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In search of the perfect pastry crust


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#1 stellabella

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Posted 05 February 2003 - 08:00 AM

I did a search and saw some threads that dealt with aspects of making crusts, but I have far more serious problems, folks. Once or twice I've baked The Bread of Affliction, but I've lost count of the times I've baked The Pie Crust of Embarrassment. I cannot make tender crust, and I have tried everything. So I was wondering if we could start a thread in which people who are able to do it well every time walk us [me ] through it?

Be specific. I have tried butter, shortening, butter and shortening, chilling everything, pastry blenders, the food processor, etc. If there are certain products--brands of flour, for example--that work best for you , could you share those, too?

#2 Ladybug

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Posted 05 February 2003 - 08:24 AM

Try Rose Levy Beranbaum's Pie and Pastry Bible. Her instructions may seem a bit too detailed, to the point of being anal, but if you follow them to the letter, you're guaranteed a perfect pie crust. I love this book. I love all of Beranbaum's books. She's quite simply meticulous. I admire that.

#3 Mottmott

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Posted 05 February 2003 - 09:33 AM

I second ladybug.

I had lots of trouble with pie dough until I realized that all the admonishments about using the least amount of water are wrong.

Assuming you are talking about home baking, I would add that I also often bake pies on a pizza stone.

If it's something rustic, like a free form pissaladiere, I put it on a piece of parchment or foil and bake directly on the stone. (I don't like the butter melting into my stone).

If it is another sort of tart in a pan that will bake for 45-60 minutes , say fruit. I will put it onto the stone directly, but move it higher towards the end of the baking to keep the bottom from darkening too much and to brown up the top crust better.

If it's something with a custard type filling, I will start it on the bottom on a sheet pan, then move it up. I find doing this (and glazing the bottom with something before adding the filling) helps keep the crust from sogging.

I also prefer an all butter crust which I make in the processor.

Lastly, take the refrigerate commands seriously. I refrigerate the formed crust before filling when I have time. And with something like a fruit or onion tart, I will even make the whole thing ahead and refrigerate until dinner time.
"Half of cooking is thinking about cooking." ---Michael Roberts

#4 Mottmott

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Posted 05 February 2003 - 09:40 AM

Addendum: (dummy that I am, I can make pate brisee, but can't find the edit button)

To be very specific:

--I used the same flour all the time til I got my act together - King Arthur all purpose. (Beranbaum makes some recommendations)

--I use unsalted butter, usually Plugra, a European style butter at domestic prices if you have a Trader Joe near you.

Don't fortget to add the salt.
"Half of cooking is thinking about cooking." ---Michael Roberts

#5 chefette

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Posted 05 February 2003 - 11:22 AM

Have you tried rubbing in the butter or shortening by hand instead of using a mixer?

#6 Elizabeth_11

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Posted 05 February 2003 - 11:48 AM

Cooks Illustrated "America's Test Kitchen" crust recipe has proven to have the best and most consistent results for me. I have never gotten such rave reviews on a crust before I used this one. It truly is tender, flaky and super super tasty! Here's the link:

http://www.americast...ecipe/338.shtml

BTW, just a note: I have always used a hand held pastry cutter, never have I used a food processor!

Edited by Elizabeth_11, 05 February 2003 - 11:50 AM.

-Elizabeth

Mmmmmmm chocolate.


#7 Ladybug

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Posted 05 February 2003 - 11:57 AM

I wouldn't recommend using a food processor or mixer - blending for just a split second too long can ruin a pie crust. It's much harder to miss the cue to stop mixing when you're mixing by hand. It's entirely POSSIBLE to use a food processor - but I've tried it many times and only on one occasion can I honestly say my pie crust turned out well when using the food processor.

#8 Dave the Cook

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Posted 05 February 2003 - 12:03 PM

Have you tried rubbing in the butter or shortening by hand instead of using a mixer?

Yes, but never for a pie crust.

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Eat more chicken skin.


#9 oraklet

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Posted 05 February 2003 - 02:56 PM

this is weird: i remember project (?) posting a detailed and very credible pie crust recipe in a thread called "things they say are easy but they aren't" or something like that, but i cant find it when searching.

anyway, that's a very convincing recipe. perhaps somebody else can find it from this description?
christianh@geol.ku.dk. just in case.

#10 Dave the Cook

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Posted 05 February 2003 - 03:01 PM

this is weird: i remember project (?) posting a detailed and very credible pie crust recipe in a thread called "things they say are easy but they aren't" or something like that, but i cant find it when searching.

anyway, that's a very convincing recipe. perhaps somebody else can find it from this description?

