Fast, Easy, Flaky Piecrust – It CAN be Done!
Inside that crust is a Three Cheers Pie (apple, pear and quince) in honor of this being pie season.
Of course, back last spring I would have said summer is pie season; with rhubarb as the opening salvo. Even before those stalks start getting stringy there will be cherries and peaches, plums and blueberries – all primary reasons for pie to exist.
On the other hand, next thing you know here come the apples and pears and pumpkins and then uh-oh, it’s Christmas, the one time of year when mincemeat pie…
Take your pick for maximum pie pressure, no matter how you slice it that’s a lot of crust. Here are a couple of the recipes I use, starting with that super-fast easy one.
PROCESSOR SOUR CREAM PIE CRUST
It’s not only fast, it’s also extremely tender while still being much flakier than the usual wham-bam processor pastry doughs.
It’s not quite as flaky as Rough Puff (below; if you look intently at the picture you’ll see RP has many more layers) and it’s so tender it can sog under the weight of a lot of juicy fruit. But even then it doesn’t sog badly.
And that same tenderness – aka undeveloped gluten – makes it behave itself when being pre-baked for custard and chiffon pies like Mamie Eisenhower’s Pumpkin Pie. Although it softens quickly at room temperature, that’s not a problem if you roll it out between sheets of waxed paper. Should it start looking greasy and slack, just throw the whole sandwich in the fridge until it firms up again.
For 2 (9 inch) crusts:
2 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp. sugar
½ tsp. salt
½ lb. cold butter
1/3 to ½ c. sour cream
1. Put flour, sugar and salt in a processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse to mix.
2. Cut the butter into 10 or 12 pieces, drop them into the flour mixture and stir (I use a table knife) to coat each piece with flour.
3. Pulse until you have coarse but relatively even meal.
4. Dollop on the smaller amount of sour cream and pulse about 10 times. If the dough has started clumping together, you’re good. If there’s no sign of cohesion, add a bit more sour cream before pulsing again. Divide the clumpy material into 2 piles, placing each on a sheet of plastic wrap. Use the plastic to gently nudge the dough into a disc. Wrap in the plastic and chill at least 4 hours before rolling out.
Note: The basics of this recipe are in no way original to me, but there’s no knowing who first thought of combining the bit of sour (classically vinegar), to inhibit gluten formation and the use of cream for moistening, which ups the fat content.
REVERSE ROUGH PUFF PASTRY
This is not classic “rough puff paste,” a genuine pastry recipe that’s almost as much of a pain to make as real deal puff paste itself. Instead, it’s a bastard child of old fashioned pie crust and puff paste, discovered years ago when I tried a piecrust recipe that had too much fat in it. Not wishing to waste all that butter, lard and washing of the processor, I rolled out the over-rich pastry on a heavily floured surface, sprinkling it with flour at frequent intervals and turning it over from time to time.
Then I folded it. One time (see instructions). Chilled, rolled and chilled again. Voila – flakes! – not nearly as many as puff pastry but still plenty enough. RRP isn’t as tender as sour cream pastry or as light as true puff paste but it’s better than either one for old fashioned double crust fruit pies. The number of steps makes it look time-consuming and complicated. It isn’t.
For 2 (9-10 inch crusts)
2 oz ( ¼ c.) cold lard*
5 oz (10 tbl.) cold butter
1 ½ tsp.lemon juice
½ c. ice water
2 ½ c. all purpose flour
½ tsp. salt
1. Cut the butter and lard into roughly tablespoon-sized pieces. Refrigerate until firm again.
2. Put a wide, shallow mixing bowl in the fridge to chill. Mix the lemon juice with the water and put it in the fridge too. In a processor with the metal blade, pulse 2 c. of the flour and salt to mix.
3. Distribute the fat bits over the flour and stir ( I use a table knife ) to more or less coat each piece with flour.
4. Pulse briefly, just until the fats are in baby lima to pea sized lumps. Transfer the mixture to the chilled bowl.
5. Pour in the water, making a circle about an inch in from the sides of the bowl. Using a fork or your fingertips, toss the mixture until it (mostly) clumps; there will probably be some unincorporated material.
6. Set out 2 large sheets of plastic wrap and put half of the the proto-dough on each. Use the plastic to gently nudge the disparate elements into a tight heap. Wrap tightly and chill at least 4 hours.
7. Remove a heap from the fridge and let it warm up for 10 minutes or so. It should now be willing to coalesce. Using the plastic wrap, manipulate it into a rough rectangle.
8. Sprinkle a work surface with half of the remaining flour and put the dough on it. Press to embed some flour, turn it over and press again. Roll out about 1/8 inch thick, turning and flouring lightly as you go. There will probably be a little flour left over.
9. Fold the dough the long way into thirds, top over center, bottom over top. Fold in the sides by thirds, one over the center, the other on top of it. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate. Repeat with remaining dough and flour.
Pictures below: Left – Dough with big fat lumps just starting to be rolled out. Right – Folded and ready to chill.
10. Chill at least 12 hours before rolling out between sheets of waxed paper; then chill again at least an hour, still in the paper, before fitting it into the pan or making the cheese straws or whatever. All that manipulation makes the dough elastic and if it doesn’t get time to relax the pastry will be tough.
* About that lard: When it’s the real thing, carefully rendered, pure white, solid and innocent of preservatives, this unique fat is unbeatable for making classic piecrust. In addition to enhancing flakiness, good lard adds a subtle, toasty note that gives depth to the crust flavor. Alas, it’s not easy to find, and the processed lard in boxes in supermarkets isn’t an adequate substitute. Somehow it’s even greasier-tasting than solid shortening, with a whiff of pig thrown in. If good lard eludes you, use all butter; make sure it’s high-fat European style and put in an extra tablespoon.
Concerning the make-ahead part promised in the last post:
ALL pie crust is (or should be) make-ahead. Standard recipes are always on about chill this and chill that and don’t work it etc. etc. and all of these things are worth paying attention to. But one of the most important – and easiest! – ways to ensure tenderness in piecrust is to let the newly-made dough have a good rest before you roll it out. Tightly wrapped, pie dough keeps in the refrigerator for 3 or 4 days and it freezes very well so there’s no excuse for rushing it.