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stellabella

In search of the perfect pastry crust

209 posts in this topic

My Finnish grandmother used suet to make pasties (vegetable and meat hand pies), and they were most amazing. But she used butter for her sweet pies and the crusts were always delicious.

I can't abide shortening in anything, and I use a high-fat butter to make pastry doughs. They are nicely browned, flaky, crisp but tender, and always meet with rave reviews.

Eileen


Eileen Talanian

HowThe Cookie Crumbles.com

HomemadeGourmetMarshmallows.com

As for butter versus margarine, I trust cows more than chemists. ~Joan Gussow

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Today's LA Times had Russ Parsons' article about the perfect pie crust a la Thomas Keller:

The Crust you can Trust

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My experience has been that leaf lard and butter combination produces the best crust for me. Very flaky, delicious, and not too much shrinkage. Leaf lard is a little hard to find but well worth the effort.

I also use cake flour for part of the flour (about 1/3) to make it more tender and have less shrinkage (that has always been a problem for me).

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I'd like to go back to basics. First, I am talking about pastry crusts, NOT pie crusts.

I have the worst time with pastry crusts. My worst problem is that they like to shrink back down the sides of my pastry form during baking. I do freeze before baking. (I'm too tired to get into all the details :wacko: ), can someone cover the basics on the perfect pastry crust/shell? Tried and true recipes would be greatly welcome.

And for what its worth, I made Ong's citrus crust today and it worked perfectly for me.

Thanks.


Chef, Curious Kumquat, Silver City, NM

A recent write-up in Dorado magazine

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I'd like to go back to basics.  First, I am talking about pastry crusts, NOT pie crusts.

Just to be clear, you're talking about pate sucree and not pate brisee, right? Technically, both are used in pastry and tart crusts.

For pate sucree, I've had best luck (minimal shrinking) with the Pierre Herme recipe so far. The ground almonds appears to be key, as using various techniques with other pate sucree recipes did not yield a big difference in shrinking for me.

I haven't tried the nut-based pate sucree recipe from Mes Tartes yet, but Ferber claims that it does not shrink and needs no liner/weights to prevent shrinking.


Edited by sanrensho (log)

Baker of "impaired" cakes...

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How are you lining your mold with dough? Shrinkage often comes from stretching the dough to fit ths sides of tart pan (or whatever you're baking in). When I learned the way around this it stopped being a problem.

Are you rolling out the dough larger than it needs to be, and then pushing down to compress it into the mold?

I put a tutorial on tart shells up on my web server:

www.paulraphaelson.com/downloads/tarts.rtf

It's basically all my notes from the research and experimenting I did a couple of years ago. It includes pate brisee, sablee, sucree, and Pierre Herme's recipe, which is a hybrid. There are bakers' percentages and notes on achieving different textures and a lot on method. Some of the method is non-traditional (I have a wacky system of using preheated pennies for pie weights, to help brown the bottom of the shells) but the rest is textbook.

I have another one on chocolate tart shells if anyone's interested.


Edited by paulraphael (log)

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Thanks to both of you. I do roll a bit larger than the final size, but I do work it into the mold probably more than I should. I do that in an attempt to have as thin of a crust as possible - I hate clunky crusts. I'll check out the tutorial.


Chef, Curious Kumquat, Silver City, NM

A recent write-up in Dorado magazine

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I just came to a conclusion about pie crust and decided to see what everyone here had to say on this important topic.

I came from a shortening pie crust tradition--actually more of a Mrs. Smith's tradition to tell the truth!

Since adulthood I've made all butter pie crusts--different recipes--julia Child, Martha Stewart.

Recently I decided all butter was just too greasy--I like flaky, but i also like crisp and tender.

I tried lard--the Hub's aunt, who was Southern, made wonderful lard crusts--My lard is pretty soft--it's from a pig we bought--have had trouble getting the proportions right--you simply can't use all lard of this type for a decent crust.

Had to make 2 pies quickly this weekend so went to Joy of Cooking--used the basic pie crust recipe and it was divine--called for 2/3 cup of shortening and two tbls of butter. It was flaky, tender and crisp--easy to work with--it rolled out nice and thin so you got a shell of crust not a slab of it.

I don't even know why i had shortening in the house as I've shunned it for years--and although it's the worst of the choices for health, I'm gonna use it for pies--after all, pie is never going to be a healthy choice--if if is, it won't be good.

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I'm also a fan of shortening in my pie crusts. All butter is good for some situations, but for flakey crust bring on the Crisco.

I just came across this buttermilk crust that I have to say is the best pie crust I have ever made. Flakey light perfection! I used actual buttermilk from a local dairy, rather than cultured buttermilk from the store, but I'm betting the cultured stuff will work well too.


