Diane, A Broad
November 5, 2012

Back to Basics: Pie Dough (Pâte Brisée)

You know what I don’t understand? Crustless quiche. First of all, isn’t that just a frittata? Secondly, the crust is clearly the best part of quiche, so why would you want to get rid of it? (I know, I know, it’s because it’s fattening… but seriously people, we need to get over our fear of butter for some things, and quiche is one of those things.)

Back to Basics: Pie Dough (Pâte Brisée)

Perhaps I’m biased because, well, I make some excellent pie crust. It’s the easiest thing, and I like to have a couple of discs of it in my fridge at all times just in case some fruit takes a turn and must immediately be turned into pie, or I have savory leftovers begging to become pot pies.

Back to Basics: Pie Dough (Pâte Brisée)

The only equipment you need is your fingers, a counter, a bowl (though this is optional), and about ten minutes of your time for an outstandingly flaky, buttery, versatile crust. Here’s how I do it.

Process

  1. Start with one cup (two sticks) of cold, cold butter. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of flour over the butter. Cut the butter into a small dice, spreading the flour around so the little cubes of butter don’t stick together.
  2. Put your butter in the fridge to re-chill while you prepare the other ingredients. In a bowl, or just on a large cutting board or clean counter, mix together 2 cups of flour, two or three big pinches of salt, and a quarter-sized palmful of sugar (yes, even if you’re making savory pies). Put a few ice cubes in a glass and pour in some water to chill.
  3. Bring your butter out of the fridge and dump it into the flour mixture. Now, quickly, with your fingers, blend the butter in using a smearing motion — as if you were snapping slowly with all your fingers. What you want is big flat flakes of butter. Stop once almost all of the butter cubes have been smooshed this way; a few unsmooshed cubes are fine. This is way before the “streusel topping” texture that most pie recipes have you go for.
  4. Start adding the ice water. Start with two tablespoons or so and toss the mixture lightly with your fingers. Pick up a handful and squeeze. If it holds together without falling apart, stop here. If it doesn’t, keep adding water until it does. I usually need about 1/4-1/3 cup. There will be crumbs of dry flour here and there; don’t worry about it.
  5. If you’ve been using a bowl, dump out the mixture onto a counter or large cutting board. It should look pretty shaggy. Divide up the dough into two equal-ish mounds and pat them into circles, perhaps kneading once or twice to incorporate loose flour. Don’t work the dough more than this, though, or you’ll develop gluten in the flour and the crust will be tough.
  6. Okay, now the secret: Using your hands, spread out the dough balls into two similarly-sized ovals, about twice as long as they are wide. We’re thinning out the layers of butter and flour in the dough, which will eventually become beautiful flakes once the pastry is baked. Stack the ovals on top of each other, cut the stacked oval in half crosswise, and pat the resulting two pieces back into circles. Flatten the circles a bit, wrap them up in plastic wrap, and refrigerate or freeze.
  7. The dough should chill for at least an hour before you use it. It can be kept in the fridge for a week or in the freezer for up to a month.
  8. To use, thaw frozen dough in the refrigerator. Let refrigerated dough sit in room temperature for about five minutes before rolling it out and baking it.

Uses

  • Any kind of pie — single crust, double crust, fruit, custard, chocolate, whatever.
  • In the same vein, pretty much any tart.
  • This dough is definitely sturdy enough for galettes, which are free-form pies. If you use fruit that tends to give off a lot of liquid when it’s cooked, make sure to toss it with some flour or cornstarch before adding it to the galette.
  • Don’t forget savory pies! Chicken pot pie topped with this crust will help you win friends and influence people. Quiche, too.
  • Or my favorite, “leftovers pot pie.” Mix together whatever leftover meat and vegetables you have in the fridge, maybe bind with a gravy or cheese sauce, top with pie dough, and bake.
  • Any of the above, made into hand pies: roll out some smallish circles or rectangles of pie dough, take whatever savory or sweet filling you like and plop it in the middle of the dough, fold over and seal the edges, poke some steam vents, and bake. Great for picnics.
  • Brush with egg wash or melted butter, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, cut into strips or squares, bake. Done.
  • Roll out thinly, cut into rectangles, and bake. Layer with fruit and sweetened whipped cream for Napoleons.
  • Bake it off, crumble into pieces, and add to yogurt or ice cream or trifle.
  • Add some cheese and/or spices to the dough, roll out, cut into shapes, and bake for homemade cheese crackers.

Music to cook by: Places To Go [Leftover Cuties // Places To Go]

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  • http://christiana83.wordpress.com christiana83

    Wow, I love this method! My mom makes a mean pie crust, and I learned what I know from her, but we’ve always used a pastry cutter to cut the butter into the flour. I’ll be honest, I always kind of felt that it didn’t work all that great. I will definately try your smooshing method next time!
    One of my cookbooks even says to use a pastery cutter or “two knives”. can you imagine trying to mix it with two knives?!

  • http://letsgogoflyakite.blogspot.com sylvi

    Diane, I absolutely love your blog, and love your photos even more! :)

    I think it’s awesome that you use your hands to cut the butter in for pie crust. I’ve been using a pastry blender for awhile, but have come to use my hands more often now. It’s so much easier to work with just your hands. Also, your secret step made me think…will homemade puff pastry be next in your post? That would be interesting!

    • http://dianeabroad.com Diane, A Broad

      Aw, thanks!

      I’ve made puff pastry before, and in most cases I don’t think it’s particularly necessary. Store-bought all-butter puff pastry is becoming more common and since homemade puff pastry is a 24-hour endeavor, I usually think the machine-made stuff will do. Don’t count it out, though. Sometimes I get small obsessions about that kind of thing, and it would certainly be easier to do it in a Paris winter than in a Santa Monica summer.

      • http://letsgogoflyakite.blogspot.com sylvi

        Ah yes; buying puff pastry from the store would definitely be more practical.

        And that’s how I envisioned it – a lovely, all-butter puff pastry being folded and rolled out in a quaint Parisian kitchen. Oh, what a fantasy. Even if you don’t pick it up as a current obsession, I’m always looking forward to seeing what you’ll crank out next…

  • Monte

    thanks for the great idea!!

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  • Alexandra Tebow

    This is the first pie crust recipe I’ve come across that has actually worked for me each and every time I’ve made it. Too often I’ve tried a recipe that uses a food processor and the crust turned out terrible. Plus, I really enjoy squishing the butter between my fingers, it’s fun. Thank you so much!