Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Perfect Pie Crust

Pie crust: that mystic endeavor that all of our grandmothers seem to have down pat, but is somehow lost on the next few generations. People tip toe around the process, avoiding the risk at all cost, resorting to frozen ready-made crusts, or worse yet, skipping out on pie completely- all for fear of the crust.

In making pie crusts, recipes (and cooking shows) advise to proceed with caution, and for those of you who have taken the leap, you probably know why. Pie crust gone wrong is not a pleasant thing to eat, something along the lines of hardtack.

It doesn’t have a lot ingredients or steps, but it does have a fair amount of room for error.

I did a ton of research, and I uncovered a million little tricks, most of which proved completely superfluous. A few of them however, really make a difference.

These tweaks shorten the margin of error a smidgen. For instance the cornmeal adds a kind of faint almost imperceptible crunch, adding significantly to a sensation of flakiness, but despite my tweaks, there’s still fair amount of trial and error required. Keep in mind its important to keep ALL of your ingredients cold, as it limits how the fat is incorporated into the dry ingredients (imperative to flakiness)

And don't let a failed attempt get you down, when you master the pie crust, you can do anything.

So prepare yourself, here we go:

1 ½ cups All purpose Flour

½ cup Fine ground corn meal

½ cup Whole Wheat Flour

1 tbsp Sugar

1 tsp Salt

½ lb. Butter, unsalted (2 sticks), cut into ¼ tbsp pieces and tossed in flour

5 tbsps Ice water (+ more as needed)

Optional: 1 cup of grated sharp cheddar cheese

1. Pulsing in a food processor, mix the dry ingredients well. Stick the whole bowl for the food processor in the fridge.

2. Once chilled, put the bowl back on its base. Separate the prepared butter in half, add it to the processor and, again in pulses, buzz until almost completely incorporated. It should look a little sandy.

3. Now separate the remaining butter in half again. Pulse in the first half until slightly incorporated (pea sized pieces), then pulse in the remaining butter until barely incorporated at all.

4. This is the important step, don’t add too much moisture! Also this is where you’d add the grated cheddar it you're going to.

Transfer this mixture to a bowl, using a plain tablespoon sprinkle about three spoons of water (the spoons for measuring tend to drop big splashes of water, you don’t want that) using your hand lightly toss the dough. Add the remaining water and toss lightly but thoroughly. Squeeze a portion of the mix in your hand, if it clumps together, your pie crust is ready.

{Alton Brown actually uses a spritzer in this step, I love this concept as it perfectly and evenly distributes the least amount of moisture needed)

5. Separate the mix into halves and pack them into fat discs. Wrap the dough balls individually in plastic and stick them in the fridge for at least an hour. (this resting time allows the moisture to distribute evenly)

Thaw them out before rolling.

Your perfect pie crust is ready to go.

***If you're really into this, you should watch this 2 part video.

Alton Brown breaks the whole idea of crust down and discusses options. By far the best resource I found in my search.

For those of you that don't get the news letter, the final destination for this crust (with the cheddar) was a chicken pot pie.

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