the appetizer:

Learn classic but simple baking techniques with Baking Unplugged by Nicole Rees, including recipes for Pie Pastry; Pumpkin Pie with Coconut Milk and Rum; Buttery Jam-Filled Linzer Thins; and Caramel Turtle Bars.

I Love Desserts


Pie Pastry

Makes crust for one 9" standard (or deep-dish) double-crust pie or for two 9" to 10" single-crust pies.


This recipe combines the great flavor of butter with the superior flaking quality of shortening. Pie pastry made using only shortening is easier to work with, and it will make a wonderfully textured pie crust, but the flavor is not nearly as tasty.

For the flakiest pastry, start with cold ingredients—you don't want those precious blobs of fat to melt until the pie hits the oven. The butter and shortening should be cold, and in the heat of summer I've been known to chill the flour, too. I usually use a pastry blender to cut the fat into the flour, but if you have ice-cold butter and very cold hands, you can even use your fingers—this makes it easy to keep track of the size of the pieces of fat.

Rolling out the dough is easiest on a large sheet of parchment paper or a large wooden pie board. Either should be lightly floured. Use a bench scraper to check that the dough is not sticking, and dust with more flour if necessary.

For baking, I prefer to use thin metal pie plates because they heat up fast in the oven, crisping the pie pastry quickly before the juices from the fruit can make it soggy. Pottery pie plates make a prettier presentation, and glass ones allow you to see if the bottom crust has browned—so use what you like; just watch the baking time, as it may increase. Glass and pottery are heavy, making them slower to heat up and also slower to cool down.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, and salt until combined. Using the largest holes on a box grater, grate the butter into the flour. Add the cold shortening. Using a pastry blender, cut the fats into the flour until pea-sized clumps begin to form. Drizzle in, while mixing the dough with a large fork, ice water until the dough just starts to come together. Do not overmix. Divide the dough in half and form into two disks. Wrap in plastic and chill before rolling, preferably for at least an hour.

To roll out a single pie or tart crust, on a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a circle that's 1/8" to 3/16" thick. The circle should be at least 12" for a 9" pie crust, at least 13" for a 10" pie crust, and about 12" for a 9-1/2" tart shell. Gently lay the crust in the pie pan, being very careful not to stretch the dough. Roll the excess dough upon itself to form a cylinder that rests on the edge of the pie pan. Crimp the edge as desired. Prick the bottom and edges of the dough all over with a fork. Chill for 20 minutes, preferably in the freezer.

To blind-bake a single pie crust, line the chilled pie shell with aluminum foil that overhangs the edge and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Bake the crust for 20 minutes. Carefully lift out the pie weights with the aluminum foil. Return the crust to the oven and bake 7 to 10 minutes more or until lightly browned on the bottom.

To par-bake a pie or tart crust, repeat the steps for blind baking, but reduce the baking time after the foil is removed to 5 minutes.


The Myth of Water

Just about every cookbook I own insists that adding too much water to pie dough makes it tough. Truth is, I always use the allotted amount of ice-cold water, and then some, and my pie dough is wonderfully flaky. So what's the deal?

The toughness, as the argument goes, stems from the network of proteins that form when flour and water are mixed. Less water must minimize the formation of protein, then, right? Well, not exactly. Mixing, shaping, and rolling the dough develop the gluten, too—you can feel the dough tighten up as you work it.

Usually the culprit for a tough pie crust is too much mixing, which destroys the pea-sized globs of butter or shortening that make the pastry flaky. Care must be taken not to grind the fat into the flour completely. The action of rolling out the pie pastry develops the gluten, too, and this can contribute to toughness—but only if you bake the dough right away. A quick rest in the refrigerator, usually 30 minutes to an hour, relaxes the gluten completely. This step is not to be skipped, or the dough will actually snap back in the oven, losing its shape.

When making pie pastry, I barely work the dough for fear I'll melt all the fat. This means I add more water than most folks as I'm folding and pressing the dough with a rubber spatula to see if it's moist enough to come together. So why is my pie dough so flaky? Think of a quick puff pastry, which has more water than pie dough, has large globs of fat, and gets rolled and folded a lot (for a strong gluten network)—it is tremendously flaky and not tough at all. The key is all in the resting.

Also see: All About Pies


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This page created October 2009