When I was a kid, I thought being a baker was such a glamorous job, kind of like Meryl Streep's character in It’s Complicated. As an adult, I still daydream about running a homemade pie shop one day — beats an office job, right? The funny thing is, I also never thought I would have actually liked baking. But the first time someone brought an apple pie to my apartment as a housewarming gift, I was hooked. The scents filled up my kitchen and seeped through to my bedroom, making everyone giddy. It was warm and buttery and miraculous. I had to learn how to bake the perfect pie.
So, while my friends were browsing through Facebook's newsfeed after a hard day's work, I started attentively reading tips from kitchen titans Martha Stewart and Julia Child on how to produce a consistently delicious crust. And it paid off. Sure, there were a few trial runs that didn’t go so great, but I baked and baked until I figured out how to bring people to tears from the first bite.
Producing dynamite pie dough isn't nearly as hard as you might think it is. I did learn, though, that there are several common mistakes people make when it comes to mastering the crust. Read on for the top seven.
1. The Butter Isn’t Cold Enough
Having semi-soft butter will ruin your dough-making experience. If your chunks of butter are even a little warm, they get soft before they land in the oven, which means the dough won’t be flaky.
I like to cube my butter, lay them out on two plates, and stick them in the freezer for about 10 minutes while I'm assembling everything else. It will be in perfect condition for you to start combining it with the dry ingredients. Some chefs even recommend that the other items are also cold before getting started, such as flour and the baking utensils.
2. Not Putting The Dough In The Fridge
Let’s revisit the butter conversation again. Butter is made up of milk solids and water; when cold butter is put into a hot oven, the water evaporates quickly and you get a more flavorful crust. But warm butter weeps into the dough before the water evaporates, so you lose the flakiness of it.
Conclusion? Leave the dough in a disk in the fridge for at least an hour after you've made it, if not more. You can even make it the night before and leave it in for 24 hours. The butter will harden once again, allowing the moisture to distribute evenly throughout.
3. Overworking The Dough
Chewy, stretchy pie dough is a cardinal sin in French cuisine, and that’s exactly what you’ll end up with if you mix the dough too vigorously. Pastry chefs say it should resemble coarse meal before you add the ice water; if it's combined anymore than that, the gluten found in flour has been handled too much, contributing to a tough crust.
A lot of recipes instruct you to use a food processor or mixer, but it’s best to simply use your own hands. However, work with just your fingertips — the thumbs, forefingers, and middle fingers — instead of your whole palms. This allows you to closely monitor how the butter and flour are combined; you want it to create flakes, not lumps.
4. Using Only All-Purpose Flour
It wouldn’t be the end of the world if you used only all-purpose flour (heaven knows I've done it plenty of times), but adding cake flour will produce something next level. It’s a low-protein, more delicate ingredient that results in the flaky texture you’re going for. It can be found in the baking aisle of most grocery stores.
If you can’t get your hands on it, don’t panic. You can use the following to substitute for one cup of cake flour: 1 cup of all-purpose flour minus 2 tablespoons, then add 2 tablespoons of corn starch.
5. Opening The Oven Too Often
Was it impatience or curiosity that killed the cat? Whatever it is, impatience will kill your pie. I used to be so bad at this — I would eagerly open up the oven door every five minutes, as if something new and exciting was developing since I had last checked.
The only thing that happened was it took a lot longer for the pie to finish up, and it wasn't nearly as flaky as I would have liked it to be. Another unwelcome side effect of the heat escaping is the crust might collapse into itself.
6. Not Letting The Pie Sit
I know, this seems nearly impossible — it comes out of the oven smelling and looking perfect, ready to be devoured, and the only seemingly logical thing to do is dig in with your fork. Back away slowly. Just as if it were a roast chicken, you should let the pie rest for at least an hour before it’s served. The longer it sits, the better, actually.
On pie baking days, I like to get started in the morning. That way, I have it out of the oven by late afternoon, and it’s ready to be enjoyed after dinner. I understand this isn’t exactly conducive to weekday schedules; when you get home from the office, just be sure the pie is the first thing you get started on.
7. Cutting It With A Dry Knife
With cold items like ice cream or chilled pies, you will see the best results from running your knife under hot water before you cut in. But if your pie is still slightly warm, a buttered knife does the best trick. If you try to cut through something crumbly and flaky without buttering the utensil first, everything will fall apart. Not such a pretty pie anymore.
Reuse the empty butter wrappers; just wipe it around the knife a couple times. Your pie dough will keep its lovely shape, and it'll probably taste just as good as it looks.
Images: veganlazysmurf/Flickr (1); Giphy (7)