Monday, November 23, 2009

The Perfect Pie Dough - Pate Brisee

I have been making pies since the eighth grade - and the most challenging part has always been getting the dough to be the right consistency. I remember my first pie was a complete mess. Once I rolled out the dough and tried to place it in the pan, I ended up having to patch the numerous holes and tears I had created. Over ten years later (whoa!), a lot has changed - including improving my pie making skills. There are a few techniques that can help create a flaky and tender pie crust. I thought I would share my tips since Thanksgiving is tomorrow and every pie is better with homemade dough.

Having a food processor can help immensely, but is not necessary. I like using a food processor because it quickens the process and keeps the dough cooler compared to using your hands or a pastry cutter.

Here is my favorite pie dough recipe - a pate brisee by Martha Stewart. This makes enough for one 9 inch deep dish pie or one 9 inch double crusted pie:
-2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
-1 tablespoon sugar
-1 teaspoon salt
-8 ounces (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
-3 to 4 tablespoons ice water, plus more if needed

My food processor is small, so I can only hold half the amount of the recipe, which I actually like so I end up making two perfectly equal pie dough disks (one for the top and one for the bottom). If you are bad at math, here is the half recipe:

-1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
-1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-4 ounces (1 stick) of cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
-1 to 2 tablespoons ice water, plus more if needed

Before I begin anything, I like to measure out my chopped butter and flour mixture (salt, sugar, and flour) and place in the freezer to chill for about 5 minutes. It is very important to keep the butter especially chilled, because the cold temperature is what allows the butter to become flaky bits when processed. While chilling the ingredients, create ice water by added a lot of ice and some water - you want it to be very cold. Once everything is chilled well, you can begin making the dough.
Pulse flour and salt in a food processor until combined. Add butter, and process until mixture resembles coarse meal, about 10 seconds. Do not process for too long, because the motor heats up the dough.
Now comes the most difficult part of the process. Add your ice water - a little at a time, just a drizzle, then process a bit and see how your dough holds up. You do not want to add too much water, the excess water will create a tougher crust. I usually do not go by actual measurements - there is never an exact amount of water you should add - the amount changes all the time, due to heat and humidity and human error in measuring. Below is an example of too much water, notice how the dough clumps together too easily.

Example of too much water (above).Example of right consistency of dough (crumbly, but holds together).

Once the dough is just holding together, remove the dough from the food processor and place on the counter. Use your hands to form a disk. If the dough isn't sticking together, just sprinkle a few drops of water on your hands and quickly work in. Don't over work the dough, because the heat of your hands will ruin the butter flakes.Now wrap each disk in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 3 days (or freeze for up to 1 month; thaw in refrigerator before using).Once you are ready to roll out your dough, let it set out for 10 minutes and then sprinkle flour on the counter and on your rolling pin. Rotate your dough circle twenty degrees, every few rolls to prevent sticking. Sliding a frosting spatula underneath to loosen the dough also works. Once the circle is large enough for your pie plate, place rolling pin on edge of the dough and wrap onto the rolling pin and then transfer into the pie plate. I wish I had pictures, but I sadly don't, so click here for Martha Stewart's visuals and instructions. Hope these tips help, and you will try to make your own crust this Thanksgiving.


  1. You can actually roll the dough out in 2 pieces of plastic and avoid the extra flour in your pie crust. It works great!

  2. Thanks Mary for the tip. Other people have told me they do that too :)