Copyright © 1998 Laura Maestro.
All rights reserved.
BASIC PASTRY INGREDIENTS WEIGHTS AND MEASURES1
Meringue Pies and Tarts177
Ice Cream Pies and Ice Creams221
Savory Tarts and Pies--and Quiche322
Fillings and Toppings549
FLAKY PIE CRUSTS
My pastry odyssey began twenty-one years ago, when I started making pie crust. At first it was a complete mystery to me. Sometimes it needed just a little water and the crust came out too fragile to roll. Other times the same amount of flour required lots of water and the crust came out flaky but as tough as cardboard. I hadn't the slightest idea that in the first instance I had mixed the flour and fat too much before adding the liquid so the fat in effect moisture-proofed the flour, preventing it from absorbing water. In the second instance, I hadn't mixed the flour and fat enough so that the water could absorb into the flour readily and form gluten, resulting in a tough crust.
My dream was to turn out a flaky and tender pie crust on a regular basis. And, of course, just as for cakes, I found that the only way to have complete control is to understand the ingredients--what they contain and how they react. But that was not enough. Theory is one thing, practice another. Now, many hundreds of pie crusts later, after trying every flour, fat, liquid, and technique I could think of, I have realized my dream. Now my goal is to share this knowledge and skill with others. There is simply no commercial pie crust equal to a homemade pie crust made well. I am convinced that if pie lovers had the experience of tasting one of this quality, they would start making pies from scratch, because it's not something one is likely to forget--ever.
But even with the clearest directions, making pie crust is a craft, and one must develop a feel for the dough. The more you make dough, the better you get. The French have a saying for this: Il faut mettre la main a la pate, which means, "It is necessary to put your hand to the dough"--or, to paraphrase, hands-on experience is everything.
COMMERCIAL PIE CRUSTS I have tried many commercial packaged and frozen crusts over the years and find them all lacking. Most are too salty for sweet fillings. The problem with frozen crusts is that when baked blind (without filling), they tend to develop cracks that allow liquid ingredients to leak through them during baking, sticking to the pan at best and messing up the oven at worst. If I had to recommend a commercial pie crust, it would be the Betty Crocker crust in a box. Though it is salty, it has a good flavor (unfortunately not from butter). The texture is flaky and it is foolproof and easy to mix and roll. Of the frozen crusts, Pillsbury has the best flavor (it's made with lard), but don't prebake it!
THE IDEAL PIE CRUST It has light, flaky layers, is tender and golden brown, and has a flavor good enough to eat by itself. My favorite part of the crust is the top crust, because it does not get pressed together by the weight of the filling and stays crisp. Although the most flaky texture is achieved with my all-butter crust, I often make my butter/cream cheese crust. It is a bit less crisp and flaky, but it tastes so delicious it's worth the slight loss of flakiness. I do not at all like the flavor oil imparts to a crust. Using solid vegetable shortening, however, or half shortening and half butter, is useful for making spectacular borders, as this crust doesn't soften from the heat of the oven as quickly as an all-butter crust, allowing the decoration to hold its shape better. It is also more tender and lighter than an all-butter crust, but it is less crisp and browns faster.
For savory pies, I prefer my most tender, crisp, and flaky of all crusts, the lard crust, though for some savory fillings the butter/Cheddar cheese crust is a better match. For chicken potpie, the butter/goose fat crust is a luxury, and for steak and kidney pie, the meltingly tender, flaky beef suet crust couldn't be more indulgent.
FLAKINESS The way to achieve flaky layers of dough in a pie crust is to keep the pieces of fat large, flat, and solid. When the fat starts to soften, it is absorbed into the flour and the layering is lost. For this reason, it is essential to keep all the ingredients cold and to work quickly. I usually freeze even the flour.
TENDERNESS Flour high in protein requires more water and forms gluten more readily, which makes the dough made from it stretchy and hard to roll thin, resulting in a chewy or tough crust. Flour low in protein, such as cake flour, will usually produce a dough that is so tender it tears when it is transferred to the pie pan and develops cracks during baking. I've succeeded in making flaky pie crust with the lowest-protein flour, cake flour, but I did not like its flavor. The trick is to leave the butter in large cold pieces so that when the water is added, all of it is absorbed into the flour, developing the maximum amount of gluten. (The usual practice of cutting the butter into the flour until mealy moisture-proofs the flour slightly, limiting gluten formation.) Pastry flour, as the name implies, contains the ideal protein content to produce a good balance of flakiness and tenderness. You can approximate the same protein content by blending together a national brand of bleached all-purpose flour and cake flour (see page 7).
