Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Perfect All-Butter Pie Dough: a Step-by-Step Photo Tutorial

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It's all about pie dough today.  This is a tutorial post, with lots of details about ingredients and equipment and processes and best practices, tips and variations on my recipe, and a bonus section on how to blind-bake a pie crust.  But if you don't need all of this, feel free to scroll right to the bottom for just the pie dough recipe.  So let's make some pie dough!

It was with embarrassment that I realized a few weeks ago that I had never updated my original post on pie dough.  The early photos were simply awful, and there was very little information available in that post to help inexperienced pie-makers.  And yet, over the years, I continued to link to that post as my go-to all-butter pie dough recipe.  And while my recipe itself has changed very little, other than a few minor tweaks and improvements, my photography has grown by leaps and bounds, so I'm very excited today to share my recipe with a wealth of information about pie-dough making, and much prettier photos to accompany it.

I've been making my own homemade pie dough for as long as I've been baking.  On the very rare occasion that I've bought a package of store-bought dough, I found myself pretty disappointed (disgusted, actually) with the flavor and texture.  Homemade is just so much better!  And, honestly, it doesn't take that much effort to make your own pie dough that is flaky and tender, and versatile enough for a variety of sweet and savory recipes.



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The ingredients are few and simple, and the process for making pie dough is really quite easy, but there are a few best practices which ensure that your pie dough will be perfect.  After combining flour with a little sugar and salt, I cut cold, unsalted butter into the flour before smashing all those pieces of butter between my fingers.  Then I add the liquid to moisten the crumbs, and use my hands to quickly bring it all together into a beautiful pie dough that's ready for sweet pies and tarts or savory pot pies, quiches, pop tarts and galettes.

One of my best practices for making an incredibly flaky crust, is to roll the dough out, then fold it into thirds, like a letter, and then thirds again, into a tidy little package of dough.  After rolling it out again, the dough is smooth, supple and strong, and all those layers from folding the dough and smashing the butter pieces make the most deliciously light and flaky crust.  Read on to learn how to perfect your own pie-dough-making technique!



Pie Dough Recipe, Perfect Pie Dough, Butter Pie Dough Recipe, Pie Dough Tutorial, Homemade Pie Dough, Pie Photography

Pie Dough Recipe, Perfect Pie Dough, Butter Pie Dough Recipe, Pie Dough Tutorial, Homemade Pie Dough, Pie Photography

Pie Dough Recipe, Perfect Pie Dough, Butter Pie Dough Recipe, Pie Dough Tutorial, Homemade Pie Dough, Pie Photography

Pie Dough Recipe, Perfect Pie Dough, Butter Pie Dough Recipe, Pie Dough Tutorial, Homemade Pie Dough, Pie Photography



Ingredients
  • Flour.  All-purpose flour is commonly used for pie dough (and it's what I use), but professional pie bakers use pastry flour, which has a slightly lower percentage of protein, making for a more tender crust.  If you don't have access to pastry flour, you can try adding a few tablespoons of corn starch to your flour to achieve a similar protein content.
  • Sugar.  Granulated sugar, just a pinch; the majority of the sweetness in a pie will come from the filling.
  • Salt.  Coarse Kosher salt, for flavor.
  • Butter.  Use unsalted butter, so you can control the saltiness of your dough.  When the chunks of butter heat up during the bake, the water in the butter evaporates into steam, forming little air pockets, which is what makes the crust flaky. You can use a fancy expensive brand of butter, if you want to splurge, or if you like the flavor better, but the less expensive store brand works just fine.
  • Vinegar.  Apple cider vinegar, just a little, contributes to the flakiness.
  • Milk.  Most people use ice water, but I like to use whole milk, for extra flavor and richness; the milk is what brings the dough together.


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Equipment
  • Mixing Bowl, Measuring Cups & Spoons.
  • Pastry Cutter.  The pastry cutter is optional, but it is convenient.  I usually start with tablespoon-sized chunks of butter, and use my pastry cutter to cut them into the flour, until they're about 1/4 inch in size.  Then I use my fingers to smash the chunks into flat bits of butter all throughout the flour.  If you don't have a pastry cutter, just dice the butter smaller to start, and then use your fingers to smash all the bits into the flour.
  • Rolling Pin.  The type of rolling pin you choose is totally a matter of personal preference.  I like a rolling pin that's very long and straight, with no handles.
  • Bench Scraper.  The bench scraper is a necessary tool for making pie dough, as you'll use it to help loosen the dough from your counter while you're rolling.  I use the same bench scraper for smoothing buttercream around cakes as I do for making pie dough.