Do you suffer from Acute Culinary Syndrome? Maybe it's time to get help...

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I just came to a conclusion about pie crust and Recently I decided all butter was just too greasy--I like flaky, but i also like crisp and tender.

I think your issue with butter is really with recipe or more likely the method. There is no reason for a butter crust to be greasy. In fact, shortening crusts are much more likely to have a greasy mouthfeel, because shortening stays greasy in your mouth ... it doesn't melt at body temperature like butter.

This higher melting point, which keeps shortening based pastry from being succulent, also makes it much easier to work with. Butter doughs require more precise technique and temperature control to make succesfully. Once you figure this out though, I can't imagine you'd want to go back to shortening. Unless you're the one person on earth who doesn't like the flavor of butter ;)

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I think I'm with Zoe. I recently made an all butter crust, and while it was unbelievably flaky, at the same time during baking so much liquid butter came out of that crust that the bottom of the pie nearly fried in clarified butter. I don't think that should have anything to do with the method, as the pie was indeed super flaky and the flavor was there. Its just that a) it wasn't quite as tender as I'd like, and b) the whole thing was too greasy once baked.

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I think I'm with Zoe. I recently made an all butter crust, and while it was unbelievably flaky, at the same time during baking so much liquid butter came out of that crust that the bottom of the pie nearly fried in clarified butter. I don't think that should have anything to do with the method, as the pie was indeed super flaky and the flavor was there. Its just that a) it wasn't quite as tender as I'd like, and b) the whole thing was too greasy once baked.

I think this is 100% about method. I say so because I make all butter tart shells all the time, and greasiness is never an issue. Lack of tenderness is also an issue with method.

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I think the world is a better place with shortening. :raz:

I made a beautiful rustic apple pie this year for Thanksgiving using six lovely pounds of apples. I used agave for most of the sweetening and for the crust, two parts flour to one part toasted ground pecans. It was a wonderful thing.

I did use half butter & shortening. Shortening is great in pie crust. I agree it's 100% in the method.

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Ok, I guess maybe I'm just no good at making pie crusts, but I'm having a hard time understanding how the method I used could be good enough to produce extreme flakiness -- which to me indicates that the butter wasn't overworked into the dough / was left in appropriate size pieces to create the little pockets of air -- and yet still somehow the method was so wrong as to produce all that weeping of clarified butter. Could someone help explain the science of this to me?

I think I'm with Zoe. I recently made an all butter crust, and while it was unbelievably flaky, at the same time during baking so much liquid butter came out of that crust that the bottom of the pie nearly fried in clarified butter. I don't think that should have anything to do with the method, as the pie was indeed super flaky and the flavor was there. Its just that a) it wasn't quite as tender as I'd like, and b) the whole thing was too greasy once baked.

I think this is 100% about method. I say so because I make all butter tart shells all the time, and greasiness is never an issue. Lack of tenderness is also an issue with method.

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For the record my favorite pie crusts are butter+lard, but I've also made all butter crusts as well and I've never had the problem of butter pooling on the bottom of the pan. My first reaction is that there's too much butter in the recipe. What's the recipe that you use?

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and my first reaction is was the butter frozen? it helps.

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Butter was frozen, then grated on the large holes of a box grater, then frozen again to firm up in those little shreds, then mixed with the flour. I don't remember which recipe i used (I checked lots -- cooks illutrated, BHG, Joy of cooking, etc), but I am confident that I *didn't* use the one that called for the *most* butter,as I was already trying to get past just how much damn fat goes into a pie crust! :-) Has no one else ever had this seeping butter happen to them?

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I've never frozen the butter, but I chill it to close to that point. What happens afterwards is more important. The dough needs to be kept cool while you're working with it. This means working quickly, especially if the kitchen is warm or if you're using your hands. As soon as the dough feels greasy or sticky, it has to be covered and chilled in the fridge for 20 minutes or so.

This can be repeated as many times as you need.

After the dough is made, it should chill for a long time ... one to twenty four hours. After this, a few whacks with a rolling pin should soften it up enough to roll out. And you're back to racing the clock. First sign of stickiness or greasiness, back into the fridge. After rolling out the dough and making the pie or tart shell, chill it again for at least an hour. It should go into the oven straight from the fridge.

Tenderness also comes from not using too much water, and from not overworking the dough. if you have the impression that butter gives you a less tender crust, it's probably because you didn't account for the water in the butter--butter is up to 18% water, and that water eventually gets liberated and can add to the hydration of the flour. Two things help: using a higher quality, high fat/low water butter (which will also taste better) or just holding back on the water you add.

