Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Food Processor Pie Dough

This recipe, which has become my go-to for for both sweet and savory applications, is my own personal cross between Martha Stewart's all-butter pie crust and the Cook's Illustrated "Foolproof" pie crust.  Making pie crust in a food processor is incredibly fast.  When I need to make multiple pie crusts, around Thanksgiving, for example,  I cut all my butter and put in the freezer, then scale out my dry and wet ingredients.  When the butter is very cold (at least 15 minutes), I make the crusts back to back--no need to clean out the bowl between batches.  Each crust only takes about two minutes once your ingredients are assembled, so it really couldn't be easier, and it will impress everyone who's lucky enough to taste the fruits of your labor. 

The key to a great crust is to move quickly and not overwork the dough.  Dough becomes overworked and tough in two ways.  The first is the over-incorporation of butter, which can happen if you process it too much at the beginning.  The little chunks and streaks of butter that remain after mixing melt when the crust bakes, creating flaky, tender layers.  So keep those buttery chunks and streaks!  The second thing to be aware of is too much gluten formation, which is caused when flour and water mix.  In bread, gluten development is good, because it creates structure and chewiness.  In pie crust, gluten formation is undesirable for the same reasons.  So, you want to mix as little as possible to minimize gluten formation.  (The use of vodka in this recipe also minimizes gluten development, because it's only 60% water--the rest is alcohol, which evaporates while baking.)

Single Pie Crust for a 9 or 10 inch pie or tart
* 1 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour (6 ¼ ounces)
* 1 scant teaspoon kosher salt
* 1 Tablespoon of sugar (FOR SWEET PIES ONLY.  OMIT FOR SAVORY PIES!)
* 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes, frozen
* 2 Tablespoons vodka, cold
* 2 Tablespoons ice water


1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine the flour and salt (and sugar, if using) with a couple of quick pulses.  Add the butter and do about 8 quick (1-2 second) pulses, until the butter is somewhat distributed and the flour looks a bit like cornmeal, but there are still larger chucks of butter, too.  With the food processor running, pour the water and vodka (you can combine them first to make this quick), through the feed tube, and process for no more than 10 seconds, until the dough looks evenly moist and is clumping together.  It won't be a cohesive mass, but when you pinch some together between your fingers it should hold.  If it crumbles, add another tablespoon of ice water with the processor running.

2.  Spread a piece of plastic wrap out on the counter and dump the dough into the middle.  Carefully pull out the blade.  Use the plastic wrap to corral the dough and press it into a round, about 5 inches in diameter.  Wrap it tightly, and refrigerate for at least an hour or up to two days.  

3.  When you're ready to use the dough, lightly flour your work surface, and place the dough on it.  Flour the top of the dough as well.  Roll the dough out starting from the center and working in all directions, to maintain an even thickness.  Check a few times to make sure it's not sticking to the counter--add more flour if you need to.  Roll the dough until it is a 12-inch circle, about 1/8 inch thick.  Carefully drape it over the rolling pin and transfer it into your pie plate or tart pan.  Ease it in, using one hand to work the extra dough from the inside around the edge and push the dough and the other hand to pat it into the plate.  Don't stretch the dough, or it will shrink up when it bakes.  

4. If the dough seems too soft at this point, put the pie plate in the fridge, with overhang in place, for about 15 minutes.  Otherwise, trim the edges so there is a 1/2 inch overhang.  Fold this over onto the edge of the plate, and either flute the edge or press down around the edge with a fork.  If you're using a tart pan with fluted sides, this part is particularly easy, because you just have to fold the extra dough over so that the top of the dough is flush with the top of the pan.  Voila, no crimping necessary!

Now, to the issue of blind baking, which means partially or fully baking the crust before filling it.  With quiche, you certainly can partially bake it, although it's not necessary--really a matter of personal preference.  I usually skip it because I rarely budget the time.  Some pies or tarts have unbaked fillings, such as those filled with cold cream or custard fillings--in those cases you need to fully bake the pie crust before filling.  To do this, line the pie crust with aluminum foil, and then fill with pie weights, or dried beans or rice.  Bake like this at 425 degrees F for 15 minutes.  Remove the foil and weights, then bake the pie for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, or until the crust is crisp and golden brown.  To partially bake a crust, line with foil and fill with weighs, but reduce the second baking to only 5 minutes.  Don't throw out your bean/rice weights!  Keep them in tupperware for your next pie.

To Flute Edges:  Hold your thumb and pointer finger (the one next to it) about half an inch apart, on one side of the dough (since I'm a righty, I use my left hand and work from the inside of the pie).  With the pointer finger on your opposite hand, gently push the dough between your two fingers.  Moving clockwise, place your pointer finger right next to the indent that you've created, and repeat.  You're aiming to get an even, wavy edge all around.  Believe me when I say that your first pie, or even your fifth pie, might have some wonky edges, but with a little practice this is a skill that you will master, and once you do all of your pies will look picture perfect!

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