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10 Steps to Better Pie

1. Don’t over-blend pie dough. The fat should remain in small lumps. When baked, the fat melts, creating steam that separates the dough into flaky layers.

2. The best pie dough is made with ice-cold butter. The best place to chill the butter is in the freezer. Coldness ensures that the butter won’t melt prematurely and release its moisture into the dough, making a soggy crust. The moisture instead should evaporate when it comes into contact with the heat of the oven, creating a flaky, layered crust.

3. In professional kitchens, pastry flour, made from a softer wheat containing less gluten, is used for pastries. It’s difficult (though not impossible) for the home cook to obtain, but an adequate substitute can be made by mixing equal quantities of all-purpose flour and cake flour. However, all-purpose flour by itself works fine.

4. When you use a food processor for pie dough be careful not to over-mix. Pulse the machine on and off just until the dough forms into pea-sized lumps. The advantage of a food processor is that this happens so quickly the fat doesn’t have time to soften. Of course, any of these doughs can be made by hand if you don’t have a food processor. The same principles apply: Work quickly, keep everything cold and don’t handle the dough more than necessary.

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5. The amount of cold liquid needed in the dough will be affected by the humidity in the air. Add only enough liquid to hold the dough together in a mass. Too much will make the crust tough. Add the liquid a little at a time, and stop when the dough just begins to clump together.

6. Some older recipes for pie dough suggest substituting a teaspoon of vinegar for some of the water. The acidity helps keep gluten from developing in the dough.

7. You always knead bread dough hard to develop the gluten. But in short pastry dough you want as little gluten development as possible to keep the crust tender. Once the dough is mixed, don’t knead it at all. Form it into a 12-inch-thick disk, wrap it in plastic, then chill it at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator so that any developed gluten can relax. The dough should be easier to roll out.

8. Dust your rolling pin and the work surface generously but not excessively with flour. If the dough begins to stick, lift it with a large metal spatula and sprinkle a little flour underneath. The circle of dough should slide freely on the counter. Excessive amounts of flour can cause tough crusts if too much flour gets worked into the dough as it’s rolled out.

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9. Always roll the circle of dough from the center out to the edges, never back and forth. Back-and-forth action develops gluten, which will make the crust tough.

10. Getting a large piece of dough into a pizza pan may be difficult. If the dough tears or breaks, just patch it together. It will still look fine when it’s filled.


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