I think you're remembering a shortcake recipe. Is this it?

Dave Scantland
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Eat more chicken skin.


#11 col klink

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Posted 05 February 2003 - 03:36 PM

Alton Brown did a show exclusively on the pie crust and apparently mangaged to balance tender and flaky.

I haven't tried it yet, but soon will.

#12 snowangel

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Posted 05 February 2003 - 04:12 PM

this is weird: i remember project (?) posting a detailed and very credible pie crust recipe in a thread called "things they say are easy but they aren't" or something like that, but i cant find it when searching.

It's a thread called "stuff they say is easy, but it ain't, and yes, the post was by project. In the cooking category.

Click!

This is pretty much how I do it, and mine are always flaky. Remember that depending on what you are putting in the crust, it is often wise to pre-bake it somewhat.
Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"

#13 Varmint

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Posted 05 February 2003 - 04:13 PM

Klink-
Glad to see the old avatar return!
Dean McCord
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#14 Jim Dixon

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Posted 05 February 2003 - 04:37 PM

I never make pie crust because my mother lives three doors down. She loves to bake, so we eat a lot of pie, and her crust is, to me, the perfect balance of tender and flaky.

I don't have her recipe, but I know she uses all-puropose flour, crisco, butter (50-50...I'm trying to get her to switch to lard, but she just says, "so you make the damn pie"), water, vinegar, and an egg. Mom claims this is foolproof crust and can be made by hand or in the processor without any noticeable difference.

Jim
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#15 Miss J

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Posted 06 February 2003 - 08:24 AM

My mother makes a beautiful pie crust using crisco. She insists that the secret is to use a pastry cutter, aim for a combo of small flakes (tenderness) and larger ones (flakiness), and to handle it as little as possible.

Aside: friends of my parents one used bear lard (leftover from a black bear, I believe) to make pie crust. I can't remember how they said it turned out.

#16 Jim Dixon

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Posted 06 February 2003 - 09:35 AM

Here's my mother's recipe:

Nan's Pie Crust
makes 2 double or 4 single crusts

3 c flour
1.5 c shortening (she told me she's been using 1 c crisco and .5 c butter)
1 T salt

mix flour and salt (sifting optional), cut in fat until you get that small crumb consistency (or do it in processor)

in a separate bowl beat together

1/3 c water
1 egg
1 T vinegar (plain white)

add to flour mix, blend well, and chill

let sit out about 15 minutes before rolling out.

Mom says if the dough starts to break up while you're rolling, just ball it back up and start over.

Jim
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#17 stellabella

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Posted 06 February 2003 - 10:48 AM

thank you, everyone. i found project's post, too, and with your blessing i'm gonna copy your tips into my egullet recipe and technique archive. now, if i may [mis]quote maggiehtecat: Pies are about to happen!

#18 nightscotsman

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Posted 06 February 2003 - 11:43 AM

My mother makes a beautiful pie crust using crisco. She insists that the secret is to use a pastry cutter, aim for a combo of small flakes (tenderness) and larger ones (flakiness), and to handle it as little as possible.

That was my Mom's method, too - crisco and a pastry cutter. Her crusts were always perfectly flaky and tender, though not much flavor. Bernard Clayton also recommends the crisco/butter combo method, but I usually use Martha Stewart's recipe from her Pies and Tarts book which uses all butter. You can enhance the tenderness of an all butter crust by using about a third cake flour to two thirds AP.

#19 Miss J

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Posted 06 February 2003 - 11:44 AM

What kind of pie, stellabella? :wub:

#20 gknl

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Posted 06 February 2003 - 12:50 PM

I posted this is the other thread too, but what the heck. In Chez Panisse Fruit they say to cut in half the butter first, then add the other half and cut that in. That way you end up with a mix of small and large pieces. They also recommend lifting the flour-butter mixture up in your hand and letting it sift through your fingers to mix as you add the water. It's worked wonders for me, I used to have consistency issues :wink: . They say that Jacques Pepin taught them that when he was there visiting. He says to cut in 1/3 first, then 2/3 though.

#21 pacemazz

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Posted 06 February 2003 - 02:50 PM

I've been on this quest for years...

On this particular day, my findings are:

Crisco and Butter (1 c crisco, .5c butter) is the way to go. Lard works well too, but for heavier pies (like pecan) and pot-pies.

I add crisco to the flour first, than the butter so that the butter are the large pieces and don't get warm.

Refrigerate, Refrigerate, Refrigerate, Refrigerate! (the dough, the pie plate - glass only kids, the pin - preferably marble, and the rolled crust before filling.)

