[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]
My methodology for pie dough is as naked bones as they arrive. Made with equal weights of butter and flour, the recipe all comes right down to method. In a system that straightforward, each element issues. For some, that may make the recipe look like a fussy, high-pressure affair. However to me, it offers a comforting framework for fulfillment—nothing is random, and every part is inside my management.
So whether or not it is a method you are still working to grasp or one you are about to strive for the primary time, it helps to grasp the bottom guidelines entering into.
Low-Protein Flour and American Butter Are Key
My old school flaky pie dough works greatest with all-purpose flours with a protein content material round 10% (manufacturers like Gold Medal, Pillsbury, and Immaculate) and no-frills, American-style butter. That is true for all of my recipes, however they make a selected distinction with regards to pie dough.
So what is the deal?
Pantry staples like refined white sugar, pure salt, and baking soda have chemical definitions (C12H22O11, NaCl, and NaHCO3, respectively), so one model is nearly as good as one other. Beneath the spiffy packaging, they’re all the identical (properly, in some instances totally different manufacturers can have totally different densities, however this is not a difficulty in case you weigh your components as a substitute of measuring them by quantity).
None of that is the case with butter and flour, whose composition can differ drastically from model to model. Such variations can common out in additional advanced recipes, the place these components could solely play a supporting function, however in a pie crust the traits of butter and flour might be on full show.
Some manufacturers of all-purpose flour, like White Lily, use 100% mushy white wheat, for a starchy, low-protein profile much like that of cake flour, making it good for high-rising biscuits and cake, however too low in gluten-forming proteins for a well-structured pie dough.
Different manufacturers, like King Arthur, use 100% exhausting pink wheat, for a comparatively low-starch, high-protein product much like that of bread flour, making it good for chewy sandwich loaves and crunchy crackers, however too excessive in gluten-forming proteins for a young crust.
My favourite model of flour, Gold Medal’s Blue Label, falls between these two extremes with a mix of white and pink wheat, so it has the fitting stability of starch and protein for a variety of baking tasks—together with pie crust.
With this model of all-purpose flour, the dough will not crumble when transferred from the counter to the pan (a symptom of low gluten improvement), nor will it bake up greasy and difficult (an indication of low starch and extra gluten improvement). It has simply the fitting stability of protein and starch to make a dough that is sturdy and simple to deal with, however bakes up flaky, tender, and lightweight.
The same degree of variation performs out in butter, with American kinds clocking in at about 80% milk fats and European kinds coming in a tad larger at 82%. Other than a richer composition, the longer churning methodology offers European kinds a barely softer consistency. The softer construction and better fats content material are perfect for laminated doughs like croissants, however can wreak havoc on recipes developed with American butter in thoughts (i.e., actually all of my recipes; I am an American pastry chef writing about American recipes on an American web site).
With further fats and a creamier consistency, European-style butters could make my old school pie dough a mushy and squishy mess to roll, one which accommodates extra fats than the flour can deal with, leading to a dough that bakes right into a greasy puddle—an issue that may solely be magnified when paired with a high-protein, low-starch flour.
Maintain the Dough Cool, Not Chilly
Making a pie crust by hand is like constructing a home out of butter: a brick will be rock exhausting when ice chilly or totally melted when heat. As a result of butter constitutes almost 50% of the dough’s mass, the dough will share these traits as properly. It will likely be exhausting and crumby when chilly, and hopelessly mushy when heat.
That vary of consistency at totally different temperatures could make the dough appear too dry or too moist, main bakers to mistakenly imagine the issue has to do with dry or humid air, leading to makes an attempt to “repair” the difficulty by including extra water or flour. Sadly, these changes solely create new issues (extra gluten improvement, shrinking, toughness) as a result of they’re addressing the signs quite than the underlying problem: butter temperature.
Luckily, temperature-related issues are straightforward to manage—and I am not speaking about cranking up the furnace or working the AC. When it is hotter within the kitchen, the reply is so simple as popping that bowl of flour within the fridge for a couple of minutes earlier than making the dough. In winter months, it is as straightforward as utilizing barely hotter faucet water to counteract the chilling impact of chilly flour from the bag.
I have already got a full information to conquering pie dough in a sizzling kitchen in addition to a tutorial on overcoming the issues of a cold kitchen.
In the end, the thought is to maintain the pie dough someplace between 68° and 72°F, so it stays pliable, cool, and simple to deal with. Beneath that vary (particularly in a chilly kitchen), the dough might be crumbly and liable to cracking when rolled. Above that vary (notably in a heat kitchen), the dough might be sticky and desirous to tear.
