I can already see the list of emails in my in box complaining about the complexity of this technique. Pie dough, at least for most people, should be a simple operation. All I can say is, first, that it’s really not all that complicated, and second, that this is the method that gives me the best results. It’s Rose Levy Berenbaum’s pie crust technique, and to my way of thinking, it is the best method yet devised for producing a crust that blends both flakiness and tenderness in a single buttery melody. Why would I not want to share the best with you, my beloved readership?
Happily, I’m not giving anything away by posting the recipe. RLB has it up on her own website, albeit the truncated food processor method, which I’ll discuss at the very end of this post. For now here are the proportions for a double (top and bottom)-crust fruit pie:
6 ounces (12 tablespoons) frozen unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (for best results, use a 50-50 blend of six tablespoons [3 ounces] butter and six tablespoons [3 ounces] rendered leaf lard)
10 ounces (2 cups + 3 tablespoons) bleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
4.5 ounces cream cheese
2 tablespoons ice water
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
For a single-crust 9-inch pie, the proportions are:
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) frozen unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (for best results, use a 50-50 blend of 3 tablespoons [1 1/2 ounces] butter and 3 tablespoons [1 1/2 ounces] rendered leaf lard)
5 ounces (1 cup + 1 tablespoon) bleached all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
2.25 ounces cream cheese
1 tablespoon ice water
1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar
Start by cutting up your butter and putting it in the freezer on a plate.
It need not be 100% frozen, but very, very firm. Next, combine your flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl and whisk to combine them:
Add in the cream cheese…
…and incorporate with your fingers until you get that “course meal” consistency everybody always talks about.
If you’re still waiting on your butter at this point, you can toss the bowl with the flour mixture into the freezer if you feel like it, since cold is much desired in this process. Once the butter is frozen, pour the dry ingredients into your plastic bag…
…followed by the butter.
Squeeze any air out like so:
Give it a shake:
And apply the pin, rolling the mixture as flat as you can. What you’re after here are thin, thin flakes of butter that will eventually incorporate into your dough as super-thin layers or veins. This will create an effect not unlike a laminated dough, imparting flakiness to your finished crust.
When you’re done your bag should look something like this:
And its contents something like this:
Now then, pour the mixture out into a bowl (chilled would be very nice, since you don’t want to lose those nice flakes of butter). Then sprinkle your water and vinegar over it thusly:
Give the whole mess a stir…
…and pour it back in the bag for kneading. Why back in the bag? Because you want to keep all those dough pieces contained, and also expose them to as little heat as you can.
Knead by pressing your fists into the bag until the dough comes together and is even a little elastic.
Shape the dough into a ball, pat it into a disk, and put it in the fridge for a minimum of an hour, overnight preferably.
I know, I know, it ain’t grandma’s crust-making technique, but I’ll tell you, this is the best way I know to create both tenderness and flakiness in a crust without resorting to shortening, which I hate to do…not because I’m afraid of trans fats or anything so ludicrous, but because I simply don’t like the greasy mouthfeel of shortening. This way you get the flakiness of shortening with the mouthfeel and flavor of an all-butter crust. And what’s not to love about that? To me it’s worth the effort.
For a more expedient method, prepare the dough in a food processor, pulsing the motor to incorporate the cream cheese and the butter, then knead it in the plastic bag as directed. The crust won’t be as flaky, but it will still be very good.