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Making a great crust is crucial to pie perfection, but not every pie is going to sing with the same crust recipe. Therefore, I'm giving you my entire lineup of crusts for every possible pie occasion up front, from puff pastry to pizza crust. On top of that, there are recipes for fillings that show up in any manner of combinations, so having them now will familiarize you with the recipes that should always have at your fingertips. Think of these recipes as a great foundation for the deliciousness that's to come.
CRUST IS QUEEN IN THE PIE WORLD. If you can't muster together a beautiful crust, your creation isn't worth shoving into anyone's piehole, no matter how delicious the filling might be. You should also keep in mind that choosing the right type of crust to house your filling is as essential as how well you make the thing. For a double crust, you have to ask yourself whether you are willing to forsake a little bit of unruly buttery, flaky lusciousness for a modicum of control. You see, if you go with a quick puff for a double crust, you have to be ready for your handiwork (beautiful crimping and perfect lattice) to take on a life of its own, as quick puff tends to rise and grow in the heat of the oven according to its own whim. Choose the easy pie dough in all-butter or with a little shortening, and you have beautiful taste combined with aesthetic control.
If you opt to use a sweet crust with an even sweeter custard filling instead of selecting the less cloying simple tart crust, my dad would say you're "gilding the lily." In other words, you're smothering the essence and goodness of the tart. You must seek balance in pies, a gentle dance of flavor and texture. Having an arsenal of gorgeous pie and tart crusts at your fingertips will ensure that you get that balance right every time.
LET'S TALK ABOUT FAT. There is no pie or tart crust worth shoving in your piehole without it. Usually the fat we're talking about is butter; that's my personal favorite. Butter, well handled, produces flaky, tender, and crispy crusts. To get specific and a little technical, I prefer to use unsalted European butter. European butter has a higher butterfat content and lower moisture than your run-of-the-mill grocery-store butter. This leads not only to elevated levels of flakiness and tenderness, but also to less shrinkage in the oven while baking, because there's less water to evaporate away.
However, butter is notoriously unruly when it hits the oven. Your perfectly crimped edges, when confronted with the full blast of pie-baking heat, can morph into flaky blobs or simply drop off into the cavern of your oven, left to smolder evermore on the bottom of your gas range.
This is where vegetable shortening comes in. It's incredibly stable at high temperatures, which means that a crust made with a percentage of shortening will hold its shape better, and its edges and cutouts will stay pristine while baking. It's also much cheaper than butter. That said, shortening leaves a telltale film in your mouth, which some find less than pleasant. So weigh your options and priorities when choosing all butter or part shortening.
In America, the long-lost and glorious pastry fat is leaf lard. It's made of the fat that surrounds a porker's kidneys and, when added to flour to make pastry, combines the best of butter's flaky and tender qualities with nuttiness and a soupçon of bacon goodness that's hard to beat. (The butter-to-leaf-lard ratio has to be exact. I've found that adding more than 25 percent lard will produce a crust redolent of a pig roast instead of simply adding a hint of salty goodness.)
Unfortunately, leaf lard is terribly hard to come by in the United States these days, and often when you do get your hands on it, it's poorly processed—it tastes of pigpen instead of pork goodness when it bakes off. However, well-rendered lard is glorious. Prairie Pride Farm in Minnesota is a great online resource for it; otherwise, ask your butcher if he's got any.
Suet is another lovely option. It's the rendered fat of a cow's kidney and produces similarly tasty results when added to pastry. If you have the wherewithal to render your own fat, I highly recommend the effort. You'll not regret the gorgeous deliciousness it adds to your crust.
But there's nothing wrong with sticking to the easy-to-find options: butter and vegetable shortening.
HERE'S THE DEAL WITH FLOUR. Different flours have different percentages of gluten, from cake flour, with the lowest, to bread flours, with the highest. But even though most brands offer a cake, an all-purpose, and a bread flour, the average flour mills won't guarantee consistent gluten percentages—they just aim for a range and call it a day. I'm not going to name any names, but they are the usual grocery suspects. When I hear the a baker lament, "I did everything exactly the same as always, but it all went to hell," I immediately ask, "What kind of flour do you use?" The truth is, you could have mixed your ingredients exactly as you did when you made that cake perfectly, only to have it come out rubbery and full of holes this time. Chances are, the gluten levels in the new bag of flour you just bought are higher.
As a rule, I use all-purpose flour in my piecrusts and tart doughs. Specifically, I use King Arthur, which is the only flour mill I know that guarantees exact gluten percentages in each of its flours. I work the flour as little or as much as I need, depending on the kind of crust I'm making. If I'm making a sweet dough or a butter crust, I use a food processor and work the fats into the dough with quick pulses so as not to overwork the glutens. If I'm working with a yeasted dough for a crust—like in Zwetschgendatschi or a pizza pie or a puff pastry — I mix the dough enough to increase gluten for protein structure and great mouthfeel.