BROWNING The speed of browning is increased by high protein, sugar, and low acidity. (Cake flour, which is the lowest in protein and highest in acidity, browns the most slowly.) The higher the protein in the flour, the faster the browning. All-purpose flour and homemade pastry flour will brown faster than commercial pastry flour. A crust made with the addition of cream cheese, which contains protein, will also brown faster than an all-butter crust. My colleague Shirley Corriher recommends adding a pinch of baking soda to decrease the crust's acidity for recipes where the pie does not bake long enough to brown the crust adequately.
PIE CRUST INGREDIENTS
FLOUR My pie dough recipes were tested with 100% Gold Medal bleached all-purpose flour, King Arthur pastry flour, and a blend of Gold Medal bleached all-purpose flour and cake flour (not self-rising).
For a whole wheat crust, since whole wheat flour weighs about the same as all-purpose flour, it is easy to replace one third the weight or volume of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour. This produces a tenderness similar to a crust made from pastry flour, because whole wheat flour contains very little gluten-forming protein (just a little more than cake flour). For best results, it is always a good idea to process the whole wheat flour in a food processor to reduce the size of the coarser germ and bran, which tend to cut through the dough's gluten, weakening it.
If you have a favorite recipe that uses all-purpose flour and want it to be a little more tender, you can replace the all-purpose flour with an equal weight of pastry flour. Or, if using the volume method of measure, for every cup of all-purpose flour, use 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon of pastry flour.
Wondra flour can be substituted for pastry flour. With 10 grams of protein per cup compared to pastry flour's 9.2 grams, it will make a crust that is almost, but not quite, as tender. Some of the soft Southern flours have about 9 grams of protein, a little lower than pastry flour, and therefore produce a crust that is a little more tender and a little less flaky--unless all of the fat is left in large pieces.
FAT The fat in a pie crust not only creates flaky layers, it also tenderizes and moisture-proofs it. A crust that is high enough in fat and completely baked is not likely to become soggy even if it is not prebaked. A good ratio is 1 1/3 cups flour to 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) of butter. Grade A and AA butters contain only about 81 percent fat, whereas shortening and lard are 100 percent fat. This has been taken into consideration when formulating the recipes. Lower-quality butter contains more water and will produce a less tender crust. Commercial lard varies in quality and some brands have an off taste. It is always preferable to render your own (see page 42).
LIQUID Without liquid, the proteins in the flour could not connect to form the gluten structure necessary for holding the dough together. Some liquids also provide extra fat (such as cream) or acidity (such as buttermilk). I sometimes like to substitute a small percentage of vinegar for the liquid if it has no acidity of its own. I enjoy its faint but pleasant flavor, but what is most important is that the vinegar's acidity weakens the gluten just enough to make rolling even the flakiest, most elastic dough a dream--even 1/16 inch thin--after resting for just 45 minutes. It also prevents shrinkage and distortion during baking, though to ensure a perfect shape, it is always best to allow the dough to rest for 6 to 8 hours after rolling. (If you need a quick crust, the one with cream cheese shrinks least when baked without adequate resting.) I do not add vinegar to a crust that is tender on its own, such as the suet (beef-fat) crust. Using chilled beef broth to replace the water for this crust, however, is an interesting enhancement.
If your water smells of chlorine, use bottled still mineral water or allow the tap water to sit uncovered, or covered with cheesecloth, for 6 to 8 hours, and the odor and flavor will disappear.
BAKING POWDER An eighth of a teaspoon of baking powder per cup of flour not only serves to help counteract the dough's tendency to shrink, it also helps to lift, aerate, and tenderize it, and it adds a perceptible mellowness of flavor if you use an all-phosphate product containing calcium acid phosphate, such as Rumford (see page 624). It lacks the bitter aftertaste associated with SAS baking powders, which also contain sodium aluminum sulfate. As it is a perfect balance of acid and base, it has no effect on browning. Another magnificent advantage to baking powder is that the tenderizing effect doesn't take place until baking, so there is no danger of increasing the fragility of the crust during rolling and transferring it to the pan.
