Become a pie-baking expert with Bubby's Homemade Pies by Ron Silver and Jen Bervin, with recipes like Bubby's All Butter Pastry Pie Dough; Bubby's All-Fruit Mincemeat; Small Mince Pocket Pies with Clotted Cream; and Apple-Caramel Upside-Down Pie (Tarte Tatin).
An all-butter crust takes finesse to mix and handle because butter gets soft quickly at room temperature. Keeping a butter crust cold takes more attention, but pays off in flavor and flakiness. Its versatile flavor complements and accentuates other flavors in much the same way that a pat of butter and a pinch of salt do in the filling. It's often our first choice at home because it goes very well with any single- or double-crust fruit pie, savory pie, or cream pie.
8- to 10-inch single crust
8- to 10-inch double crust
or 12-inch single crust
12-inch double crust
Measure out the water for the crust (with a bit of extra water in the measure in case you need a touch more) and then add ice cubes. Chill it in the freezer.
Measure out the flour (unsifted) by leveling off dry measuring cups, and add the flour to large bowl. Add the salt to the flour and give it a quick stir to combine evenly.
Use cold butter, measure out the amount you need, and then coat the cold, solid stick with the flour in the bowl. Using a dough scraper or a long butcher knife, cut the butter lengthwise in half, and then lengthwise in quarters, coating each newly cut side with flour as you go. Dice the butter into 1/4 inch cubes (or 1-inch sticks if using a food processor). Break up any pieces that stick together and toss them all to coat them with flour. (If it is a warm day, chill this mixture briefly in the freezer before continuing.)
Hand Method: Using a pastry cutter, press the blades through the mixture, bearing down repeatedly like you would to mash potatoes. Repeat this gesture until the largest pieces of fat are the size of shelling peas and the smallest are the size of lentils (none smaller). Do not get over-enthusiastic here: this size range makes for excellent flakiness. Rechill if necessary.
Food Processor Method: Add the flour, salt, and butter mixture to the food processor and pulse it a few times. Do not use the continuous ON setting for pastry. To get the fat to cut in evenly you must stop and angle the entire food processor to give its contents a jostle by shaking and tilting it every couple of pulses. Pulse the mixture until the larger fat pieces are the size of shelling peas and the smallest fat pieces are the size of lentils. Do not overmix. Watch closely—it typically takes less than 10 quick pulses to get there. If you have a few bigger chunks of butter in a mixture that is otherwise perfect, dump the mixture into a large bowl and cut the bigger chunks down to size by hand with a pastry cutter so that the whole mixture remains consistent for flakiness.Transfer the fat and flour mixture to a bowl and chill it. Do not use the food processor to add the water to a pastry crust. Always mix in the water by hand.
When adding the water, begin with a fully chilled flour and fat mixture and ice cold water. Be judicious, even stingy, with the water. Do not add all the water at once; it must be dispersed into the mixture incrementally. Add water two or three tablespoons at first, quickly tossing the mixture with your hands after each addition with light upward motion to distribute the water evenly throughout it. Work the dough as little as possible.
Continue adding little bits of water at a time. When there are no floury bits anymore—just little comet-like cobbles that don't quite cohere—slow down and sprinkle or flick water in at this point. One drop can make the difference and bring it all together. The balance can shift quickly from crumbly to wet. You might need a touch more water. The pastry should be just a little bit tacky when you touch it.
To test the dough for consistency, lightly pat together some dough the size of a tennis ball. If the ball crumbles apart or has lots of dry-looking cracks in it, the dough is still too dry; let it break apart. Add a drop or two of water to the outside of the ball and work it just a little. If it holds and feels firm and supple, mop up any remaining crumbs with the ball—if they pick up easily, the dough is probably wet enough. If they fall back into the bowl, you might need a touch more water to pull the dough together. The pastry should be just a little bit tacky when you touch it.Wet dough may seem easier to work, but because the extra water overdevelops the gluten it makes a really tough crust. If your pie dough is stretchy (glutinous) and quickly retracts when you roll it out, chances are you have added more water than you need and your pastry is overworked. If your dough is quite sticky, soft, and wet, it is better to pitch it and start over.
Dough can feel like it's holding together because the butter is melting. If at any point the dough ceases to feel cool to the touch or the butter pieces feel melty, soft, and warm, put the whole mixture in the freezer until it's cooled down again—about 10 minutes. It's impossible to gauge the water ratio accurately if the fat is melting into the flour.
If you're making a single crust, shape the dough into one round ball with your hands. If you're making a double crust, divide the dough into slightly uneven halves and shape each half into a ball—the larger of which will be for the bottom crust, the smaller ball for the top. Cover each ball tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least half an hour to relax and slow the gluten development and rechill the fat. In practical terms, this cold rest makes the dough easier to roll out. For instructions on rolling out dough, see "Rolling and Shaping" on page 11 of the book.
Why is my fully baked pie crust shrinking?
If your pie crust shrinks while it is baking, chances are the gluten in the dough was overworked. Was the dough wet and stretchy? Ease off on the water the next time you mix your dough. Did you work the dough for a long time, either during the mixing process or while rolling it out? You may need to pause and rechill the dough more frequently to allow the gluten to relax. Another possibility is that your pie crust may have needed more of a chill before it went into the oven.
This page created November 2007
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