A NOTE FROM THE SWEETIE PIE Unsalted Butter
I've been asked over and over, "Why unsalted butter in your recipes? I like salted butter." And I always answer, "Because I say so!"
And then I take a deep breath, count to ten, eat a piece of pie, find my inner baker's calm, and actually answer the question like an adult.
First, salt is a preservative. Its use in products like butter is to extend shelf life. This means the salted butter in your grocer's cold case is very likely to be older than the unsalted butter. Fresher is better.
Second, just because salt is a preservative doesn't mean there isn't something about the butter that can't go a little off during that extra time it spends hanging around waiting for you to stroll down the refrigerated aisle and give it a second glance. That butter has a chance to pick up a few things, and what it ends up acquiring is what I like to call "butter funk," a smell and taste reminiscent of a communal dirty-laundry sack in a pro football locker room. I have an uncanny ability to identify any product made with salted butter that had lingering funk, and I'll have none of it in my own work.
Third, no one is going to tell me how much salt to put into my recipe. I'm making everything from scratch, so why would I want someone shoving salt willy-nilly into my glorious butter products? That's my job!
All-Butter Easy Pie Dough
THIS DOUGH IS TERRIBLY EASY TO MAKE, BUT IS STILL INCREDIBLY BUTTERY AND TASTY. You have two options: You can make it with all butter for full flakiness or add a little shortening to lend greater workability to the mix. Both are great options for double-crust pies.
Makes enough dough for 1 (9-inch/23-cm) double-crust pie
all-purpose flour, cold
unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled in
the freezer for 10 minutes
ice water (Don't add the ice to the pie dough, just the
1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment, pulse together the flour, salt, sugar, and butter until the mixture resembles cornmeal.
2. In a small bowl, stir together the ice water and the lemon juice. Slowly add the liquid to the flour mixture, pulsing, until the dough just comes together. Squeeze a small piece of dough between your thumb and index finger to make sure it holds its shape.
3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide it in half. Gently turn over each piece of dough a few times so that any dry bits are incorporated. Form each piece into a loose disk, cover the dough with plastic wrap, and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes.
Option 1 Part-Butter/Part-Shortening Easy Pie Dough
Reduce the amount of chilled, unsalted butter to 12 tablespoons (170 g) and add 4 tablespoons (50 g) shortening, chilled in the freezer for 10 minutes.
Option 2 Easy Rustic Pie Dough
Cornmeal is a lovely addition to pie dough when you want to add a rustic feel to your dough. Replace ¼ cup (30 g) of the flour with ¼ cup (40 g) of finely ground cornmeal.
A NOTE FROM THE SWEETIE PIE Blind Baking!
Blind baking simply means baking the piecrust before you add the filling. This usually means you are baking it completely because the filling doesn't require any more baking. Many cream pies, flan and panna cotta tarts, and pies filled with mousses and pastry cream have no-bake fillings that require the crust to be fully baked ahead of time.
But blind baking can also signify that you are just par-baking, which means you're partially baking the crust before adding a filling, at which point you'll bake the entire pie. This prevents the bottom crust from getting soggy. It's obviously something you usually only do with a single-crusted pie, since with a double-crusted pie you can only properly crimp together the top and bottom crusts around the edges when both pieces of the dough are raw — if you want a very clean double-crusted pie, that is. I blind bake double-crusted bottom crusts when I'm not feeling particularly precious about how perfectly the edges of the pie will come out or if the top crust is going to be made up of overlapping cutouts.
A NOTE FROM THE SWEETIE PIE COLD!
You've heard this a thousand times: Your pie dough ingredients must be bitterly frigid before proceeding. This is advice you must really take to heart. The rule of thumb in professional bakeries is that a pie or tart dough should never be warmer than 60°F (16°C).
First, no matter whether the fat you are using is butter, vegetable shortening, or lard, it must be ice-cold or the fat will be absorbed into the flour and create a tough crust. When it's all but frozen, the fat gets layered in between the flour, and its moisture is released in the heat of the oven, creating a flaky and tender crust.
Second, if your fat is cold but your flour, water, and work surfaces are warm, what's the point of having gone through all the trouble of cooling the fat in the first place? Keeping the fat suspended and whole within the dough is crucial to tender and flaky, so it only follows that if the rest of the elements are cold too, then you'll fare better at keeping your butter in the perfect state of suspended animation until it's time to bake! So I store my flour in the refrigerator when I'm making pie dough.