SALT A pie crust would taste flat without an adequate amount of salt. I prefer using sea salt, as it has a more aromatic, almost sweet flavor. For savory fillings, use one and a half times the salt called for in the recipe.
If you are adding baking powder to a preexisting recipe, use only half the salt called for.
MIXING THE DOUGH
In the recipes, I offer two methods for making flaky pie dough: the food processor and the hand method. The hand method produces the flakiest crust. The food processor method is easier and quicker and results in an excellent crust, though slightly less flaky, as long as it is not overprocessed. It's the one I choose when the kitchen is warm or if I'm in a rush. When I'm in the mood for absolute perfection, I use the hand method.
After gathering the mixed dough together and kneading it lightly, you can tell how your crust will turn out by looking at two different factors: If you see thin flakes of butter in the dough, you know it will be flaky; and if you try stretching it slightly and it seems a little elastic, you know it will be strong enough to hold up well for rolling and baking. If when you begin rolling the dough, it appears to be too fragile and tears when lifted, fold it in thirds like a business letter and refrigerate it for about 20 minutes before rolling it again. This works if the dough was not manipulated enough to develop the gluten--but not if it was too moisture-proofed by the fat.
RESTING THE DOUGH
Flattening the newly formed dough into a 5- to 6-inch disc before refrigerating it makes it easier to roll without cracking. The dough is refrigerated to relax the gluten, making it less elastic and easier to roll. (It cannot relax in the freezer, because freezing sets it too quickly, but freezing for 15 minutes before baking is a great help to set the edge and ensure flakiness.) Chilling also firms the butter, preventing it from softening, which would result in loss of flaky layering and in sticking, requiring extra flour, which would toughen it. Dough that has rested overnight before baking shrinks less and holds its shape better.
It is fine to roll out the dough, slip it onto a parchment- or plastic wrap-lined baking sheet, cover it with plastic wrap, and refrigerate it until ready to use. It will need to soften for about 10 minutes at room temperature in order to be flexible enough to line the pie or tart pan, but then it needs only brief chilling (15 minutes in the freezer) to set the edges and ensure flakiness, as opposed to the usual hour in the refrigerator needed to prevent distortion after rolling and thereby activating the gluten.
MAKING YOUR OWN PASTRY FLOUR
The major advantage of using commercial pastry flour, such as King Arthur's, is that its protein content of 9.2 grams per cup is fairly standard from batch to batch. Bleached all-purpose flour can vary from brand to brand and even harvest to harvest, from 8 to 14 grams of protein per cup, averaging 11 grams. (If your all-purpose flour has 11 grams per cup, then your homemade pastry flour will be 9.9 grams protein, compared to the 9.2 of King Arthur pastry flour--just slightly stronger.) If you find that your pie crusts made from your own blend of pastry flour are coming out too tender, either reduce the amount of cake flour or use 100 percent all-purpose flour. Conversely, if they are coming out too tough, increase the amount of cake flour slightly.
To replace the all-purpose flour in a recipe with homemade pastry flour, use a national brand of bleached all-purpose flour, such as Gold Medal or Pillsbury, and cake flour that is not self-rising, or whole wheat flour. If you are doing it by weight, then simply replace one third of the all-purpose flour in the recipe with an equal weight of cake flour or whole wheat flour. Whisk or beat them together until blended. If measuring by volume, use a ratio of 2 parts bleached all-purpose flour to 1 part cake flour.
To make your own pastry flour, if using a scale, do two thirds (bleached all-purpose flour) to one third cake flour by weight. If measuring by volume, use the following proportions: 4 cups of bleached all-purpose flour, measured by dip and sweep, and 2 1/4 cups of cake flour, measured by dip and sweep. (Stir the flours lightly before measuring and mix them well after combining to blend them evenly.) This will make 6 1/4 cups of pastry flour (almost 2 pounds). Store it airtight.
POINTERS FOR SUCCESS FOR MAKING FLAKY PIE CRUSTS
* For flaky crust, ingredients must be cold to start with and stay cold.
* Use the correct flour. It is practically impossible to make a flaky crust or even one that holds together using cake flour and equally difficult to make a tender crust using unbleached all-purpose or bread flour.
