Photo by CN Digital StudioBy Carole Bloom, CCP, Epicurious.com
Classic pie dough, which is called pâte brisée in French, is made with all-purpose flour, salt, fat, and a liquid without sugar or another sweetener. Once baked, this combination is light, flaky, and crisp.
Related: Our Complete Guide to Making Perfect Pies
There are four versions of classic pie dough. All-butter dough has excellent flavor but can be tricky to use. Dough made with butter and shortening is flakier and more tender. It browns slightly faster than all-butter dough, but has less shrinkage and holds its shape better during baking. Pie dough made with lard creates the flakiest, crispiest, and most tender dough of all, but the flavor is fairly bland. This dough also has the least amount of shrinkage when it bakes and it browns more slowly. You can also use a combination of butter and lard, which makes for dough with superb flavor and texture. The ratio of butter to lard or butter to shortening varies from recipe to recipe, but most call for half butter, half alternate fat.
Pie dough uses a small amount of liquid to moisten its ingredients. Water is the typical liquid, but some recipes call for vinegar, lemon juice, buttermilk, cream, or sour cream, which impart their flavor along with adding tenderness. Vinegar, lemon juice, and buttermilk provide acidity that weakens the gluten (protein) structure in the flour slightly, making dough less elastic and easier to roll out. Sour cream and cream add extra fat, resulting in richer dough.
There are two main methods for making dough: in the food processor and by hand. Mixing dough by hand is a more hands-on experience, but I prefer to use the food processor, because it is quick and easy, and it keeps the ingredients cold.
When using a food processor cut the chilled fat (butter, lard, or whatever you are using) into one-inch-square cubes then cut these into quarters and keep them chilled. (If you're using shortening, try to buy it in stick form, which can be cut into cubes easily. If you end up with shortening in a can, you won't be able to cut it into small cubes; instead use a spoon to make small chunks and as always, keep the shortening well chilled.) Place the dry ingredients (flour and salt) in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse briefly to blend. Add the chilled fat and pulse until it is cut into very small pea-sized pieces. Add the smallest amount of cold liquid called for in the recipe and pulse for several seconds. Test the dough to see if it holds together by squeezing a little between your fingers. If it is very crumbly, add a little more liquid and pulse again. The dough should be pliable enough to hold together when squeezed, but not sticky.
Video: Use a pastry blender to make dough by hand.
To make dough by hand cut the chilled fat into one-inch-square cubes then cut these into quarters and keep them chilled. Place the dry ingredients (flour and salt) in a large mixing bowl, then add the chilled fat. Use your fingertips to work the fat quickly into the flour until it is in small pea-sized pieces. Work quickly so the fat doesn't become soft and completely blend with the flour. Instead of your fingers, you can use a pastry blender or two butter knives to cut crosswise against each other-this helps keep the ingredients cold. Sprinkle in the smallest amount of cold liquid called for in the recipe and lightly work it into the mixture until the dough begins to hold together when squeezed. If the dough is too dry, add a little more liquid until it becomes pliable but not sticky.
With both methods, the key to achieving flaky pastry is keeping the fat in solid, flat pieces as it is mixed. The fat should be coated with the flour, but not blended in completely. When the dough bakes the fat melts, leaving pockets of air and creating that desired flaky structure.
After mixing the dough, turn it out onto a work surface and divide it into four portions. Using the heel of your hand, smear each portion once or twice in a forward motion to help distribute the fat. Gather the dough and shape the dough into a flat disk, then double wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and chill for at least one hour before using.
Chilling pie dough is very important, because it helps relax the gluten (protein) in the dough, making it less elastic when it is rolled out. It also firms up the fat so less flour is necessary when rolling out the dough-too much flour can make the dough tough. The longer the dough is chilled, the easier it is to roll out.
Pie dough can be stored in the refrigerator up to four days or frozen up to three months. Frozen dough needs to be defrosted in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight. If it's still too hard to roll out, let your dough sit at room temperature until it becomes pliable.
See also: Epicurious's Guide to Thanksgiving
Handling and Rolling Out Dough
Roll out pie dough on a smooth, flat, lightly floured surface. A chilled marble slab is excellent for this, but your countertop or kitchen table will also work. Lightly dust your rolling pin and dough with flour and remember to occasionally re-flour everything to prevent stickiness.
Video: How to Roll Dough
Some bakers prefer to roll dough between sheets of lightly floured wax or parchment paper. This makes it easier to move the dough around and to roll it out evenly, plus it requires less flour. Occasionally peel the top sheet of paper off to make sure the dough isn't sticking, and then flip the dough over to peel off the bottom sheet of paper and check for sticking.
Always roll pie dough from the center to the outer edges and try to maintain even pressure throughout rolling. Give the dough a quarter turn and roll again. Keep rolling and turning the dough until it is the size you want. Every couple of turns, flip it over-this will help ensure you roll it out evenly. To check if it is the right size, hold the pan over the dough. It should be a couple of inches larger than the pan. If your dough ever becomes too soft or too warm, pop it into the refrigerator to chill for 15 minutes before working it again.
Transferring Dough to the Pan
Once your dough is the desired size, peel the parchment or wax paper off the top. If you didn't use paper to roll it out, run an offset spatula under the dough to make sure it's not sticking. Next, use a soft pastry brush to brush off any excess flour, which can make for a tough pastry.
Video: Moving Dough to Pan
Using the rolling pin: Starting at one end, gently roll the dough around the rolling pin, discarding the wax or parchment paper if using, then place the pan directly underneath. Center the dough over the pan, then gently unroll it into the pan. Carefully lift up the sides of the dough and use your fingertips to fit it gently against the bottom and sides of the pan, taking care that it doesn't stretch or tear.
The quartering method: Start by folding the dough in half, then in half again. Set the point of the dough wedge in the center of the pan and gently unfold so it doesn't tear or stretch. Next, carefully lift up the sides of the dough and use your fingertips to fit it gently against the bottom and sides of the pan, being careful not to stretch or tear it.
There's no need to grease a pie or tart pan because as it bakes, the dough always shrinks slightly. Plus, the dough contains enough fat to prevent it from sticking to the pan.
Use a small, sharp knife or kitchen scissors to cut off any excess dough around the rim. For pies, leave at least one inch around the rim so there is enough dough to form a decorative edge. To remove excess dough from tarts run the rolling pin over the top of the pan-the tart pan is fairly sharp and will cut the dough. Use your fingertips to gently press the dough against the fluted edges of the tart pan to even it out.
If pie dough tears, it is easy to patch: Lightly brush water or beaten egg on a piece of excess dough and on the area to be patched, then gently press them together, being careful not to overwork it. Use this same method to build up thin areas on the sides of the pan. To see how this is done, watch our video demonstration of patching crust.
More from Epicurious.com:
• Bobby Flay's Thanksgiving
• One-Dish Wonders: Our Favorite Casserole Recipes
• The Best Fall Recipes
• Healthy Snack Taste Test
Photo by CN Digital StudioBy Carole Bloom, CCP, Epicurious.com
SUPPER CLUB PICK
- Dinner on the Grill Recipes shine.yahoo.com