“Statistics are to baseball what flaky crust is to Mom’s apple pie” (Harry Reasoner)
Call it what you will: pie crust, shortcrust, or pâte brisée – it’s one of my favorite things on this planet and I will always always choose a well made slice o’ pie over a light and fluffy piece o’ cake. I can even forgive a terrible filling if the crust is flaky and fork tender – that’s how much I love pie crust.
I use the same basic French pâte brisée pastry recipe for everything whether it’s pie, quiche, tart or quoi. It’s basically a half-fat to half-flour ratio.
I know lard pies are trendy in SF right now and I’m probably going to have my handlebar mustache shaved off and my ‘fixe’ bicycle stolen for saying this, but I don’t like the aftertaste of lard or Crisco because it sticks to my tongue and I feel like I need a knife to scrape it off. Who wants to comb their tongue after a great dessert? I like the flakiness and texture animal fats and hydrogenated fats can provide, but still, I’m all butter baby – all the way.
In a nutshell (or tart shell – ba, dum, dum) pâte brisée is an un-leavened dough that does not rise significantly. The flakiness comes from the process of rubbing fat into flour until it resembles cornmeal – and I always prefer to do this by hand when possible– then adding a little bit of water to bring it all together. The dough is kneaded a few times (known as frissage in French) and then allowed to rest in the fridge so the gluten strands relax and quit lengthening before rolling out and baking to golden deliciousness.
In France, for the recipe pâte sucrée which is a sweetened shortcrust, you add an egg too. I have yet to find the need for a sweetened pie crust – I prefer the filling to be the sweet part – but there are variations to this basic recipe.
And speaking of variations: I cook on farms and I use a hard red wheat flour milled onsite that is high in protein and VERY low in gluten which is great for pastry (and not so great for bread). It can be tricky to work with because it absorbs liquid at a slower rate and it’s not as finely ground as store bought All-Purpose. But, I strongly prefer the flavor and the rustic crumbly appearance and texture.
If you are using flour like this then use the recipe below. If you are using store bought All-Purpose flour (and my favorite is Guisto’s Organic – they also have amazing pizza ’00’ flour) then up the flour amount by 1/4 cup.
And, if you happen to be driving along the gorgeous coastal highway 1 and you find yourself in Pescadero. Stop by Pie Ranch’s farm stall in their beautiful old barn and pick up a slice of pie made from this amazing flour. You can buy flour too and just picked produce and farm fresh eggs!
- 2 1/4 cups Pie Ranch flour or 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling out
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup cold unsalted European style butter, cut into small pieces
- ½ cup ice water (you will NOT use all of this)
If making by hand: In a large mixing bowl, whisk the flour and salt together. Add the cubed cold butter and rub in using your fingertips pressing the two ingredients together, until the texture resembles cornmeal or small peas. Pretend like you are counting money and you'll be amazed at how fast you can do this step. Add 2 tablespoons of water and, using one hand (leaving the other relatively clean and dry), bring the dough together into one ball. Add a little extra water if necessary.
If using a Cuisinart: attach the metal blade, add the flour and salt to the container, and pulse a few times to evenly distribute ingredients. Add the cubes of cold butter and use on-and-off pulses until the mixture resembles small peas. Add 2 tablespoons of ice water and pulse just until the dough comes together into a ball. If necessary add more water.
Turn the dough out onto a clean surface and knead it 3 times until it is pliable and easy to form. You don't want to overwork the dough or it will be tough.
Divide dough into two and flatten into rounds, wrap tightly with saran wrap and chill for at least an hour to allow the gluten to rest. (you can freeze one disk and reserve for another time). When ready to use allow the dough to come up just below room temperature and then roll out to fit tart pan or pie dish. Prick dough with a fork all over the bottom to prevent bubbles.
Pour in pie filling and bake as recipe dictates. Or if blind baking, line the pie shell with aluminum foil and fill with baking beans and bake for fifteen minutes at 350˚F until it is a light golden brown. You do not need a special pie liner for blind baking, foil works fine, and I find that using any dry bean works as well.