Stick With Huge Flakes of Butter
It takes large chunks of butter to create large, flaky layers in a pie crust, so examine that idea of “mealy, pea-sized bits” on the dough-or. I begin with butter that is reduce into cubes no smaller than half an inch (barely bigger is okay, however take care to not go underneath). From there, each bit is smashed as soon as, like bubble wrap, to create a flaky combine. That is it!
If the butter is labored into smaller items, it is going to undermine gluten improvement and make the dough mushy, moist, and unstructured—susceptible to ripping and sticking, and greasy after baking. However avoiding all these issues could not be easier: Minimize the butter into 1/2-inch cubes, and smash as soon as. How straightforward is that?
Use a Heavy Dusting of Flour
When rolling out the dough, use as a lot flour as wanted to stop sticking. A cool dough will not soak up the flour anyway, so there is not any profit to skimping. Additional flour can at all times be dusted off with a pastry brush ultimately, so do not be shy!
Use a heavy hand when dusting, each above and beneath, and you will by no means fear about sticking once more.
Keep away from Stoneware Pans
What a pie plate is constructed from (glass, ceramic, aluminum, stoneware, and so on) will straight management the speed at which warmth is carried out to the crust. If the butter melts too slowly, it is going to merely ooze out right into a greasy mess, with out serving to the dough to puff up and kind flaky layers because it ought to. For that cause, it is necessary to keep away from thick ceramic and heavy stoneware pans in any respect prices—nonetheless cute they could be, they produce crusts which can be moist, pale, and limp.
With light-weight, conductive supplies reminiscent of aluminum, glass, or skinny ceramic, the butter will soften at a brisker tempo, serving to the dough to puff and brown, for a light-weight and flaky crust.
Totally Weight the Dough to Blind Bake
When blind-baking a pie shell, a standard step for single-crusted pies like pumpkin, candy potato, or chocolate cream pie, it is necessary to totally weight the dough.
The aim of a pie weight is to offer a bodily barrier to stop the dough from collapsing inward alongside the downward sloping sides of the pie plate. Meaning the weights need to be flush with the highest fringe of the dough; a mere handful of pie weights on the underside will not do a factor.
Refined white sugar is my go-to pie weight, as a result of it is low-cost and plentiful in most kitchens, heavier than rice or beans, and higher capable of conform to the form of the crust when in comparison with ceramic pie weights. As a result of sugar is so heavy and efficient for weighting a pie, it additionally eliminates the necessity for docking the dough (a.okay.a, poking holes in it with a fork to remove air bubble).
Let the Dough Calm down
After rolling and shaping the dough, whether or not for a single- or double-crusted pie, it is going to have to be refrigerated for not less than two hours earlier than use. This offers the gluten time to unwind, and the butter time to relax, so the dough is cool and relaxed when it hits the oven, producing a young, flaky crust.
So if you wish to make the dough upfront, roll and form it instantly, then wrap up the totally fashioned shell and/or sheet (for the highest crust of a fruit pie). These will be frozen for a number of months upfront, then thawed to 40°F (4°C) within the fridge earlier than use, or refrigerated as much as a day upfront. They will technically hold a number of days longer than that, however could start to show grey over time, and can have a higher chance of sticking to the pie plate.
If the dough is wrapped and refrigerated in blocks, it is going to nonetheless want two hours to loosen up after rolling and shaping down the street, which cancels out a lot of the advantages related to making a dough upfront.
After enjoyable for 2 hours, or thawing to 40°F (4°C), single-crusted pies are able to blind bake and double-crusted pies are able to assemble. As a result of double-crusted pies see somewhat extra motion and heat when the highest and backside crusts are crimped collectively, I like to recommend refrigerating the assembled pie for not less than 30 minutes earlier than baking. This ensures the sides are completely cool, and higher capable of maintain their form within the oven.
That is very true for lattice-topped pies, like my blueberry pie, which will take some further time to assemble, permitting the highest crust to additional soften and heat.
It might look like so much to recollect, however detailing each facet of a easy course of creates an phantasm of complexity—simply think about writing out the instructions for tying your shoelaces. What’s troublesome to articulate with the written phrase is way simpler in apply, and turns into simpler nonetheless with apply. So give your self room to study, and know that each one of those particulars will change into second nature in time, from stocking the fitting components and gear, to understanding the feel of the dough, to remembering to maintain it cool and relaxed within the fridge.
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