Saturday, December 25, 2010

No Fail Pie Crust

This guest post is by Katie Trant! You may have noticed that I have featured Katie in some meal plans, and her yummy maple oatmeal pecan cookies were on here a little while ago. As Thanksgiving approached, I whined that pastry and I are are not friends. "I can't make pie crust", I pouted to anyone who would listen on Twitter.

Katie came to the rescue. She sent me the below instructions by email and when I followed them, I came out with the most flaky, amazing pie crust I have ever created. I asked if I could then post her instructions for this so that other pastry challenged pie makers could take her words of wisdom and create their own delicious pies.

She said YES. Because she's just AWESOME.

So here it is-a delicious, no fail Pie Crust lesson. If I can make it work, you certainly can.

By Katie Trant (go see The Muffin Myth, she has a great blog too)

I think the key to making a great pie crust is understanding a little bit about gluten. Gluten is the protein in wheat, and one of it's amazing properties is the ability to form polymers. In plain talk, a molecule of gluten is able to link up with another molecule of gluten which can link with another molecule of gluten . . . and it goes on and forms long chains. The chains are a really good thing if you're making, say, a bread, or a pizza crust, when you want your dough to be smooth and elastic and stretchy. The gluten chains are the reason bread dough can stretch and rise, and has that great chewy texture. When you're kneading a bread dough, what you're doing is encouraging gluten chains to form.

If you're making pastry, a cookie, a cake, or say, your pie crust, chewy and stretchy is NOT the thing you're looking for. This is why it's so critical not to over mix cake or cookie doughs - you don't want long gluten chains to form, or you'll end up with tough cookies. In a flaky pastry like a pie crust, this is where the fat is really important. The role of fat in pastry is to physically coat the individual molecules of gluten and prevent them from forming chains. Shortening does just that; it "shortens" the gluten chain. Neat, hey? It is important that the fat you're using is very cold - not frozen, but cold.

When you mix it into the pastry, you want to blend it in so that the dough just holds together, but you also want little flecks of fat to remain in your dough, little bits the size of grains of rice, or small peas. When you bake your crust they will melt and create steam, which will create teeny little pockets in your crust, giving you the flaky pastry you're after.

To recap, the key to a good pie crust is threefold:

1) handle it as little as possible - the more you handle it, the more gluten chains will form,
2) keep your ingredients very cold, and

3) make sure your fat is the right texture.

1/2 lb cold shortening or unsalted butter
2 1/2 c. unbleached all purpose flour
1/3 c. cold water
2 Tablespoons white vinegar
1/2 tsp. salt

In a large bowl combine the flour and salt. Add the fat, and using a pastry cutter, cut up into pea sized chunks (if you don't have a pasty cutter, cut into small cubes and then add into the bowl), then use your fingers to work the fat into the flour until you have a crumbly mix with bits the size of small peas or grains of rice remaining.

Add cold water - start with only 1/4 cup, and add the vinegar. Mix in with a wooden spoon. If the mixture seems really dry, add the rest of the water. Stir to combine, and then turn out onto clean counter top and gather the mixture together with your hands. It should hold together and not be crumbing and falling apart, but nor should it be wet and sticky.

Form into two flat disks (easier to roll out later than if you form into balls), wrap in plastic wrap, and put in the fridge for an hour, until firm (you can also put in the freezer for less time if you need it sooner). Dough will be much easier to roll out and handle when it is quite cold. When you're ready to roll it out, place on a lightly floured surface, and away you go.

Makes 2 pie crusts, or 1 two crust pie.
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