Foolproof Pie Dough
I used to be the world’s worst pie crust maker, but then I discovered an article in Cook’s Illustrated.The article described the science behind pie dough – “The Theory of Pie”. They tested and tested until they found a recipe and method that not only baked up tender and flaky every single time but also rolled out easily. Turns out that one of the key steps is to divide the flour into two batches, reserving about 1/2 of the flour for a later step. The first batch would be unified with the butter completely. Then the reserved flour would be added and mixed into the butter and flour mixture until it was evenly distributed. I don’t want to get into the science behind it, but it basically has something to do with the balance of gluten (uncoated flour) and fat (butter coated flour). That’s why it’s so hard to make a consistent crust. If you make the crust using traditional methods, there’s no real way to make sure that the ratio doesn’t change from batch to batch. It really is a very interesting article and worth picking up.
The final recipe uses Vodka, sounds strange right? Apparently, pie dough gets its structure from gluten, which forms when flour mixes with water. But too much can make it tough, which explains why most recipes require so little water. Cook’s Illustrated suggests using vodka, which allows you to add more liquid (so the dough is easier to roll out) but doesn’t toughen the crust. Oh and the alcohol vaporizes in the oven!
Martha’s recipe calls for 2 3/4 cups of flour. So using my pastry cutter and my fingers, I combined 1 3/4 cups of flour with salt, sugar and butter. I like this method, because I didn’t have to worry about over-mixing the butter and flour. Once the butter and flour were completely combined, I added the remaining cup of flour.
Using a pastry cutter, I quickly mixed in the remaining flour until the texture became sand like. I then folded in cold water with a spatula, one tablespoon at a time, until the dough started to stick. I ended up using 7 tbs.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have any Vodka in the house but I still wanted to test out the overall technique of splitting the flour so I went ahead and tried the method using Martha’s Pate Brisée recipe. I simply combined 1 and 3/4 cups of flour with the sugar, salt and butter (thoroughly mixed together) then added the remaining flour. I only had to add 7 tbs of cold water and I knew instantly that I had finally done something right. Past attempts didn’t have the same doughy consistency that this batch had. My success was even more prevalent once I started to roll the dough out – it wasn’t cracking or sticky! It was perfect!!!