enhancer… (right mommy ;) ???). Anyway, once the flour is aerated, plop the really cold fat on top of the flour, and pulse a few times until there are “pea sized” chunks of fat.
We are now ready to commence phase #2 – Operation liquefaction. Here really the main goal is to prevent too much gluten from forming. The classical way of doing this is with ice cold water. The cold water will eventually form gluten, but like anything that’s freezing, will do so at a slower rate, plus the ice cold water has the added advantage of not bringing down the temperature. However, water + flour will inevitably make gluten, but guess what, alcohol + flour, does not make gluten, so imagine if instead of using water, we could use vodka, and since you have a bottle sitting in your freezer right now, it’ll be ice cold also! This little trick is thanks to America’s Test Kitchen, and I’ve done this multiple times, with excellent results.
So after you have your pea sized chunks of fat dispersed through the flour, add the vodka/water and pulse until it’s mostly combined. I like to plop it down on a work surface, and finish putting it all together by hand.
Once it’s all together into a disk-like blob, I like to put it back in the fridge (or freezer if not baking that day…it freezes very well) to cool it off again.
I would say the last hard part about baking the dough is rolling it out, and honestly this just takes time, but guess what? No one cares if it looks like your 2 year old did it, and bonus idea – when your pie does look like your 2 year old rolled it out, just lie and tell them she did! I lie all the time, and look where it’s gotten me!
We’re going to blind-bake the crust (which is fancy talk for baking the pie crust without any filling in it). First take the disc, and start rolling. The easiest way to do this, is by rolling out, and rotating the dough a 1/4 turn, and rolling out. Maybe one of these days, when I get around to posting videos, I’ll post one on rolling pie dough, but until then just …umm, roll it, ok?
Once your dough is in the receptacle of your choosing, I like to “dock” the dough (fancy talk for poking holes in it [like with a fork] to allow gases to escape, and not get trapped underneath the dough, and potentially cause an air bubble), and then place aluminum foil on top, with weights on top of the foil. This also prevents any air bubbles from forming (for the weights – you can actually buy “pie weights” or you can use household items, like dried beans, or better yet – pennies). Then you bake it for about 10-15 minutes, remove the foil, and bake another 5-10 minutes, until just beginning to brown.
And that my friend is how we do.
Tune in next time when we take this seemingly innocent pie crust, and transform it into a quiche, using nothing more than a scale…Magic!!