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Recipe Variations & Tips
  • The recipe below makes enough dough for a double-crust pie.  If you only need half for a single-crust pie, freeze the other half for another use.  If making lots of decorative cutouts or elaborate lattice work, you may want to make 1 1/2x the recipe to ensure you don't run out of dough, and freeze any extra.
  • Your ingredients should be kept cold, right up until you need them.  Cold ingredients make a better, flakier pie crust.
  • As you handle the dough (smashing the butter, gathering the crumbs into a ball), you should work quickly, so the heat of your hands doesn't melt the butter.  You also want to avoid handling the dough too much; over-working pie dough will lead to a tougher crust.
  • Ice water can be used instead of whole milk, but I like the richness of the milk.  You can even experiment with half 'n' half or buttermilk - I've used both.  Don't be tempted to add more liquid than the recipe calls for - the dough should be just moist enough to hold together.  Over-hydrating the dough will make a tough crust.
  • Sometimes I'll add an egg yolk to the dough, along with the liquid, just to add a little extra richness.  If I add an egg yolk, I'll reduce the milk from 6 tablespoons to just 4-5 tablespoons.
  • After assembling my pie, I always brush the top crust with egg white.  Some people use milk, or cream, or an egg yolk wash, but I like the light, even browning that I get with an egg white wash.  The egg white also acts as the "glue" to adhere any decorative cutouts to your top crust.
  • Immediately following the egg white wash, I sprinkle my pie lightly with regular granulated sugar.  The fine sugar crystals add a nice crunchy finish to the top crust and a pretty sparkly sheen.
  • A few tablespoons of dry milk powder can also add extra flavor to pie crust - you can read a whole blog post I wrote on this experiment.
  • Depending on what type of filling is going into your pie, you can even add a few herbs or spices to your pie dough to enhance the flavor of the filling.  Vanilla bean, ginger, nutmeg, or even more savory herbs like rosemary or thyme could all be interesting.  Spices or dried herbs should be mixed in with the flour before adding your butter and liquid ingredients.


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Blind-Baking Pie Dough
  • The process of "blind-baking" or "pre-baking" pie dough involves baking an unfilled pie crust, which will later be filled with a prepared cream or custard filling that doesn't need to be baked or only needs a very short bake time.  For example, an apple pie or blueberry pie is made by assembling the crust and filling, then baking them together.  But a lemon pie, coconut cream pie or chocolate cream pie needs a pre-baked pie crust that is ready to be filled with a prepared filling.  Blind-baking dough involves weighting the dough down with something (such as dried beans), since it's being baked without any other filling; this weight helps prevent the bottom crust from puffing up too much and the sides from sliding down the side of the pan.
  • To blind-bake your pie dough, follow the recipe below, roll out your pie dough and fit into your pie pan, with the dough hanging over the edges just a little.  Fold the edges of the dough under slightly, to make a neat edge.  Use a fork to lightly prick the bottom of the dough all over - this is called "docking" the dough, and helps prevent it from puffing up too much by allowing steam to escape the tiny holes.  Refrigerate for one hour so the dough is well-chilled.
  • While the dough is chilling, pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Set a piece of parchment paper (not wax paper) onto the chilled crust, and fill the paper with pie weights or dried beans/rice.  Bake for 15 minutes on the middle rack in the oven.  Remove from the oven, and carefully remove the parchment paper with the weights and set aside.
  • Use a pastry brush to brush an egg white wash all over the crust.  Return the crust to the oven (without the weights), and bake for another 15-20 minutes, until the bottom is golden brown and cooked through.  If needed, cover the edges of the pie with a pie shield if they're getting too dark while you're waiting for the bottom to cook.
  • Let the crust cool.  It's now ready to be filled with your prepared filling.


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Recipe for All-Butter Pie Dough
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (plus extra for rolling)
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon coarse Kosher salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, cold, diced
  • 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
  • 6 tablespoons whole milk, cold (or ice water)
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar and salt.  Scatter the butter over the flour and use a pastry cutter to cut the butter into smaller chunks, about 1/4 inch in size.  Now use your fingers and smash each chunk of butter flat.

Drizzle the apple cider vinegar and milk over the flour mixture and toss to combine.  Dump the mixture out onto a clean work surface, and use your hands to gather the crumbs together.  Keep gathering and pressing the crumbs together until it comes together into a ball - this should only take a minute or two.  Use your bench scraper to scrape all the bits of dough off the work surface, if any of it sticks.  Divide the dough into two portions, and just work with one portion at a time.

Lightly flour your work surface, the ball of dough, and your rolling pin.  Roll the dough out, using using your bench scraper to loosen the dough from your work surface, and sprinkling more flour as needed to keep it from sticking, into a rough circle about 1/4 inch thick.  There may be a few cracks in the dough, and you should see visible chunks of butter throughout.

Fold the dough into thirds, like a letter, and then in thirds again, so you have a neat little package of dough.  Wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for about 20 minutes, to let the dough rest and chill.  Repeat the rolling and folding step with the second portion of dough.  (If not needed immediately, the dough can be refrigerated for up to two days, or wrapped well and frozen for several months, until you're ready to use it.  Frozen dough should be thawed overnight in the refrigerator, and then allowed to warm up at room temperature until easy enough to handle, although still cool.)

After chilling the dough for 20 minutes, it's ready to be rolled out for your pie.  Flour your work surface again, and roll the dough out, using more flour as needed to keep it from sticking, until large enough to fit into your pie pan with a little overhang.  You'll notice that the dough, after being folded and chilled, rolls out into a much smoother dough that's strong enough to be cut into lattice strips or other decorative cutouts, as well.

Your pie dough is now ready to be filled and baked.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen



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