Check yourself by weighing ingredients. Water in the recipe in general should not exceed 20% of the weight of the flour. 15% is better, if your flour will allow it. At this hydration level, dough will be so crumbly when it comes together that it's almost impossible to work with. This is what you want. It takes time for the flour to hydrate; if you add enough water to fully hydrate it quickly, it will gradually become too hydrated.

So do what bread bakers do: autolyse. It's a fancy word for resting it in the fridge (which by now you might realize is your best friend). As soon as the dough comes together into its initial crumbly mass, cover it, refrigerate it, and walk away for 20 to 45 minutes. When you come back, the magic will have happened: the dough will be manageable, without excess added water, and you will end up with some very tender pastry.

If you get the general rules down for working with a butter crust, you will not have issues with greasiness. Check out the pastries at a good French patiserie. It will all be crisp, tender, and with a melt-in-your-mouth tenderness and rich buttery flavor. It will all be made with 100% butter.


Edited by paulraphael (log)

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Paul is exactly correct: it's all about technique. On our final exam in pastry school, we all had to make a quiche. The dough recipe was identical among the students. The ingredients were identical. The only thing that differed was technique. Some ended up with flavorful, tender flaky crusts; others, not so much.


John DePaula
formerly of DePaula Confections
Hand-crafted artisanal chocolates & gourmet confections - …Because Pleasure Matters…
--------------------
When asked “What are the secrets of good cooking? Escoffier replied, “There are three: butter, butter and butter.”

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I agree that technique is paramount. As my grandmother used to say, "A tender hand makes a tender crust."

Also, you can reduce the amount of water in the crust by using a European or European-style butter (they are higher fat, lower moisture).

I've lately taken a liking to Organic Valley cultured European style, and I've had great results. There are many European butters available now, but they are more costly.

Eileen


Eileen Talanian

HowThe Cookie Crumbles.com

HomemadeGourmetMarshmallows.com

As for butter versus margarine, I trust cows more than chemists. ~Joan Gussow

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There's also another thread somewhere about the CooksIllustrated recipe using 1/2 (?) the usual amount of water but making up the difference with Vodka, which doesn't interact with the gluten in the flower.


John DePaula
formerly of DePaula Confections
Hand-crafted artisanal chocolates & gourmet confections - …Because Pleasure Matters…
--------------------
When asked “What are the secrets of good cooking? Escoffier replied, “There are three: butter, butter and butter.”

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There's also a lot of lore about different fats giving different textures ... lard=flaky, butter=crumbly, etc. etc.

None of this is true. These basic textures are influenced by the size and shape of the chunks of fat in the dough. You can get the same range of textures with butter as with lard or shortening. Butter will require more refined technique to get right, but as a bonus it will give you more refined flavor and mouthfeel.

If you think of pastry as being flour and different sized / shaped lumps of fat interspersed with each other, it becomes easy to imagine what's going on with the different textures. A flaky american crust has big, flat pieces of fat separating fairly thin sheets of flour. A crumbly traditional French tart shell has very small pieces of fat closely interspersed in the flour. The flakiest of all, puff pastry, has long, thin sheets of fat separating long, thin sheets of flour. Cookie crusts have thoroughly blended fat and flour.

If you keep these ideas in mind, you can achieve whatever texture you want. Personally, I often go for something between a crumbly french tart and a flaky american pie (because I'm a flaky American with crumbly French pretenses?) I go for pieces of butter a little bigger than what's normal in a tart, and flatten them out through a fraisage step. When I make the final disk of dough, I align all the fraisaged balls of dough parallel to each other and flatten them out. So I end up with fairly small, but flat and parallel bits of butter in the shell. A little bit crumbly, a little bit flaky.

If you can visualize what's going on with the fats, you can find a way to get whatever texture you dream up.


Edited by paulraphael (log)

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and ...one thing that makes life easier is the food processor. I use it more for pastry dough than for anything else. It's much faster than mixing by hand, doesn't add heat like your hands, and the sharp blades literally cut the butter instead of smearing it around.

With a lot of skill you can do as good a job by hand, but the machine makes it a snap. Especially helpful if it's warm in your kitchen.

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Pie crust is not at all difficult, does not take a lot of skill, hence the phrase, 'easy as pie'. I mean you can goof it up for sure but even Mary Poppins agreed when she said, "Pie crust promise, easily made easily broken."

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Pie crust is not at all difficult, does not take a lot of skill, hence the phrase, 'easy as pie'. I mean you can goof it up for sure but even Mary Poppins agreed when she said, "Pie crust promise, easily made easily broken."

If you're lucky enough to have a good baker show you, you'll be a pro in an hour. if you try to figure it out on your own by trial and error, or from sketchy instructions in a book, it will be a long road. And many have given up!

So yeah, it's not hard, but it's technique intensive. Especially if you're using butter, which requires much more precise technique. All complaints about butter crusts are the result of imprecise technique.

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