There are some desserts that are pretty forgiving but pie crust or tart dough is not one of them. Every cook under the sun has their favourite crust recipe which gets dusted off right around this time of the year.
In a pastry kitchen, there are some formulas you need to stick to and improvisation and experimentation are done within the chemistry parameters of baking. But there are other little tricks that can make or break a recipe. To a seasoned cook, they might be elementary but to someone new to baking and to everything that many recipes take for granted, they can make the difference between an average dessert and an amazing one.
Let’s take cookies for examples. Basic cookie dough is extremely easy but your cookies will be way better than average if you know to cream the butter for a very long time, until it’s really fluffy. And don’t overmix the dry ingredients – just dump them in the bowl, give your mixer a spin until the dough comes together and STOP or your cookies will be a bit tough. Also, when baking them, a good rule of thumb is to yank them out of the oven before they are completely firm. They will firm up while cooling and you will avoid the crunch effect.
But I am digressing. We were supposed to tackle crust. The following recipe is seemingly easy. It’s an all-purpose crust, not quite sweet and you can omit the sugar altogether if you wish to use it for a savoury dish – quiche for example.
The trick to flakiness is the butter. The cubes should be small, evenly cut and frozen – not just cold. Unlike a cookie dough, you don’t want to beat the butter into submission – once you are rolling the dough, the butter should have formed a marbled effect. If it gets fully incorporated in the flour, the resulting crust will be tough.
Once you start adding the cream, be careful to stop the mixer as soon as the dough comes together.
Finally, good quality butter will make you happier when you bite into the finished product.
It might take a few tries but once you have it down, it is easy and much more satisfactory than the frozen one calling your name from the supermarket case. I promise.
ALL PURPOSE TART DOUGH (yields enough for 2 9″ pies)
1# 9 oz All Purpose flour
1 T Sugar
1 ts Salt
1 # Unsalted Butter, slightly frozen and cubed
1 C Heavy Cream
1. Combine dry ingredients in the bowl of a mixer with paddle attachment (a food processor can also be used)
2. Add the butter and mix on medium speed until the butter has formed pea sized balls. This will take several minutes.
3. With the mixer running on low, add the cream in a steady stream and mix just until the dough comes together. Test it with your fingers – it should be pliable and not too wet or too dry. Strands of butter should be visible.
4. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for an hour or until you are ready to roll it.
5. Once you are ready to roll, scatter some flour on a wooden or marble surface, place the dough on it and roll it firmly with a wooden rolling-pin to 1/4″ thickness. Cut the desired shape, roll it around the pin which you will then lift to center and lower on your baking pan. Gently press the dough to fit the pan and crimp the edges or simply cut the excess dough with scissors.
6. If you are blind baking the crust, cover the bottom of the pie with parchment paper and fill it with pie weights or beans which you will remove halfway the baking process to ensure even baking.