Mar 9, 2013

To Crust or Not to Crust

Pie crust is usually deemed a very intimidating feat. It can be used for pies, tarts, cookies, gallettes, turnovers, basically anything with a pastry shell.  What most people don’t know is that it’s not making the crust that’s the hard part, its making a good crust. In most traditional crust recipes, you’ll come across flour, a pinch of sugar and salt, cold butter, and ice cold water, give or take a couple ingredients depending on your recipe.

One thing you must know: when they say “cold,” they mean it. Ideally, you want everything to be cold, but NOT frozen; I’m talking the water, the butter, the dry ingredients, and even the “tools” you’re using to make the crust, be it a food processor, two forks, a pastry blender, or whatever else you can think of. The reason for this is that any warmth (for instance, using your hands to mix) used in making the dough will warm up the butter and take away the flakiness, the most important aspect or your crust. When the crust is baking, the butter melts in the dough leaving tiny pockets of air that the crust will form around, and thus we have our beautiful, flakey crust. If you use room temperature butter, a warm blade of a food processor, or even knead your dough on a semi-warm surface, it could ruin your crust. Flakiness is also the motive for being so careful when you cut the butter into the dough, the method that keeps the butter in clumps versus completely consistent, aka flakiness.

Using a food processor is a lot easier than mixing by hand, but most pastry buffs would scoff at the thought. If you choose to use the processor though, you have to pulse in two-second increments to make sure you don’t cut the butter down too small. At this stage, you’ve added all but the water and your dough will look like coarse crumbs, around the size of peppercorns, maybe a little bigger. When you add in your ICE COLD water, it will bring the dough together just enough to where you can form a ball, but still keep those small chunks of butter intact.

Recipes usually have you knead the dough just until it is combined, roll it into a ball, flatten it into a disc, and cover and refrigerate it. Ladies and gents: this is no small detail; rather it’s just as important as adding flour or using an oven. You really should chill the dough, just like you should chill cookie dough. No one wants to do it, I know, but it is so worth it. I’d suggest chilling it at least an hour, but no more than 3 days.

Once your dough is nice and chilly, take it out of the fridge and set it aside. Prepare a work surface that is clean, flat, and generously dusted with flour. Put your dough right in the middle, flour your rolling pin, and begin to roll out the dough evenly, rolling maybe twice in one direction then spinning the dough around and repeating. If the dough cracks while rolling it out, don’t try to be a hero and mend it with your fingers; fold it over and roll that side back out. Until you have a nice circle, be consistent with sides, thickness, and pressure on the rolling pin. Once the dough is rolled out about ¼ to 1/5 of an inch thick, sprinkle a little flour on the top and fold one end of the dough over the rolling pin (when you pick up the rolling pin, the two sides should hang down draped over the pin like a saddle). Pick up the pin and bring the dough over to your pan, reroll the dough off the pin and on your pan so it loosely takes the shape. Using your fingers or a curved object (like a 1-cup dry measure) gently press the dough into the pan and shape it around any edging the pan may have. Just remember not to do too much with your hands, or it can prevent the precious flakiness!

From there, your recipe should be able to help you out. Comment if you have any questions and have fun baking!

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