Third, ice water is the standard liquid used in pie and tart crusts, but that doesn't mean you actually pour the ice into the mix — just the ice-cold water. I make a large pitcher of ice water a half hour ahead of time, place it in the fridge, and, when I'm ready, pour the icy-cold water into my measuring cup and proceed with my crust. Add only enough cold water to hydrate and moisten the dough, but never so much that it gets soggy. Too little liquid, however, will lead to a crumbly and unworkable dough. Depending on the relative moisture during any given day, you'll notice that you'll need more or less water for your dough to come together. So always add water slowly, not all at once, to allow for atmospheric differences.
Fourth, if you are using a food processor to make dough, you can first cube your fats into small pieces and then freeze them completely. The blades make easy work of cutting through the stuff, and you'll be ahead of the curve in the cold-dough game. On the other hand, if you don't have a food processor, you can still freeze your fat (this actually works best with butter), then shred it into your dough with a box grater, using the large holes.
Fifth, roll your dough out onto a cool work surface. Marble is often used because it's naturally cold to the touch. It's easy to forget, when you're busy in the kitchen, that you've just moved a hot sheet pan from your usual rolling area, leaving what should be your cool pastry space hot as hell. So when working on pies and tarts, keep a designated work area "roped off" and cool for exclusive pastry use. Keep it free from all other kitchen clutter and hot pots and sheet pans.
Sixth, let your dough rest in the fridge or freezer for at least twenty to thirty minutes after you've first mixed it and then again after rolling it into a round to line a pie or tart pan. Manipulating and rolling dough works the gluten in the flour, which is the protein in wheat that gives it elasticity. The more you work a dough with flour, the more elastic and rubbery it becomes. That's why we knead bread dough—to develop the gluten well and produce that gorgeous bready texture. Conversely, that's why you don't knead pie dough: We don't want chewy or tough, we want tender and flaky. But any amount of manipulation of flour gets the protein worked up and tense. If you don't allow your dough to rest for twenty to thirty minutes before using it, you'll notice that as you're trying to make an ordinary 11-inch (28-cm) round of dough for a 9-inch (23-cm) pie plate, the dough won't maintain its shape or size and will shrink back. That's because it needs some alone time, to rest and relax all of those verklempt proteins. Likewise, if you don't allow a rolled dough a decent amount of rest before baking, it will shrink in the oven.
Bottom line: The trick to making great pie and tart dough is to keep it cool and relaxed.
Simple Tart Dough
THIS IS MY GO-TO DOUGH FOR ANYTHING THAT NEEDS SIMPLICITY AND TEXTURE. It is akin to the French classic pâte brisée, but with so much more flavor (in my not-so-humble opinion). The inclusion of sweetened condensed milk might have you thinking that this is a sweet dough, but it's not. Instead, the milk adds an underlying caramel richness without making a sweet crust.
Makes 2½ pounds (1.2 kg) dough, enough for 3 to 4 (8- to 9-inch/20- to 23-cm) tarts or 12 to 16 mini tarts
all-purpose flour, cold
unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled
sweetened condensed milk
egg, at room temperature, lightly beaten
1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment, pulse together the flour, butter, and salt until the mixture resembles cornmeal.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the condensed milk and egg. While pulsing, slowly pour this into the flour until the dough just comes together.
3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and gently turn over a few times until it is smooth, the dry ingredients have been completely integrated, and the dough holds together. Take care not to overwork it.
4. Shape the dough into a loose circle, cover it with plastic wrap, and allow to rest in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes.
Hand Pie Dough
THIS IS A ZIPPY AND EASY-TO-HANDLE DOUGH, TAILOR-MADE FOR SMALL, HANDHELD TREATS. It translates well to both sweet and savory, baked and fried.
all-purpose flour, cold
vegetable shortening, frozen
unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled
sweetened condensed milk
1. In a food processor, pulse together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
2. Add the shortening and butter. Pulse until the mixture resembles cornmeal.
3. Whisk together the milk and condensed milk.
4. With the processor running, slowly add the milk mixture and continue to pulse until the dough just comes together.
5. Turn the dough out onto a large piece of plastic wrap. Use the plastic wrap to turn the dough over a few times, until it no longer has dry bits of flour visible and is smooth. It's important that the dough be rather smooth; otherwise, when you roll it out for your crust, the dough will crack.
6. Wrap the dough in the plastic wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes before using.
Excerpted from Pie It Forward by Gesine Bullock-Prado, Natalie Kaire, Tina Rupp. Copyright © 2012 Gesine Bullock-Prado. Excerpted by permission of ABRAMS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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