By Emily Stephenson
Last week, when it was over 100 degrees outside, I had a pie baked by a professional, and even her dough was crumbly (warm butter means crumbly dough). I appreciate that there is a fabulous bounty of fruit available during the summer, the stuff of luscious pie fillings, but hot weather makes getting a perfectly flaky crust difficult.
I didn’t realize this until I started baking my own pies last summer. After more than a few less-than-ideal pie crusts, I did some research beyond the recipe at hand. I’m happy to report that, just like in school, extra-credit work really does pay off.
In honor of the last month of summer, here is the most useful advice I’ve found in pursuit of a perfect pie crust:
- After adding a little water to the butter and flour mixture, pinch a bit of it between your fingertips. If it holds together, the dough is ready. While the dough is resting in the refrigerator, the water will continue to hydrate the flour. This way, you’ll use less water than if you were expecting the dough to form a ball, and your crust won’t be tough. (If you have a vacuum sealer, you can see this in action: the difference in texture between when you seal the dough and when you take it out 30 minutes later is pretty incredible. Removing all the air expedites the process.)
- Many recipes say the butter should be no larger than pea-sized when cut in, but that doesn’t mean they should be exactly pea-sized. When I first started making dough, I didn’t cut the butter into the flour enough. I had pieces of butter that were too large, which meant I had to use more water to get the dough to come together, and my end result was very tough crust. When you’re cutting in the butter, you’re looking for bits of butter of a variety of sizes, none of them larger than pea sized. This doesn’t matter as much if you are using a food processor, but if you’re cutting in the butter by hand, keep cutting a little more.
- Don’t rush the resting time. You can’t over-rest dough (within reason) but you can certainly start working it too soon. Leave it for an hour or more in the refrigerator.
Any other tips I’m missing? I’d love to hear from dedicated summertime pie bakers.