Recipe by Stella Parks. Introduction by Food52's Kristen Miglore.
There is so much genius embedded in this one recipe from Stella Parks, aka the baker, science whiz, and sugar historian behind the blog and book BraveTart, that I’ve opted to make her pie dough my default flaky crust in this book. Though there are lots of good ways to turn cold butter and flour into puffed, golden layers in the oven, this is the method that has surprised me the most and stands to make the biggest difference for a budding pie baker.
While most dough recipes take a bit of practice— you need to get comfortable discerning what the heck “coarse crumbs” look like, or how to fraisage butter across a counter— Parks provides an unexpected path that anyone can understand, without prior baking knowledge or intuition. She has you simply pinch cubes of butter in flour until they’re flat, without working them in more. Then you stir in exactly 1/2 cup (120g) of cold water (again, no guessing!), and then roll and fold the dough once like a book to distribute the butter into big flakes—an act similar in spirit but not in intensity to making puff pastry. The crust is among the flakiest I’ve ever had, and yet a child could make it without having to look up "coarse crumbs."
The second game changer is that Parks doesn’t blind- bake the crust with store- bought pie weights, or even dried beans. Instead, she fills the crust with sugar, which doesn’t melt, but rather toasts and deepens in flavor, giving you a stash of golden, roasted sugar that you can use in any other baking recipe. I’m including her blind-baking instructions for single-crust pies, because she bakes at a lower temperature for longer than most, which results in less shrinking and disfigurement in the crust. But I also had the Food52 staff help me test this dough in all sorts of ways, at high heat and low, in slab galettes and latticed double- crust numbers, even as a quasi puff pastry, and it worked beautifully every time.
8 ounces (225g) all-purpose flour (1 3/4 cups + 1 tablespoon), plus more for dusting (Parks prefers the tenderness of Gold Medal bleached flour)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt (preferably Diamond crystal)
8 ounces (225g) unsalted butter, very cold and cut into 1/2-inch (1.3cm) cubes
1/2 cup (120g) water, very cold
1 To make the dough, gather all your ingredients before your hands get messy, plus a medium bowl, a fine- mesh strainer or sifter, a whisk, a rubber spatula, a rolling pin, a 9-inch (23cm) pie pan (preferably glass), and a bench scraper or offset spatula (or other thin spatula- like thing). A ruler and a pair of kitchen shears will help, too.
2 Sift the flour into a medium bowl (if not measuring by weight, be sure to spoon the flour into the measuring cups and level with the back of a knife before sifting). Whisk in the sugar and salt, then add the butter. Toss the butter cubes in the flour, separating any stuck- together cubes with your fingers, then pinch each cube until it’s flat and about 1/4 inch (6mm) thick— don’t work the butter in more! Stir in the cold water with a rubber spatula and press and knead together until the dough comes together in a shaggy ball. Dump the ball onto a heavily floured work surface, sprinkle the top with more flour, and use a rolling pin to roll out a rectangle that’s about 10 by 15 inches (25 by 38cm), with a longer side closest to you, adding as much flour as you need along the way to keep it from sticking. (If at any point the butter gets melty and sticky, gather the dough onto a baking sheet and pop it into the refrigerator until it firms up a little, 15 minutes or so.)
3 Fold the dough: Slide the bench scraper under the dough to loosen it from the counter, then fold each 10-inch (25cm) side toward the middle so the edges meet, then close the packet like a book. Fold the book in half, top to bottom, then slice the dough in half horizontally, so you have two roughly equal- size rectangles of dough. (If it’s warmer than 72°F/22°C in your kitchen, you might want to refrigerate the dough for 15 to 20 minutes before proceeding.) Cover one portion of dough tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate it while you get to work on the other one, or freeze for later it if you don’t plan on using it right away.
4 Using as much flour as needed, roll out the remaining portion into a 14-inch (36cm) round that’s 1/8 to 1/4 inch (3 to 6mm) thick. (It can help to roughly shape it into a disk first, but starting from a rectangle is also fine.) Feel for sticky patches on top and underneath as you go, smoothing flour over them if needed. Brush off any excess flour, then drape the dough over your 9-inch (23cm) pie pan and lift the edges of the dough to drape the sides down into the corners without stretching the dough. Trim the excess to a 1 1/4-inch (3cm) overhang all around, then fold it under and press to seal it well, creating a 3/4-inch (2cm) border. If making a single-crust pie, crimp with your fingers or a fork into whatever decorative edge you like. If making a double-crust pie, don’t crimp, and roll out the second half of the dough as you did the first, then transfer it to a baking sheet or parchment-lined cutting board. For both single- and double-crust pies, cover all dough well in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight. (Alternatively, the dough can be frozen for up to 3 months and thawed overnight in the refrigerator before baking.)
5 To blind-bake the crust for a single-crust pie, heat the oven to 350°F (175°C), with a rack in the lower middle. Line the chilled crust with a 16-inch (40cm) square of foil (not parchment or waxed paper), pressing it against the dough and letting the excess hang over the sides. Fill the crust to the brim with sugar, a no-waste blind-baking alternative to traditional options like rice or dried beans (see Food52 Genius Desserts for more on using the roasted sugar).
6 Set the pie pan on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until the crust is cooked through and lightly browned, about 1 hour (using a glass pan makes it easy to check the underside to make sure it’s nicely browned). Remove the crust from the oven and carefully lift out the foil with both hands and set aside on a plate until the sugar has fully cooled.
7 Let the crust cool to room temperature and use within 12 hours. Once cool, store the roasted sugar airtight at room temperature and use in any recipe in place of sugar. To use the other half of the dough if frozen, thaw in the refrigerator overnight before rolling out.
GENIUS TIP: THE MOST IMPORTANT RULE IN PIE DOUGH (PLUS TWO EXTRA TRICKS)
There is only one thing that separates the people who think they can’t make pie dough from the people who are confident and fearless about it: the knowledge that anytime the dough starts to get sticky on you (whether you’re in the midst of rolling or latticing or crimping), you can chill it for a few minutes and make your life easier. Leave it in the refrigerator just until the butter in the dough firms up, but not long enough for it to become rock solid and brittle.
If you want to make it extra easy on yourself, clear a section of your refrigerator (or freezer) and keep a baking sheet handy for speedy transfer.
TRICK 1 For even more insurance, cool down your countertop before rolling by filling gallon zip-top bags with ice cubes and a little cold water and laying them flat on the counter, like Stella Parks does.
TRICK 2 One more solution for stickiness (and using less flour): Lots of smart bakers, Rose Levy Beranbaum and Dorie Greenspan among them, like to roll out their pie dough between two layers of flour- dusted plastic wrap to minimize stress. The dough will be a more even thickness and less likely to stick to the counters or the rolling pin.
Excerpted from Food52's Genius Desserts by Kristen Miglore. Copyright Ten Speed Press, 2018.
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