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07 September 2009

Pie Crust Dough

Here is my fool proof way of making flaky, delicious pie crust without a food processor or any other nifty gadgets. A lot of the technique described here I learned from Berenbaum's "The Pie and Pastry Bible" as well as her blog, and if you want to learn more about the science of making pie, I would definitely recommend that you look through that book.

For my pie crust, I like to use a combination of all-purpose and whole wheat flours because the bran in the whole wheat helps break up gluten strands, which will help keep the overall product tender. If you want to do it with all white flour, try to buy pastry flour, it has less gluten and you will have a good outcome either way. I also like using the whole wheat because then I can say that the pie is practically a health food. Please feel free to play around with the proportions of wheat/white flour, you may want to use a little less wheat flour than called for in this recipe. It is on the verge of being too grainy and not delicate enough for a pastry. Also, I prefer using all butter, mostly because I don't think shortening is fit for human consumption. But if you think it is easier to work with some shortening, I think about half butter, half shortening is a good ratio. The techniques described below are made for an all butter crust. I add a titch of baking powder just for a little extra boost of rising power, but it is optional. If you keep the dough very cold the whole time you are making it, you should get enough rise just from the butter melting and creating steam. This recipe makes enough dough for a two-crust 9-inch pie. It can even do a deep dish pie if you need too. And if you have any leftovers they can be frozen and then re-rolled and made into pie crust cookies, or even used for mini-tartlets or turnovers or for patching a whole other pie crust if you should run out of dough.

Whole Wheat Pie Crust Dough
1 c. unsalted butter (2 cubes)
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. whole wheat flour (I prefer soft white wheat flour, but any kind will do)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. baking powder, preferably aluminum free (like Rumford brand)
6-8 Tbsp. ice cold water

Cut the butter into 1/2-inch cubes, and place in the freezer while you prepare to other ingredients. Mix together the flours, salt and baking powder in a large bowl. When the butter is well chilled and very hard, toss it in the flour and coat the cubes with flour. With your fingers, very quickly rub the butter into the flour. Smear it between your thumb and fingers to make sheets. If your fingers start to feel greasy like the butter is melting too much, put the bowl in the freezer for a couple of minutes. When the butter has been worked into the flour to the point that it resembles small peas, take the ice water and sprinkle 1 tablespoon at a time over the cold flour/butter mixture. Toss the mixture gently after every 2 tablespoons. A good way to tell if you have enough water is if you can take a pinch of the gently mixed dough and if it mostly holds together after you pinch it, it has enough water and is ready to knead.

Dump out the whole mixture onto a nice clean countertop that you can knead it on. To knead, take a handful at a time and smear it across the surface. This will form the butter into thin sheets and the water will get worked into the dough, but it won't develop the gluten too much. Do the smearing quickly so that the heat from your hands does not melt the butter. Gather up the smeared stuff, you can use a knife or a scraper to get up anything sticking to the surface. Repeat the technique until all of the dough has been smeared once, then gather it up and kind of pat it together and if it's still very crumbly, repeat the smearing/kneading once more very quickly with bigger handfuls. It will still be a little crumbly, but don't worry about it too much. You should still be able to see large bits of butter throughout the kneaded dough; it won't be completely homogenous. Divide the dough into two mostly equal-sized pieces. Form the two halves of the dough into discs, wrap in plastic wrap and roll the edges so that they are smooth instead of jagged. This will be beneficial when rolling them out. Place in the fridge for at least one hour. I like to prepare the dough one day ahead of time and let it chill overnight.

When the dough is chilled and you have time to devote to rolling, take one disc out at a time and roll it between sheets of plastic wrap. I use 4 sheets altogether to make 2 large squares, with 2 pieces on each side. I have also tried using waxed paper for this part, but I recommend the plastic wrap because it will be sticky on the table; waxed paper is too slippery. Roll out one disc until it is about 1/8 inch thick. Remember how we rolled the edges of the discs before rolling out the dough? That keeps the edges of the circles from becoming too jagged so that you don't have to patch them as much. Stop rolling whenever it starts getting too easy, or if you start seeing or feeling greasiness, and put the whole thing in the freezer for a couple of minutes. You can switch off from one half to the other while the first one chills. Remember that the more diligent you are about keeping the dough cold, the flakier the crust will be. The plastic wrap is good for this job because then the crust is easy to pick up and chill, it doesn't stick to the table or the plastic. When you are ready, follow your pie recipe's instructions for constructing the pie.

A few other notes about making the best pie crust possible: To keep the pie crust from shrinking while baking, be sure to not stretch it as you are placing it in the pan or on top of the filling. Also, if you chill the entire pie in the freezer for at least 30 minutes before baking, the crust will be less likely to shrink. I like to use a glass pie dish, because then I can look at the bottom crust and when it is brown, the pie is probably done. I was nervous at first about putting a glass pan straight from the freezer into the oven, but I've done it now several times and haven't had a problem yet. However, if you would like to use a metal pan, try to use a dark, dull metal, not shiny.

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