Friday, December 5, 2008

How To Make a Pie Crust

Here is the promised, tardy, photo how-to on making pie crust. Gretchen likes to use a Cuisinart, but not everyone has the toys she does. The non-electric way is pretty fun, and makes a lot less noise--better for late night baking.

This is my favorite pie crust recipe, Cook's Illustrated's Foolproof Pie Dough, which calls for replacing half the water with vodka or some other high-proof hard liquor. I love this recipe because it works via science: gluten makes wheat products such as bread or pie crust chewy, and water is required to form gluten. Therefore, if you remove some of the water, you get less gluten. Vodka allows the dough to be moist and workable without being chewy.

Movement like kneading also encourages gluten formation, so most traditional recipes implore you to work the dough as little as possible. The vodka lets you have a bit more breathing room when it comes to rolling, cutting and manipulating the dough. Don't treat it like a good hearty bread dough, but don't treat it like glass either! Pies are supposed to be fun!

1. Assemble your ingredients: butter (frozen is best), flour, salt, sugar (optional), water and vodka (put these last in the fridge).
Gather your tools: bowl, measuring cups and spoons, masher (potato masher, pastry cutter or...) sturdy fork that could withstand hard ice cream.

2. Slice the butter into chunks the size of marbles. Some people grate the frozen butter instead, which is genius but also results in frozen fingers.

3. Combine butter, salt, sugar and half the flour. Cook's Illustrated has you add the other half later. (The photo of this just looked like a snowdrift. I'm sure you use your imagination.)

4. Using a potato masher, a pastry cutter, or even your hands, mush everything around until the largest butter chunks are the size of peas and everything is coated with flour.

5. Add the rest of the flour and toss around until the butter is relatively evenly distributed in the flour.

6. Get the water and vodka out of the fridge or freezer. If you are using the vodka, I'd either mix it with water to start out with or when adding, alternate H2O with EtOH. Either way, it needs to be cold.

7. Shove all the dough to one side of the bowl and dribble liquid along the side of this slope.

8. Use your fork to drag the moistened dough over to the other side of the bowl and mash like you're combining butter or sour cream into a baked potato.

9. Continue until the whole mass of dough is somewhat evenly moistened. It should be like play-dough in texture, drier if not using vodka or other alcohol in your liquid.

10. Pat into a ball, flatten into a thick pancake and wrap in plastic or wax paper to chill until you're ready to make the pie. (I don't advise storing it longer than overnight; dough I've left in the fridge for longer than that haven't rolled out nicely.)

All that's left is how to turn the dough into a pie crust, and the puree into pie filling. Stay tuned.

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