Cooking & Eating

My Number One Tip for a Tender Pie Crust

For years, the one thing I couldn’t bake successfully was pie crust.

I made angel food cake that was like eating sweet clouds. I rolled and folded and rose danish pastry like a pro. I could make cream puffs in my sleep. I even mastered French macarons.

But pie crust still eluded me.

I tried recipe after recipe. Butter, shortening, lard. I looked up tips and tricks. Occasionally I’d accidentally make a good one but I could never replicate my success. There were soggy bottoms and crusts like crackers and edges that couldn’t be cut by a fork.

The cookbooks had failed me. Celebrity chefs and home bakers alike. I couldn’t do it. I was unteachable. I very nearly gave up.

But I don’t give up. Not when it comes to baking.

I thought about my conundrum–about pie crust, specifically. Not shortcrust–I’d successfully mastered that. I’d mastered puff pastry, too, both traditional and rough puff methods. Shortcrust was more like making cookie dough and puff pastry separated the bulk of the butter from the basic dough, which somehow seemed easier. I didn’t have the moisture issues I did with flaky pie crust, and if I did, all that rolling and folding somehow made the dough fix itself.

Then I realized: the rolling was key.

I’d tried many times to roll a too-dry dough into a workable crust, with little success. Sometimes I’d press it into the pie pan and it would bake well but if I needed a double crust that method wasn’t workable. I’d tried many, many times to add extra water but it threw off the proportions and those crusts were never delicious. There was one thing I hadn’t tried:

When I made the pie dough, I held back some of the flour.

My favorite pie dough is all-butter, with 2-1/4 cups of flour, two sticks of butter, a big pinch of sugar, a big pinch of kosher salt, and about a half cup of ice water. (This is for a double-crust pie.) I’ve found these proportions in several books and it works well except that I often end up overworking it, trying to moisten that last bit of flour at the bottom of the bowl.

So the next time I made it, I used only two cups of flour. It took very little work to bring the dough together. After a half-hour chilling, the dough was fairly wet but I rolled out on a heavy blanket of flour, eventually working in that last quarter cup (or possibly a little more). Except it wasn’t work. The dough rolled incredibly well. And when it baked, it was tender and flaky and so so so very good.

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