Thursday, November 25, 2010

Pie Dough

One of the biggest surprises college held for me was young ladies who did not care a fig about their pastry technique. I was as bamboozled as my brother is by my husband's complete lack of interest in shooting things and throwing himself down precipices. I mean, yes, feminism rah rah rah, but someone must make the pies.

Fortunately, the lovely people at Cook's illustrated have a foolproof pie dough, without any worries about cracking or toughness. It does shrink a bit, so make sure there's a generous half inch margin around the rim of the pie. Makes two crusts.

Process 1 and 1/2 cups flour with 20 tablespoons shortening or butter or a combination of the two- I haven't been able to taste a significant difference, but I loath shortening with great passion. It seems to cover everything with a fine oily scum- I feel like I'm in New Orleans. Not after the oil spill, just in general. Add also a pinch of salt and a dash of sugar. The ingredients will form a paste; forbidden in traditional pastry making because unmixed butter is thought to cause flakiness. It is in fact caused by flour mixed with water, surrounded by hot fat, causing tiny crispy crackers to form within the crust. Thus, when one adds an additional one cup flour, one wants to avoid processing it in completely. Add 1/4 cup cold water and 1/4 cup vodka (gluten can't form in a non polar liquid, so toughness is mitigated) and pulse until there's a delightfully manageable dough. Chill it in two discs for about an hour, and then roll it out between sheets of saran wrap before removing the top sheet and flopping it into the pie dish. (Then remove the other sheet, etc, etc.) Remember to leave generous margins around the edge- scalloping is a good choice here- and bake it at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. (You may want to weigh the dough with beans in tin foil or pie weights for the first 15 minutes.) Fill with filling and bake at 300 degrees for eternity.

Why yes, filling will have to either be a custard (pumpkin) or already cooked before being added. I suppose you could skip the blind baking, fill it to overflowing with apples or apricots and a half cup of sugar, and then cover it with the other half. Bake that at 350 degrees until pretty. After fussing with the absurdly complicated pumpkin pie recipe all morning, I really wish I'd done that instead.


  1. My go-to pie dough recipe, from a former edition of Joy of Cooking:
    2 cups flour
    1 tsp salt
    2/3 cup butter, part cold, part softened (not melted)
    5 Tbsp ice water

    Sift the flour and salt into a big bowl. Cut in the cold butter with a pastry blender. Cut in the rest of the butter. Sprinkle with the ice water, mix with a fork and finish by gathering into a ball with your hand, squeezing in any errant flour. Wrap the ball in waxed paper and/or plastic, refrigerate 1/2 hour (or up to 2 days); let it soften at room temp, cut in half and roll out etc.
    This goes much faster with a food processor, but I don't own one so I still do it by hand.
    Crisco is an abomination against nature, no matter what anyone tells you about its virtues.

  2. Cotton is for wearing, not for eating.