Forgive the pun (I love puns), but it relates to my initial fear of making pie dough from scratch. Despite the fancy French name, that’s really all pâte brisée is — basic pie dough. It’s just so tempting to grab one of those pre-made pie shells from your trusty grocer’s freezer. And don’t even get me started on those super handy rollable crusts with that loveable doughboy on the package. Those are a life saver. But sometimes I like to challenge myself and see just how much I can make from scratch. I have a tasty summer pie in mind and the first step towards that pie is making the crust. It actually turned out to be relatively simple. Granted, my little slabs of dough are currently chilling in the fridge and things could go horribly wrong once the rolling out begins. But now I live in sweet, ignorant, perfect pie dough bliss.
I didn’t want to mess around with this project, so I went for the big guns — Martha’s Baking Handbook. It’s got everything you could possibly ever wonder about baking. This recipe even came with step by step photos. Ohhhh, Martha. She thinks of everything. My main hurtle though, was the size of my food processor. Unless you are a pilgrim or something, you need a food processor to make pie dough. The alternative is cutting the butter into the flour by hand with some sort of tool I don’t own. My food processor is mini and adorable and fits perfectly in my tiny kitchen, but it doesn’t hold very much. There was no way I could fit all the flour and butter required for this dough into the microscopic bowl of my baby processor. So I threw caution into the wind and cut the recipe into two batches. Baking is essentially a science, and I was reluctant to mess with any ratios but alas, what’s a girl with an undersized food processor to do? Improvise.
As Martha indicates, the key to good pâte brisée is COLD ingredients. This is no joke. They mean it. I think it’s way easier to work with cold ingredients than room temperature ones. Who has time to wait for butter or eggs to come to room temperature? That always frustrates me when batter recipes demand that ingredients be room temperature. I realize that in that scenario the ingredients cream better when at room temperature, but I am never prepared enough ahead of time to set ingredients out. When you need cold butter, guess what? It’s already cold right out of the fridge. Martha recommends that your flour be cold too, but that is just ridiculous.
The flour (or half of it in this case) gets a quick pulse with a dash of salt. The chilly cubes of butter are then added to the almost-to-capacity food processor.
After a quick 10 second whir, the butter and flour become one. You’re now faced with a fluffy, crumbly mixture that is so cohesive it looks like it could never have been two separate ingredients.
But we’re not there yet! This is just a bowl of crumbly butter and flour. They cannot fulfill their destiny as tender pie dough without a little H20 action. Water is the glue that holds this dough together. And you only need a little bit. Now, again with the food processor woes — mine does not have the sort of lid that has what Martha calls a “feeding tube.” While that term makes me feel like I’m making pie dough in the Intensive Care Unit, it is still quite a helpful feature on the bigger models. The goal is to stream in the water very slowly while the blade churns the ingredients into a dough-like state. With no way to do this, I just had to pour in a bit of water, blend, and check the consistency.
Ideally, at the end of this mildly arduous process, the dough will have a moist, yet crumbly texture and will hold its shape when pressed. Success! It seems as though the baby processor came through in the end. And splitting the recipe in two worked perfectly because you need two separate discs of dough in order to form the bottom and top crusts of the pie.
Forming the dough into a disc seems daunting at first because it looks awfully crumbly and unstable when dumped onto the work surface. But with a few quick pats, the dough comes together quite easily. It’s surprising how what was once a dusty, buttery mess is now an actual piece of pie dough just waiting to be rolled out and baked to flaky perfection. Hopefully a pie post will actually follow…