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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Butter Pie Dough I: Saveur

Different pies call for different crusts.  Does the pie require a top crust?  Do you want to make decorations?  Are you prebaking the crust and using an unbaked filling?  Are you baking a very wet filling, such as a custard or fruit pie?  The answers to these questions determine what recipe you'll want to use.  If you'll need a top crust, you really should be making two separate recipes.

The gold standard of pie is a flaky crust -- it's what we all aspire to.  But the reality is that it's not always the appropriate choice.  Flaky crusts are very fragile, and will absorb moisture easily.  They are not suitable for pie fillings that are very liquid and/or need long baking times, such as a pumpkin pie or the bottom of a fruit pie.  They work very well as a top crust, or as a bottom crust that is pre-baked and then filled with a chilled, unbaked filling, such as a chocolate cream pie. For those custard and fruit pies, you will want to use a mealy crust, which better resists moisture and therefore is less likely to become soggy.  And if you're a true perfectionist making a fruit pie with a top crust, you'll want to make two separate crusts:  a flaky crust for the top and a mealy crust for the bottom. It's all about technique.

When making a flaky dough, you want to cut the shortening into the flour until it's about pea-sized bits.  When making a mealy dough, the shortening should be in much smaller pieces, so the mixture looks more like bread crumbs.  This video gives a demonstration of the two types (though I don't agree with his recipe -- not nearly enough flour.)

The other thing to consider is how much dough you want.  Many recipes, such as the one here, give quantities for a double crust.  Presumably, it is also suitable for two bottom-only crusts, or halve it if you are making a single bottom-only crust.  But if you plan on that, you'll likely run out of pastry.  A bottom crust requires more dough than a top crust, so dough that is enough for a top and bottom crust will be a little lacking if you try to stretch it to make two bottom crusts.  There is also the question of how deep your pan is -- pie pans range generally from 1-2" deep, which can make a big difference in how much dough you'll need.  And nowadays, pies have gotten so fancy with all manner of decorations around the edge -- you might want extra dough for that.

Therefore, I am amassing a collection of recipes to suit the various applications, so I'll have them at the ready when I need them.  This page entry is based entirely on a basic recipe from Saveur magazine for a flaky butter dough.  The proportions in this recipe result in a basic crust that is fairly short (high in fat), with no noticeable sweetness to it.

Here is the original recipe, which they state makes enough for 2 crusts.  The quantity should be sufficient for one top-and-bottom crust pie, or two 1"-high, 9" bottom-crust-only pies, without elaborate decorations.  Notice also that the direction for "pea-sized crumbles" will result in a flaky crust.

2¼ cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar 
1 teaspoon salt 
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and chilled 
6 tablespoons ice-cold water

Whisk flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl. Using a dough blender, two forks, or your fingers, cut butter into flour mixture, forming pea-size crumbles. Add water; work dough until smooth but with visible flecks of butter. (Alternatively, pulse ingredients in a food processor.) Divide dough in half* and flatten into disks. Wrap disks in plastic wrap; chill 1 hour before using.

*If using the recipe for a top and bottom crust, divide the dough into two unequal portions.  You'll have to eyeball this, keeping in mind that a top crust needs to be rolled out only a little farther than the diameter of the tin, whereas the bottom crust has to be rolled out far enough to cover the bottom, up the sides, the width of the edge, plus about 3/4" overhang.  Generally that means approximately a 10-11" circle for the top versus a 11-13" circle for the bottom, depending on the height of your tin.

For a bottom crust only in a 9" deep-dish pan, I cut the recipe in half, then increased it by a factor of 1.2.  Here are those quantities:

1 1/3 cups flour
2 teaspoons sugar
2/3 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
3 1/2 tablespoons ice-cold water

For a slightly larger quantity, such as for a single-crust 10" pie, or if you want extra dough for decorations on a 9" pie,  I cut the recipe in half, then increased it by a factor of 1.5.  Here are those quantities:

2 2/3 cups flour
3/4 tablespoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
4 1/2 tablespoons ice-cold water

Original recipe:  Flaky Butter Pie Dough via Saveur

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