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Pie Crust...I will not be defeated!


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Pie Crust...I will not be defeated!

nickblesch | | May 23, 2010 07:58 PM

Okay, pie crust is my nemesis. My arch-rival. It is the Lex Luthor to my Superman; the Megatron to my Optimus Prime; the Gargamel to my Cook Smurf.


I have "made" numerous pie crusts, and of the ones that I could even get into the pan, they all turned out tough... the rest fell apart before I could even get them there. (The problem isn't the actual physical act of moving them, by the way - I can do both the quarter-fold and the technique where you wrap it around the rolling pin.)

Anyway, I've tried Alton Brown, David Lebovitz, Mark Bittman, Sur la Table / Art & Soul of Baking, Williams Sonoma, Dore Greenspan, and a couple others...and there's something I'm missing here.

Although I've tried a number of different recipes and they do vary a bit, as a general rule I use 1.25 c flour (a bit more than 6 ounces), 1 stick butter, a teaspoon or so of sugar, a pinch of salt and they all call for 3-4 tablespoons of water (which I THINK is my problem; see below). I don't think it's the recipes; these are all reputable and respectable folks whom I have no doubt can make a mean, flaky pie crust. It's me.

For ingredients I use: King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose flour, Land O'Lakes unsalted butter, filtered-tap water, Domino white sugar, and kosher salt from Penzey's. I cut the butter into 1/2 inch pieces and freeze it, I leave the water in the fridge for over an hour, and this past time I even set the dry ingredients in the food processor bowl in the freezer for about 15 mins before starting. I don't think it's the ingredients; again, it's me.

So here's what happens: I pulse the dry ingredients a couple times just to get them mixed together. Then I add the butter 1 piece at a time and pulse once (for a total of 8 pulses) and then a couple more pulses until the butter is pea-sized, give or take.

I turn the butter/flour compound into a mixing bowl and I sprinkle the water in, a tablespoon at a time, stir it into the dough...and it all goes to heck right here.

I simply do not understand how 3 tablespoons of water can make 1.25c flour and 8T butter into a dough. It doesn't come together at all. Even if I mash the stuff as hard as I can into a ball, it will fall directly apart. Same with 4, 5, and even 6T water. If I turn the dough out now and press it together, it will barely hold together - and when I take it out of the fridge to roll it out, it WILL crack and fall apart. (And for those of you wondering: yes, I have in fact tried this with 3, 4, 4.5, 5, 5.5, and 6T water. It won't roll out properly, even if I only chill the dough for an hour and let it rest for 10 mins outside of the fridge before rolling it.)

Once I get in the 8-10T range (or more), the dough will hold together enough for me to turn it out, press into a disc and get it in the fridge. It rolls out fine, then; I roll out, turn, roll out, turn, roll out, turn, etc, and keep it from sticking. Then I get it in the pan and blind bake it for about 20-25 mins at 400F (with foil and pie weights), and lo and behold... I have a crust so tough that it is almost literally inedible.

You can't cut it with anything other than my sharpest chef's knife, if even that, and you sure as heck can't chew it. The only thing I can figure is that the extra water makes me have to work it too much and so the dough gets tough from being overworked, although I don't know that for a fact. All I do know is that every single pie crust I've ever had hold together long enough to get into the pan has been tough as nails, and those are the ones that have 2-3 times the required amount of water.


So, here's what I think my problem is: I'm not mixing the water into the dough properly.

I just don't know how to make the dough turn into "large, shaggy clumps" as seen on page 172 of Sur la Table's Art & Soul of baking without adding 1/2 cup or more of water to the dough.

I'm afraid of overworking the dough; should I stop being afraid of that? When I mix the water into the flour/butter compound, should I really dig in and mix it HARD? Right now I'm just sort of folding it in, and it's crumbly well past 3-4T of water.

Effectively, then, my real question is: how in the world do you get a mere 3T of water to turn that much other stuff into a dough?

Any advice at all would be greatly appreciated. I feel like I'm an expert on pie crusts - believe me, I know all about them - but I can't seem to make it work in practice... all my knowledge is theoretical.

Thanks, again, in advance!

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