Don't over-roll

Prick and egg-white-wash the bottom before filling or blind baking.

Both Martha's recipe and the ones for various crusts in the California Culinary Academy Volume are good, much as I love Rose Levy-B, no pie should be that hard.

Tomorrow I may change my mind.

#22 sparrowgrass

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Posted 06 February 2003 - 03:09 PM

I remember fighting with pie crust as a tyke--it would always break apart as I lifted it into the pan. When I learned to roll it lightly onto the rolling pin to carry it to the pan, I did much better.
sparrowgrass

#23 nerissa

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Posted 06 February 2003 - 05:42 PM

nevermind.

Edited by nerissa, 06 February 2003 - 05:43 PM.


#24 col klink

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Posted 07 February 2003 - 05:22 PM

All right folks, I'm going for it! I just mixed up my first batch of pie crust batter and it's sitting in the freezer. Now I'm going to work on the innards. I've played around with a rhubarb blueberry crumble that turned out really well. The last one was a bluberry boyenberry and that wasn't half bad. I still have no idea how to make a crumble but it certainly is a lot of fun trying.

For the crusts, I used Jim's mother's recipe. I first put the cup of crisco in the flour and mixed until it was consistent. Then I added a stick of cold butter that had been cut up and again with hands, mixed until most of the fats were incorporated. I then added the wet ingredients and put the mix in the freezer. Hmm, I'd like the flour to have a chance to absorb the water so I'm going to move it to the fridge for half an hour.

It sure would be nice if this pans out!

Edited by col klink, 07 February 2003 - 05:22 PM.


#25 Sandra Levine

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Posted 07 February 2003 - 05:27 PM

Here's my mother's recipe:

That is my mother-in-law's stellar pie crust, as well, except that she uses all margarine rather than the mixture of Crisco and butter. Tender, flaky and delicious, but 2/3 marg and 1/3 butter would be even better.

#26 col klink

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Posted 07 February 2003 - 08:06 PM

Well here's a before picture:
Posted Image

And here's a picture after 35 minutes in a 400F oven:
Posted Image

There's an extra "free form" pie with the leftover strawberry/blueberry filling. A taste of the filling that dripped out proved to be quite tasty and as about as thick as I would like. I tasted a little bit of the crust off the free form and it was crumbly without too much flavor, but I will save judgement until tasting the pie. I wanted to put more filling in but it was pretty soupy so to be on the safe side, I only filled to the top. If I were making a fresh fruit pie I would've added more filling.

I can't wait until after dinner and I can say: "I ated too much pie."

#27 nightscotsman

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Posted 08 February 2003 - 12:22 AM

Those look really nice, Klink. Next time you make pie, give me a call and I'll give you a lesson in crimping (if you like). :wink:

#28 hjshorter

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Posted 08 February 2003 - 03:40 AM

Alton Brown did a show exclusively on the pie crust and apparently mangaged to balance tender and flaky.

I haven't tried it yet, but soon will.

We tried this and it was OK, but I really don't like cornmeal in my pie crust. He makes a free-form tart-like thing on the show. Not sure how is would do in a pie plate.

Our friend Tom, who makes the best pie I've ever tasted, uses all crisco. His blueberry pie is as close to heaven on earth as I think I will ever get.
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#29 elyse

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Posted 08 February 2003 - 02:14 PM

Klink, congratulations on your first crust. It looks beautiful. And crimping's easy once you get it. But forking is an easy start.

I must say, I use all crisco (usually the recipe on the can, or close to it) and I probably use too much water. But it never cracks, it's still flaky, and people say it's the best they've ever had. My pies are on the rich side, so the crust doesn't have to be. Maybe when I start expanding my pie repertoire, I'll experiment with the butters, margarines, lards, vinegars, and all that.

On the subject, are there specific types of pies that each of these fats etc. should go with? Like lard for... savoury pies. Any ideas?

#30 Jim Dixon

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Posted 08 February 2003 - 02:39 PM

klink,

my mother will be so happy...

Last year Judith and I decided that we'd better learn to make Nan's pie crust (she's not getting any younger, but that still didn't prevent her from loading a couple of girlfriends into her 1991 Marquis and cruising down to California).

Anyway, she patiently showed us how she mixes things up and rolls out the crust. Have I made a single pie since?

Jim

ps...I'm now starting to lobby for a switch from crisco to coconut oil, which is like shortening at room temp...I'm trying to get the processed fats out of the stuff we eat. I'm convinced that they are really, really bad for you.
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