published Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Light touch, cold ingredients among secrets to great pie crusts

Pate Brisee (Shortcrust Pastry)

21/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon coarse salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut in pieces

1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

Place the flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor, and process for a few seconds to combine. Add the butter, and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 10 seconds. With the machine running, add the ice water in a slow, steady stream, through the feed tube, just until the dough holds together. Do not process for more than 30 seconds.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface. Divide in two. Place each half on a sheet of plastic wrap. Flatten, and form two discs. Wrap, and refrigerate at least 1 hour before using.

-- www.marthastewart.com

Perfect Pie Crust

12 tablespoons (11/2 sticks) very cold unsalted butter

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon sugar

1/3 cup very cold vegetable shortening

6 to 8 tablespoons (about 1/2 cup) ice water

Dice the butter, and return it to the refrigerator while you prepare the flour mixture. Place the flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, and pulse a few times to mix. Add the butter and shortening. Pulse 8 to 12 times, until the butter is the size of peas. With the machine running, pour the ice water down the feed tube, and pulse the machine until the dough begins to form a ball. Dump out on a floured board, and roll into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Cut the dough in half. Roll each piece on a well-floured board into a circle, rolling from the center to the edge, turning and flouring the dough to make sure it doesn't stick to the board. Fold the dough in half, place in a pie pan, and unfold to fit the pan. Repeat with the top crust.

-- Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa, www.foodnetwork.com

Two secrets to a perfect pie crust are patience and a little bit of pig fat.

"Lard makes a great pie crust," said Nancy Adams, owner of Southern Star. "Lard really adds the flakiness."

Adams uses a combination of butter and lard for her crusts. For those who wish to keep the crusts lard-free, however, butter or vegetable shortening is perfectly fine. The real key is method.

"The biggest thing is not to work the dough," said Jerome Savin, pastry chef at Bluff View Bakery.

Brandi Siler, chef and manager at Fork & Pie, agrees. "Be patient," she said.

Getting Started

Begin with flour, of course. Your butter, lard or vegetable shortening will need to be cold, so chop it and put in the freezer. You'll need a pinch of salt, and you can add other spices if you wish.

You'll add water (cold, by the tablespoon) to help hold the dough together. Vinegar works as well. Siler uses half apple cider vinegar, half water.

Mix the dry ingredients, either pulsing in a food processor or by hand, using two sharp knives or a pastry cutter.

"Make sure everything is cold," said Siler. "The colder everything is, the better."

Add the water and/or vinegar next, a tablespoon at a time. Don't add too much or mix too fast.

"The moment you see it barely coming together, Savin said, "is when you stop."

Remember this: At first, pie dough shouldn't really look like pie dough. In fact, it ought to have a look more similar to another dessert -- a streusel.

"You almost want it to be crumbly when you first mix it," Savin said, "so when you put it in the refrigerator, it's not all put together."

Sounds risky, right? But, he said, when the dough is rolled out a few hours later or the day after, it comes together.

An overworked pie dough can become rubbery and make a hard, dense crust, rather than a light, flaky one. So resist the urge to add too much elbow grease. Mix until crumbly, form into two disks, and then wrap the disks up tightly in plastic wrap and let them sit in the refrigerator overnight or at least for a few hours.

Get Rolling

Ready to roll?

Remember what Siler said: Be patient. A gentle touch is essential to a successful pie crust. Don't knead and beat the dough as though you were making a loaf of bread.

"The more you work pie dough, the more rubbery it's going to become. Then the crust will shrink," Savin said.

He suggests trying to roll in one motion, rather than a few centimeters at a time.

If the dough is too problematic, try placing it between two sheets of parchment paper or beneath some plastic wrap on a floured surface.

"That way, you're really only pushing it together," Siler said. "You're not worried about it sticking and coming up as you raise your hand."

The addition of the flour keeps the dough, which will become tacky upon reaching room temperature, from sticking to the countertop.

And don't worry about those little bits of butter showing through. They'll melt in the oven.

Contact Holly Leber at hleber@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6391. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/hollyleber. Subscribe to her on Facebook at facebook.com/holly.j.leber.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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