Well, the filling is important too. But in this post, just in time for Thanksgiving, we’re focusing on crust.
And a song that has been stuck in my head for weeks.
The following things top my list of fears: sharks, bears, spiders, making pie crust and fake hair pieces (don’t ask). If I were ever to get caught in the storyline of Stephen King’s It, the fear scenario would include me in a mall with hundreds of those hair-piece kiosks while being chased by a bear toward a fountain filled with sharks as I tried to make a pie crust. I don’t know where the spiders would fit in but they’d be there.
I’m proud to say that over the summer I conquered one of those fears. And it isn’t the one about the fake hair.
During baking class we spent a week on pie crusts. While we’d already learned the important “cutting-in” technique that combines the butter into the flour (snapping the butter and flour with your finger-tips), it was the discussion of pie-crust philosophy that helped make things click in my brain.
Butter is good for flavor. Shortening or other 100% based solid fat is good for flakiness.
The deal with butter is that it isn’t 100% fat. It also contains water. Generally speaking, the higher quality the butter, the lower the water percentage. Water plus gluten (by way of flour) equals chew. So the goal with pie crust is to optimize both flavor and flake.
Which is where the vodka comes in. And, I don’t just mean the cocktail I suggest you drink while making pie crust. I’d heard about people who incorporated vodka into their pie dough and asked about it in class. The instructor explained that the alcohol works as a sort of drying agent and the vodka is tasteless when it bakes-off. So, the theory is that by replacing some or all of the water in a recipe with vodka the flakiness of the dough is potentially heightened.
This, I had to try. I replaced half of the water with vodka. And went 100% butter.
The results of the trial were successful. Always one to follow the scientific method, I tried it several more times across the summer, all with consistently flakey and tasty crust.
Even the next day.
The other thing that has helped to eliminate my fear of pie crust is that I’ve gotten over whatever prejudice I had in my head about using the food processor to cut the butter into the dry ingredients. Pie crust is pretty easy by hand. It’s a snap with a food processor.
So my friends, do not fear those holiday pies!
Soundtrack: Do I really need to spell it out?
adapted from Cooks Illustrated
this makes a double crust
- 2 1/2 (12 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
- 2 TBS sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 20 TBS (1 pound 4 ounces or 5 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces and frozen
- 1/4 C (2 ounces) vodka, chilled (I keep a bottle in the freezer for this and the impromptu Moscow Mule)
- 1/4 C ice water
- Process flour, sugar and salt in food processor until combined. If you decide to go old school and do this by hand, whisk together ingredients in a large bowl.
- Scatter butter in processor bowl and pulse until butter cuts-in and is reduced to pea-to-lima bean size. You want visible pieces of butter. If doing by hand, using the tips of your fingers only, snap the butter into the flour, shaking the bowl every once in a while so that the larger pieces rise to the top.
- Sprinkle-in all of the vodka and half of the water, pulse so that the dough starts to come together. If the dough is dry, add-in the remaining water one TBS at-a-time until the dough barely holds together–it’s okay if you have crumbly pieces you don’t want an actual dough. If doing by hand, sprinkle vodka and half the water over the flour-butter mixture and, using clean hands, gather the dough together, working gently adding in the remaining water as needed.
- Whether working by hand or processor, dump dough out on to a floured surface. Split it in half and push each half into a 4-inch disk (still okay, in fact it’s good if the dough barely holds together. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least an hour before rolling-out and proceeding with your pie.