Basic Pie Dough Primer
By Leslie Bilderback 11/01/2010
Making piecrust is one of those challenging activities that people dread, like math and public speaking. The following recipe is a step-by-step primer. To follow a recipe properly, you should read it first, before you start cooking. Don’t think that just because you've been cooking for 30 years that you know what’s what. If you don’t read it, the phone will ring or someone will ask you for a favor, and you will get sidetracked. Then you will forget what you have measured or miss a step or realize you don’t have an ingredient. When that happens, don’t blame me. Chalk it up to user error.
Makes enough dough for 3 (8-inch) circles
½ cup ice water
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, diced and chilled
4 ounces (¼ block) lard, diced and chilled (or another 4 ounces of butter if you are a vegetarian)
1. Combine water and vinegar, and set aside. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, salt
and sugar and mix well. Add diced butter and lard, and cut in until a coarse, crumby texture
“Cutting in” means you break the fat into small pieces by literally cutting. Use fingertips or a pastry blender if you’re slow. Be sure not to work the butter too much, and make sure the fat is very cold because that makes it easier to work with. Little chunks of fat, about pea-size, are needed for flakiness. In the oven, the fat’s moisture creates steam, raising little pockets in the dough. This is flakiness. If you end up creaming the fat and flour into a paste, you will not have flakes and the dough will be very tough.
2. Add half the liquid, and stir with a fork to moisten.
Don't get clever and use a whisk or a wooden spoon. The fork doesn't overwork the dough, and it’s much easier to clean.
And add just enough additional liquid to hold the dough together. It should be dry and never sticky.
3. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and, using a plastic scraper or big rubber spatula, fold the dough over onto itself 6 to 8 times, until it begins to hold together as a single mass.
This is not kneading but a gentle pressing of the dough.
4. When it forms a single mass, form it into a 1-inch-thick disc, wrap it in plastic and refrigerate for a minimum of 1 hour. Overnight is better.
The dough should look marbled, with visible patches of butter and flour. Dough can be refrigerated for 2 days, or frozen for up to 1 month. If you skip this step, you'll be sorry. The fat needs time to resolidify, and the flour must have time to absorb the liquid. Unchilled dough is next to impossible to roll out.
5. To roll out dough, divide evenly into 3 pieces. Work with only one piece at a time, keeping the remaining dough refrigerated.
Never try to roll out the entire recipe. It’s more than you need and will just frustrate you.
Knead the dough briefly to soften, and form it into a disc. Place on a floured surface and, with a dowel-style rolling pin, roll over the center of the dough in one direction. Turn the dough 90 degrees and roll over the center again. Turn again, and repeat this pattern until the dough is an 8-inch circle. This is an important point. Turning the dough in this manner keeps it round and alerts you right away if it starts sticking to the counter. Spread flour underneath as necessary to prevent sticking. Work quickly to prevent the dough from warming up. If necessary, take a break and rechill the dough for a few minutes.
A dowel-style pin is better for this small-scale rolling. Pins with handles exert more leveraged pressure than is necessary here and can easily make the dough too thin.
6. Transfer dough circle to a pie pan by rolling it up onto the pin or folding it in half. Place the lined pie shells in the refrigerator while rolling out remaining dough and preparing filling.
7. To crimp the edge of a single crust pie shell, start by trimming the dough an inch beyond the edge of the pan.
Scissors make this job a snap.
Roll the edge of the dough under itself all the way around, then pinch it tightly, until it is the thickness of a single layer of dough. The fluted edge can be achieved by pinching with two fingers from the outer edge while simultaneously pressing with one finger from the inner edge. The edge can also be pressed with a fork or spoon.
Crimp a double crust the same way, but the filling must go in first and the two crusts must be trimmed, folded and crimped together.
Care should be taken here to press the two doughs together as thin as possible. If the rim is more than ¼-inch thick, the center will be raw and doughy.
8. Fill the shells according to your pie recipe, then freeze solid before baking. Blind-baked shells (pre-baked, with no filling) should be frozen, then baked with a fake filling of dried beans or raw rice. (Line shell first with foil.)
Frozen dough holds its crimped shape. If the dough is room temperature, the oven will melt the fat before the proteins can solidify and cause the decorative edges to shrink and flatten.
9. Pies usually bake at 350˚ until golden brown at the edges. Fruit fillings should be bubbly, and custards should be set. You may need to adjust time and temperature, or tent with foil, to suit your recipe and your oven.