Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Perfectly Buttery, Flaky Pie Crust 101

If you're like most people, myself included, you love pie, whether it's for the filling, or for the crust.  You've also at some point been intimidated by the thought of making pie from scratch yourself, or maybe, you're still a bit intimidated.  I remember that I used to find the thought of making pie dough from scratch completely intimidating and daunting, that is, until I finally got the hang of it.  After a few attempts, and a few delicious (and of course, not so delicious) pies later, I was able to confidently say that I could make a pretty good pie crust.  It wasn't until recently, though, that I became able to say that I make a perfectly buttery and flaky pie crust. 

The interesting thing is that I've always used the same exact pie crust recipe.  I just like the way it tastes.  I think it's buttery and just has a subtle hint of sweetness that perfectly compliments the various pie fillings I use. This single pie crust recipe was able to produce two completely different pie crusts, meaning that the main factor in creating a perfect pie crust lies in the technique used, rather than the ingredients used.  

Before today, any pie you've seen on Ambrosia has been made with pie crust mixed together in the food processor.  This always produced a good crust that was buttery and had a couple flakes here and there.  The new method I am sharing requires no food processor, but rather calls for hand mixing the dough.  I was a bit nervous the first time I tried making pie crust completely by hand, but after tasting the first pie made with that method, I knew there was no turning back.  I had never made a pie crust that had so many buttery flakes before!  Every time I've made pie crust since then, I've mixed it by hand, and have gotten consistently amazing results, for lack of a better word.  And so, since pie is the quintessential Thanksgiving dessert, and Thanksgiving is the day after tomorrow, now is the perfect moment (I'm really cutting it close, aren't I?) for an in-depth pie making session.  It's really not that difficult, I promise!  Once you bake your first pie with dough mixed by hand, you'll never switch back to the food processor.  It'll be your richest, butteriest, flakiest pie ever!

Perfectly Buttery, Flaky Pie Crust 101
pie crust recipe from Martha Stewart


2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold, diced
4-6 tablespoons ice water, plus more if needed

***Note:  The ingredients listed here are for one batch of dough to make one double crust 9-inch pie.  The photos show me making 1 1/2 batches of pie dough, so you will not have the same quantity of dough as in the photos if you make one batch of dough.  The method is the same regardless.


The very, very, very first thing to do when making pie dough is ensure that your butter is very well chilled.  If you haven't done so already, cut your butter into small cubes, place it all in a small bowl, and then stick it in the freezer while you gather the rest of your ingredients.  It may only end up being in the freezer for a few minutes, but this is important.  The small amount of time it took you to cube the butter is just enough time for the heat from your hands to warm up the butter too much.  When making pie dough, the butter must be very well chilled, so sticking it in the freezer for a few minutes is the best way to go about this.  At the same time, pour some water into a cup, add an ice cube or two, and stick that into the freezer as well.  You also need to make sure that your ice water is as cold as possible as well!  The amount of water isn't important, since we will be adding it a tablespoon at a time.  Just measure out at least a half a cup of water for the freezer so you have room to work.

Once the butter and water have been taken care of, whisk together the all purpose flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl.  Use a bowl larger than you think is necessary, because eventually, you'll stick your hands into the bowl to mix the dough, so having a bit of extra room is always helpful.

Sprinkle the chilled cubes of butter evenly over the flour mixture.  With a pastry blender, begin to work the butter into the flour mixture.  Use the pastry blender to help gather the bits of butter and redistribute them as you work.  Once you realize that the butter is beginning to resemble the size of small peas, only a few minutes into working the dough, STOP.  It doesn't matter if the butter isn't perfectly mixed in.  Just stop.  

Now we have to bind the pie dough together.  Add 4 tablespoons of ice cold water to the mixture, and with a rubber spatula, begin to gather the dough together.  The dough will begin to look a little shaggy as you do this, but that's ok.  You will have to add more ice water to the dough to get it to really come together, but do so only a tablespoon at a time.  The last thing you want to do is add too much water, so add it slowly to ensure you add only just enough to hold the dough together.  When making a batch of pie dough for a double crust 9-inch pie, I typically add a total of 6 tablespoons of water, but this can vary from batch to batch, so use your judgement.  Once you begin working with large pieces of dough, it is best to just use your hands to finish bringing the dough together, gathering the pieces of dough and gently kneading them together.  As you gather the dough together, you should still be able to see visible chunks and spots of butter.  

DO NOT KNEAD THE BUTTER IN COMPLETELY.  I repeat, DO NOT knead the butter in completely.  You want to be able to see scattered bits of butter throughout the dough, as this will ensure that you have a perfectly flaky pie crust.  If you don't see any traces of butter in your dough, it means that you have overworked it, so stop before you get to that point!  

Once you have the butter-speckled dough gathered together, divide it in half, shaping each half into a disc and wrapping in plastic wrap.  Let the dough chill in the fridge for at least one hour before rolling it out.

Makes enough dough for 1 double crust 9-inch pie, or 2 single crust 9-inch pies


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