November 22, 2013

Tips for Perfect Pie Dough

I read cookbooks from front to back like most read a novel. I read every pull quote, sidebar, every forward, backward....every. word. And one of my very most favorite cookbooks that I've ever read is Baking with Julia, a whopping 480-page big-boy that resembles a college science book. This cookbook is a collaboration of all kinds of well-known bakers and pastry chefs who have pulled the finest baking recipes and tips from all of Julia Child's cooking shows. Julia is, in my opinion, the best. So if Julia says it, then I listen. She's like Jesus of Kitchen-reth. 

In Baking with Julia, there is a list of tips for making pie dough. And I have read them, studied them, and incorporated them into my pastry-making. Some of them I have covered in my own words this week as we've talked pie. But today I'm sharing the list with you straight out of the cookbook. So to finish off Pumpkin Pie Week and just in time for your holiday are the tips for perfect pie dough. Happy Friday!

These are a few general rules that obtain no matter what kind of crust of filling you choose; follow these and you and your crust will be golden. In fact, these same tips will help you make lovely biscuits and scones too.

-Work in a bowl that's large enough for you to dig into with both hands.

-Always use unsalted butter and make sure it is extremely cold. Cut the butter in 1/2-inch cubes before adding it to the flour.

-Use a pastry blender or your fingertips to cut the butter into the flour.  Work as quickly as you comfortably can and stop when the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

-When you use solid vegetable shortening, chill it and cut it into chunks a bit bigger than the butter cubes. Work the shortening into the dough until the mixture forms moist clumps and curds - when you add the liquid, you'll get even larger clumps.

-Keep the liquid icy-cold.  Add it a spoonful at a time, using a fork to toss the mixture and incorporate the liquid into the dough.  When the dough has curds and clumps that stick together when pressed lightly between your fingers, it's just right.  If you have any doubts, keep in mind that it's better to add too much liquid than too little; too little, and the crust will be dry and difficult to roll.

-Gently gather the dough into a round and then flatten it into a rough approximation of the shape you'll be rolling it into.

-Chill it.  Even if the dough feels cool to the touch, give it at least 30 minutes, preferably an hour, in the refrigerator.  This rest gives the gluten a chance to calm down so that when you start to roll the dough, it won't spring back.

-Roll the dough on a flour-dusted smooth, cool surface - marble is great, chilled marble is ideal.

-Roll the dough from the center out, rolling on one side and making certain to roll across the entire surface of the dough evenly. Lift the dough frequently to make sure it doesn't stick. As you roll, turn the dough - an eighth of a turn each time will keep it round.

-Transfer the dough to your pie or tart pan either by folding the dough in quarters, centering it in the pan and unfolding it, or by rolling it up around your rolling pin and unrolling it over the pan.

-Don't pull or stretch the dough - what you stretch now will shrink back later. Gently work the dough into the pan, lifting it to get a smooth fit against the bottom and up the sides. Follow the recipe's directions for forming and crimping the edge of the pie or tart.

-Chill the crust. Whether you are going to bake the crust blind or with a filling, give it a rest in the refrigerator. It's had a tough workout during the rolling and the gluten needs another chance to relax.