Monday, November 15, 2010

Easy All-Butter Pie Crust

I've been cooking and baking since I was 10 years old. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer (her second time) and it was up to me to feed my stepfather and his two sons. It wasn't pretty, but I learned to cook, more trial by fire than anything, and not even my abysmal failures discouraged me from going back in the kitchen and trying again.

My mother recovered but I kept cooking and baking. Still with mixed results but heck, I was a self taught ten year-old, so they cut me a lot of slack. My mom hated to cook and was thrilled that I liked to. I cooked mostly by trial and error at that age. The years passed and I became a decent cook, but there were certain things I couldn't master, and pie crust was at the top of the list. Until one day, thumbing through cookbooks at the Doubleday bookstore at Bal Harbour Shops in Miami Beach, I found this book:

In it was the pie crust recipe, nay, technique, that would change my life. And that's what I have for you today, a recipe with a technique that will give you the flakiest all-butter pie crust you've ever dreamed of.

Here's how it works (recipe and tips below):

Put the flour in a mixing bowl and freeze for 15 minutes.

Add chunks of butter (just toss them in) and freeze for an additional 15 minutes.

Toss the whole mess on your (clean) counter.

Roll over the mess with your rolling pin, scraping the pile of flour and chunks to the center and roll over it.

Do this until a lot of the butter is in thin flat sheets.

Gather it up and toss it back in the bowl, then pour over a mixture of cold water, cider vinegar and kosher salt.

Lightly flour your counter. Toss the mixture on the counter and roll out (the dough will be a mess so don't worry!)

Gather into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap, roll your rolling pin over it a couple of times and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Divide the dough in half and roll out the two halves. Congratulations, you've just made pie crust!

When I'm making pie crust for Thanksgiving, I have two mixing bowls going at the same time, one goes in the freezer when the other one comes out, so I can mass produce multiple batches of dough in less time. I find that it makes sense to make extra batches (if I'm messing up my counter, I might as well put some extra batches in the freezer.)

Here are a few tips:
  • Always clean your counter first. Even though your crust will bake and the oven's heat will kill any cooties, crumbs from your morning toast or an errant raisin aren't nice additions to your pristine pie crust.
  • If you own pets, change your shirt. Nobody loves cat hair in their pie. Not even the cat's owner.
  • If the butter chunks seem easy to roll into the flour, your dough is too warm. Gather it back up and put it in the freezer until it firms up a bit.
  • Pie crust scraps can be saved to make decorative embellishments for the top. I usually re-roll mine and make jam tarts. Or sometimes I toss them on a sheet pan, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and bake until lightly browned. Nobody needs to know you have this little will be our secret!
  • If you leave the flour/butter in the freezer too long and your butter chunks are solid, leave the bowl out on the counter for a few minutes.
  • When rolling your pie crust, roll from the center to the edge, then rotate. I prefer flouring the counter and rolling on that, but you can sandwich the crust between two pieces of plastic wrap, just be careful to reposition the plastic wrap so it doesn't become embedded in the dough.

Easy All-Butter Pie Crust (adapted from Baking with Jim Dodge)
Makes one 9" double crust or two 9" single crusts

2 cups/280 grams all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
14 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 tablespoons cold water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Put the 2 cups of flour in a mixing bowl and place in the freezer. After 15 minutes, cut butter into 1" chunks and toss into bowl with flour. Combine the water, salt and vinegar, stirring until the salt is dissolved, and put mixture in the fridge.

After 15 minutes, dump flour mixture on your counter and roll over it with a rolling pin. Keep sweeping the pile into the center with a bench scraper or your hand. Keep rolling until all of the butter is in large flakes two to three inches long (or longer). The dough will stick to your rolling pin so scrape it back onto your board and keep rolling. 

Once your butter is in large flakes, gather the whole mess and put it back in the mixing bowl. Pour the water mixture over it, and press it together lightly with a spatula. Lightly flour your counter and turn the dough out onto it. Flour your rolling pin and roll the dough out, then using your bench scraper, fold it in half and roll it out to approximately a 9x14" rectangle, fold the two sides in like a letter, and roll out to approximately 8x9". Fold dough in half (it will be crumbly). Carefully wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes before rolling out for your pie.

