Pie Crust - How to Make an All Butter Crust

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Despite the fact that pie crust seems to be identified as belonging in the realm of grannies and old ladies of all ilk, they're remarkably simple. Old ladies are viewed as the keepers of all things culinary primarily because of their ability to whip out a pie, seemingly out of thin air.

Want to know a secret? You can't make one out of thin air, but it doesn't take much more than that. There are only five ingredients in an all-butter pastry crust: flour, sugar, salt, butter and water. Only three of those have a structural job to do. The sugar and salt are simply for flavor.

Here's what they do:

1. Flour - If you're building a building then flour is the infrastructure. Flour contains gluten, which is a protein. When you knead a dough, you're actually manipulating the gluten into forming a little bitty microscopic network. Gluten is what makes doughs hold their shape. It's also what will make them rise, if there is an agent to produce gas, such as yeast or soda. The gluten will trap the gas bubbles.When you knead dough a lot - like for French bread - lots of gluten is activated into this network and you get a chewy texture. However - if you don't want chewy - you don't knead at all.

2. Sugar - it tastes good!

3. Salt - salt in this case doesn't taste good on its own. But it does make other ingredients taste more like themselves. So you only use a pinch, but it's an important element.

4. Water - this is the mortar - what will keep your building (your crust) standing like you want it to.

5. Butter - if flour forms the bricks of your crust then the butter is the pretty stuff that makes it appealing. Pretty here means flavor. Work with me, I'm trying to make the analogy work. Fats will inhibit flour from forming the network of gluten that can make it tough. You need the fats in there for two reasons. The butter will steam in the hot oven, creating layers which means flaky. And with no fats the crust not only isn't flaky, it tastes like real mortar. Now - you can use other fats - and they perform in similar (but not exactly) the same way. For example, lard will make the flakiest crust, but won't be as flavorful as butter. Shortening too. But butter seems to be the most appealing, and also the most prevalent in everyone's pantry.

By the way - don't use margarine. I don't even know if it works, and don't want to know. I think it doesn't. But it's just wrong. Old ladies and grannies don't do it for good reason.


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Method for the Magic!

What you need:

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 Tbl sugar

1 tsp salt

1 stick of butter, very cold

1/4 cup water, also very cold

  1. I make crusts in the food processor all the time. Just remember to pulse it only briefly. You can certainly use a pastry cutter and a mixing bowl, or even your fingers. Just work quickly, and don't let the heat of your hands melt the butter, or even warm it much. You want it cold going into the oven, so it releases maximum steam to make flakiness.
  2. Whisk together the flour, sugar and salt, or pulse until well mixed. Using a grater, grate the butter like cheese into the grater. You're going to pulse it, but you only want to pulse it a little once it's in the flour, so you want it already in small pieces.
  3. Pulse the grated butter into the flour until you have a coarse texture. If you still see bits of butter - great!
  4. Trickle the water in, about 2 Tbl at a time, and pulse to combine briefly. Add only enough water so that the dough BEGINS to come together. You'll see in the video that it is only beginning to stick together. STOP!
  5. Remove the blade from the food processor, and form the pastry (yes, it's pastry now!) into a ball. Wrap it in plastic and stick in the fridge for half an hour. This allows the flour to absorb moisture from the butter and water, and makes sure it's well chilled for the oven. It's also easier to roll out when it's cold.
  6. After at least half an hour (and you can stash it up to three days at this point), flour a surface lightly, and pat the dough down into a disk on top of the flour. Roll it into a circle, rotating it as necessary. Once it's large enough to fit your pie plate, roll it onto your rolling pin and transfer.
  7. This recipe makes one crust - like to top a pot pie, or deep dish apple. You can double it easily if you need both a top and bottom. Then just crimp the edges, and trim it off. The crust can be brushed with egg, or just whites or yolks or cream - any of those work to encourage a golden brown in the oven. Bake for about 40 minutes and you're Golden!

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