Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Subversive Guide To Basic Pie Crust and Cheats

"Sedition is a term of law which refers to covert conduct such as speech and organization that is deemed by the legal authority as tending toward insurrection against the established order."

Lately I have been attracted to pies. Little pies. So much so that Karyn and I have hatched a seditious plot to overthrow the cupcake overlords. But before you mark me as some sort of Pie Subject Matter Expert, and in the spirit of full disclosure, I am compelled to admit that I have, in the past, made many more cakes and breads than I have pies. Oh sure, I have a few favorite pie and tart and quiche recipes, of course I do. But historically my first whip-something-up impulse has not been about pie. There. I said it.

I can explain. I suffer from Fear Of Pie Crust, and I experience fits of anxiety whenever I make one. People like my pies. They even, occasionally, compliment the crust. But my Inner Pie Child still nervously expects the dough to stick to the rolling pin or to the counter or to crumble into pieces as I try to move the dough to the pie dish, or to shrink, or to be tough or soggy or both.

Luckily, some of these fears are assuaged by the mini pie concept. Making a batch of mini pies (yes, mini pies come in batches! How cool is that?) means the dreaded transfer of dough to pie dish is completely eliminated. You're just moving little circles into little muffin cups! How easy! And the shrinkage problem just doesn't seem to be a factor with mini pies... or it's just not as noticable.

Here's one of my mostly foolproof recipes and some cheats I swear by:

Basic Shortcrust Pastry With Cheats Included

The lowdown on shortcrust pastry is that you must have twice the amount of flour to fat (so for a single pie crust you'll need about 2 cups of flour to one stick of butter and a half cup of shortening or lard). You must use butter AND shortening or lard. Sorry, but the shortening or lard is key. All-butter crusts tend to weep butter and are not as tender, in my opinion, but maybe that's just me.

The fat needs to be at room temperature if you're mixing by hand, or really, really cold if you're cheating and using a food processor (my preferred method). This distinction is important. Don't mix them up and try to use cold hard fat with your hands or softened fat with the processor. It won't be pretty. I speak from experience, so trust me on this.

You need a pinch of salt. I know a lot of people swear you should just use flour and fat and water, but I think the pastry tastes flat without a little salt.

The last ingredient is ice water. Really, the colder the water, the better. How much water varies, and this is where it gets tricky, as you need to go by feel.

Making the Dough:

(Cheater Method)

1) Cut the butter and shortening into small pieces and put it in your freezer for about 10 minutes so that's it's seriously cold. Sift the flour and a pinch of salt into your food processor and pulse. Add the cold butter and shortening and pulse about 6 or 7 times-- it should look good and crumbly.

2) Tip the crumbles into a bowl and start adding water as described in step 2 below. This is because you will get a much better feel for how much water you need if you use your hands. If you're in a hurry or just really lazy you can ignore this advice and add the ice water one tablespoon at a time, pulsing until the dough starts to come together. You can test it by pulling a piece off and pinching it to see if it holds together. If it doesn't you'll need a little more water. This is a much less reliable method and one I seldom resort to.

(By Hand Method)

1) Sift the flour and a pinch of salt into a bowl. Cut the softened butter and shortening into small lumps and drop it into the flour. Use a knife to roughly cut the fat into the flour until you feel you can't make any more blending progress and then rub the fat into the flour with your fingers. Try to work quickly and yet gently (keep your touch light... you are coaxing pastry into being, not punishing it) until the mixture is crumbly. A few recalcitrant lumps are okay-- you don't want to overmix it.

2) Once it's nice and crumbly, add ice water one tablespoon at a time and mix it in with your hands. Depending on the day, the position of the stars, the dryness of the flour you used and the mood of the gods, you may need to add more water. Do this a very little at a time and work the dough until all of the fat and flour have been incorporated and the the sides and bottom of the bowl are free of crumbs. Now take a rest and let the pastry rest. Wrap it in plastic and put in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes (you can leave it for a few days, too).

Rolling Out the Dough

1) Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature before you mess with it. Place it on a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle it with a light coating of flour. Dust your rolling pin with flour. Take a deep breath. Lightly begin to roll out the dough from the center, re-dusting your rolling pin and the top of the dough as needed. For a round crust give it quarter turns as you go, and roll backwards and forwards. Don't be like me and think you can control the shape by rolling in different directions. It really doesn't work. I have never managed a neat square, so I won't try to advise you on this. If you notice that the dough is starting to stick as you turn it, sprinkle a little more flour under it. When the dough is about 1/8 of an inch thick you're done.

Not Worrying About Getting the Dough Into A Pie Plate

Here is the best part about mini pies! You don't have to try to move a large fragile round of dough into a single large pie dish! Instead you use a pastry or biscuit round and cut out the circles you need.

1 comment:

no_relation said...

First off: this whole thing embodies awesome.

Second, I have a little experience with crust making, but the best I've done is using the Cook's Illustrated recipe for Foolproof Pie Dough (helpfully repeated at Smitten Kitchen), the only difference being that the butter was frozen solid when it went into the food processor. It tasted fantastic, and very easy to work with.