Divide dough in half and keep the other half wrapped in plastic while you roll the first half. On a well floured counter or board, sprinkle a little flour in the top of the dough and on your rolling pin. Shape the dough into a roundish, 6" patty with your hands before you start rolling (you can roll the crust between pieces of plastic wrap if you like-you won't need to add additional flour this way). Roll from the middle of the dough out to the edge, turn the dough 90 degrees, roll from the center of the dough to the edge, and repeat the turning and rolling until your dough measures approximately 12" across (or about an inch larger for the top crust of a double crust pie). If the dough sticks to the counter while you're rolling it out, sprinkle a little flour underneath. The goal is to use just enough flour to roll it out without sticking. Don't add flour unless you're sticking.

Measure if you've rolled the dough out enough by holding the pie pan over it - it should be a couple inches larger than the pie pan

Brush off any excess flour, gently fold the dough in half, then in half again, and lay it in a buttered 9" pie pan. Unfold the dough and fit it into the pie pan, easing it into the corners gently, trim the excess hanging over the edge of the rim (or fluting the rim if you're so inclined; I'm not a fluter-sorry).

If you're making a two crust pie, you can seal the two crusts together by applying an egg wash to the rim of the bottom crust before you top with the top crust.

I used a glass pie plate here, and flipped pie plate with dough inside over a buttered second pie plate before blind (pre-) baking

To partially bake the crust, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Butter the OUTSIDE of another pan of the same size. Invert the empty pan on a baking sheet, and put the pan with the pie crust face down on the inverted pan. Bake for 10 minutes, then press down on the pan to force out any air pockets that may have formed. Bake for another 10 minutes, flip over both pie pans and remove the one you placed inside your pie crust. Continue to bake for another 10-15 minutes until the crust is golden brown. Cool on a rack and precede with your pie recipe.

I hope you'll conquer your pie crust fears as I did. Nothing beats a freshly-made pie.

BTW, I'm having a giveaway - you can win a $100 Visa gift card courtesy of BlogHer. You can find it here.


Nancy/n.o.e said...

Wow, Leslie, this is a very interesting technique! Both the crust and the blind baking. Lots of pies coming soon, so it's the perfect opportunity to give this recipe a whirl!

Cakelaw said...

That is a neat technique for cutting the butter through the flour, and one that is new to me.

Di said...

Great post, Leslie! My favorite all-butter crust is one from CI that uses the fraisage technique to make it flaky. Same idea, but I like the idea of doing it with the rolling pin instead of my hands. I'll have to try that soon!

Anonymous said...

Neat technique! My mom didn't bake a lot, but she did make pie crust from scratch. My favorite part was the leftover pieces with cinnamon sugar on top!

Tracey said...

I am SO intrigued by your method for pre-baking Leslie. I'm going to give it a try soon. I always, always have problems with shrinking so I'm hopeful this might be the answer to my crust issues!

Hanaâ said...

What an interesting technique. It reminds me of something called fraisage but I've never tried it before. Can't wait to give this a try. Thanks for sharing the recipe and the step-by-step photos, Leslie!!!

Anonymous said...

Interesting technique - I will have to give this one a try. Pastry making still fills me with dread but the hubby loves pies so I really should find a good recipe and just get over it!

Anonymous said...

Made it today and what can I say? Success! :) ~Nicola

Sweet and Savory said...

You are generous to share this technique. I like the ALL butter crust. Throwing it on the counter, so to speak, is really interesting and I would love to try it.

Since, I have been using the food processor, I am less traumatized by pie crusts but they still scare me. This might be the solution to overcome this. Printed and ready for me to make a pie.

Anonymous said...

Wow, great tips! Especially intrigued by the blind baking one, since I don't like the blind baking part. Covering with foil, putting in the dry beans then trying to take them out without getting burnt... Plus somehow my crust always shrinks (Im no expert at it yet). Is the reason for this method to reduce shrinkage??