* If using baking powder, be sure not to use SAS baking powders, which contain sodium aluminum sulfate, or the crust will have a bitter aftertaste. Use an all-phosphate product containing calcium acid phosphate, such as Rumford, available in some supermarkets and most health food stores.
* If not weighing the flour, use the dip and sweep method: Lightly stir the flour, then dip the cup into the flour and sweep off the excess with a metal spatula or knife.
* Brush off any excess flour on top of the dough after shaping it, as it will taste bitter after baking.
ROLLING AND SHAPING FLAKY PIE CRUST
When determining the size of rolled-out dough you need for any pie or tart, it is necessary to consider what sort of edge or border you want. For a tart pan with fluted sides, you need extra dough to turn down to make a narrow decorative edge that extends a little past the top edge of the pan, to allow for shrinkage during baking. For a single-crust pie, you need an extra inch of dough so there is enough to tuck under at the edge for an impressive raised border. A double-crust pie does not require this extra dough, because there will be two extra layers provided by the top crust, which gets tucked under the bottom crust. If the border of the two crusts pressed together is too thick, it will droop during baking. Drooping may even occur with a thick fluted border on a single-crust pie that is baked on the floor of the oven, close to the heat source. In this instance, it is wise to choose a small border that does not extend over the edge of the pie pan.
The standard pie pan is 9 inches in diameter and 1 1/4 inches deep. The standard fluted tart pan is 9 1/2 inches, measured across the top from one inside edge to the other, and 1 inch deep. Some pie and tart pans, however, measure as much as 1/2 inch less in diameter and the depth of the pie or tart pan may also vary by as much. To be certain that you will have a circle of dough that is the correct size, measure the pan before cutting the dough.
MEASURING THE PAN
Measure the inside of the pie or tart pan with a flexible tape measure by starting at one inside edge, going down the side, across the bottom, and up the other side. Write down these numbers for future reference. When cutting the circle of dough to line the pan, increase the measure accordingly:
For a fluted tart pan, cut the dough circle 1 inch larger.
For a single-crust pie, cut the dough circle 3 inches larger.
For a two-crust pie, cut both circles of dough 2 inches larger.
SIZES OF DOUGH CIRCLES TO CUT FOR STANDARD PANS
For 4 1/4-inch pielets or 7-inch half pies, see Windfall Fruit Pielets, page 78.
For a single-crust 9-inch pie, cut the dough 13 inches (12 inches if baking on the floor of the oven).
For a two-crust 9-inch pie, cut the bottom crust 12 inches, transfer it to the pan, and trim it almost to the edge of the pie plate. Cut the top crust 12 inches or more if the fruit is mounded high; you need enough dough to go over the mounded fruit plus a 1/2-inch overlap to turn under all around.
For a two-crust 10-inch pie, cut the dough 15 1/2 inches, transfer it to the pan, and trim it almost to the edge of the pie plate, and at least 13 inches or more if the fruit is mounded high for a top crust.
For a 3- by 5/8-inch tartlet, cut the dough 3 3/4 inches.
For a 4- by 3/4-inch tartlet, cut the dough 5 3/4 inches.
For a 4 3/4- by 3/4-inch tartlet, cut the dough 6 1/2 inches.
For a 9 1/2- by 1-inch tart, cut the dough 12 inches.
If the dough has not been given a chance to relax after it has been mixed, it will usually shrink when it is transferred to the pie or tart pan. If the dough has not relaxed adequately, it will be elastic. If you don't have the time to let it relax fully, cut the dough about a half inch larger than indicated above. When the circle of dough shrinks, it becomes both smaller in diameter and thicker. Since a thin bottom crust is more desirable, it is best to plan ahead and give the dough a chance to relax.
PREPARING THE PAN
The pie crust recipes in this book, though tender, are strong enough so that after a pie made from one of them has cooled completely, you can slide it out of the pan and onto a serving plate. This makes cutting each piece easier and prevents the knife from becoming dull and the pie pan from being scratched.
There is enough fat in these doughs to make greasing the pan unnecessary. If you would like to give added texture to the bottom crust, butter and flour the pan. To do this, use a piece of plastic wrap to spread a thin layer of softened butter onto the bottom and sides of the pan. Scoop about 1/4 cup of flour into the pan and, holding it over the flour bin, rotate the pan to disperse the flour all over it. Turn it over the bin and knock out the excess flour.
[CHAPTER ONE CONTINUES .]