Perfect Pie Crust

Making the perfect pie crust used to be intimidating. Please note, used to be. I grew up watching Food Network and was so intimated by the way the chefs would speak of the pie dough and all the ways it could go wrong. It’s too tough, it’s under baked, its over worked, it could go on and on. There were competition shows with all these grandmothers with their unique recipes and techniques on how to make their version of perfect pie crust. If you go online and search “pie crust” or “pie dough,” you get a myriad of websites that share with you their secrets. Maybe that’s how you landed on this post and I suppose this post will just be another one among thousands out there.

Yet as intimidating as it seemed, I decided to finally give it a try. Since then, pie crust has been one of those recipes I can throw together without much thought. I use it for my Earl Grey Pie, my Apple Pie, and everything in between. And every time, it comes out beautiful and perfect. I can put together a pie crust in less than 5 minutes; it takes me longer to was the dishes after than it does to make the actual dough! The reason for that is you want to handle the dough as little as possible. Work fast, and keep it cold. That is the trick to the best dough.

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To start out, measure out the water and salt in a pyrex cup. Put it in the refrigerator to lower its temperature. On a cutting board, cube the butter into small pieces. I am making four pie crusts so the quantities you see in the photos are multiplied of what you would actually use. Remember, work fast to keep the butter cold. After cubing, I often move the butter into a bowl and back into the refrigerator to get the temperature down again. While it’s in the fridge, you can measure out the flour.

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Once the temperature of butter has been lowered, use a pastry cutter to cut in the butter to the flour. I use a pastry cutter as opposed to a food processor because you have more control over the dough when you are using a pastry cutter. A food processor can easily overwork the dough.

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Here, I am about halfway into the cutting in process. The butter should become smaller pebble sized as it is being worked into the flour. Remember, work fast, and keep it cold. You don’t want to use your hands as your body temperature will melt the butter.

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Once the butter resembles small pebbles, it is time to add in the water and salt. Pour it over the flour mixture and use the pastry cutter to mix the two to form a dough.

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This is what it looks like after. As I quadrupled the recipe, I have four pie doughs (one dough ball makes two pie crusts). You can still see chunks of butter within the dough. Those chunks are what will give the crust its flakiness.

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Wrap tightly in saran wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours before using.

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When the dough is set, unwrap and place on a floured surface. I am using this dough for tarts.

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Roll the dough out to about 1/8 inch thick. You can slightly see the marbled pattern that the chunks of butter creates throughout the dough. Beautiful. 

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Press the dough into the molds and cut off any excess. If the dough is still cold, you can always re-roll the excess into a dough ball, refrigerate it to firm up, and roll it back out. If the dough has already reached room temperature, it will not work as well.

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Once it is in the molds or pie tin, place it back in the refrigerator to firm up again. The pie dough needs to be really cold before baking.

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Right before you put the crust into the oven, prick the bottom with a fork. This will allow for even baking and for steam to be able to escape. If you are going to fill the pie for baking, you would do so now. However, with this one, I am blind baking it.

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To blind bake the pie, cut parchment paper squares to line the inside of the pie. I find it easiest when the parchment is first crumpled into a ball, then unrolled. This will give the paper more flexibility to fit into the crust. Fill the crusts with baking beans or rice, then bake.

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When the edges are golden brown, remove the baking weights and parchment paper. Put it back into the oven for an additional 5 minutes, until the inside of the pie is also golden brown.

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Now that is how a perfect pie crust should be.

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Look at all those layers the butter has created!

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And it’s golden brown all around, even on the bottom of the tart. Once it has slightly cooled, you can remove it from the molds and used however you would like!

Perfect Pie Crust

recipe from Tartine Bakery

1/2 tsp salt

1/3 c very cold water (I placed in freezer for 5-10 min)

1 1/2 c + 1 Tbsp flour

1/2 c + 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, cubed and chilled

Dissolve salt in water and keep refrigerated until needed. With a pastry blender, cut in the butter and flour until the butter is the size of small pebbles. Work as fast as possible. Add in the water and continue to cut it into the dough until it loosely holds together. Roll it together so that it holds, wrap in saran wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or overnight.

When ready to use, roll the dough out onto a floured surface. Press it into the pie crust or molds, then trim off any excess. Return to the refrigerator to firm up for 5-10 minutes. Then, prick the bottom of the pie with a fork to form small holes. Line the pie crust with parchment paper and fill with pie weights. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 20-25 minutes, until the edges are golden brown. Remove the pie weights and parchment paper and place back into the oven for 5-10 minutes, until the inside crust is browned and dry. Use as desired.

Lemon Bars on Brown Butter Shortbread

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I’ve professed my love for Tartine many times in the past. I’ve been to their bakery once and have their baking book. In my spare time, I love flipping through the pages and looking at their pictures.

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During winter break, I attempted to make these lemon bars but failed quite miserably. I didn’t allow the crust to fully brown and the lemon mixture also leaked into the crust. When I took it out of the oven, it looked like a shortbread cookie that was surrounded in a goopey lemon mixture. It was an epic fail and it ended up in the trash can.

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When my friend gave me a large bag of lemons last week, I decided to give the recipe another try! In fear of failure part two, I cut the recipe in half. I did not want to waste the ingredients in case I failed again and had to throw everything away.

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The outcome could not have come out any better than it did!! My favorite part about this recipe is the crust. Compared to other lemon bars, the crust is full of flavor and is crispy and flaky. There is so much flavor and the ratio of crust to lemon is perfect. It is not overly sweet but is just enough to offset the tang from the lemons.

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First, mix together the crust in a stand mixer. Press it evenly into a buttered pan. As I mentioned, I cut the recipe in half so the proportions below are less than what the actual recipe asks for.

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Grab a piece of parchment paper and lay it on top of the crust. Smooth it over the top so the crust is smooth and pour in the pie weights. My pie weights are green beans :)

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While the crust is baking, make the filling. In one bowl, sift together the flour and sugar. Zest the lemons and squeeze out the lemon juice. I thought the recipe would use more lemons but these ones were extremely juicy and I only needed 2. Add it to the flour sugar mixture and whisk until smooth. In another bowl, crack and whisk together the eggs. I like to use my pyrex measuring cups to mix everything in because it makes pouring easier.

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Add the beaten eggs and whisk until well combined and wait until the crust is deeply golden brown.

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If the crust is done before the lemon mixture is ready, you can take it out to stop it from baking. BUT, if you take it out, make sure that you put the pan back into the oven to get really really hot again before you pour the batter in. The first time I made this, I didn’t allow the pan to get hot enough and when I poured the batter in, everything soaked through the sides and into the crust. By having the pan and crust really hot, the batter will sizzle and almost cook when it reaches the sides, preventing the filling from sinking down between any cracks.

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Once it is done baking, allow it to completely cool before slicing. After it is sliced, dust the top with powder sugar and enjoy!!

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These lemon bars were actually a lot easier to make than I thought. I think the first time around, I just overthought it and made it more complicated than it had to be. These are moist yet crispy, sweet but not overloaded, and lemony without any bit of sourness!! You have the perfect balance all in one bite!

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Lemon Bars on Brown Butter Shortbread

Adapted from Tartine by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson

Brown Butter Crust

1/2 c powder sugar

1 1/2 c plain flour

3/4 c unsalted butter, softened

pinch of salt

Lemon filling

1/2 c plain flour

2 1/4 c sugar

1 c + 2 Tbsp lemon juice

zest from 2 lemons, grated

6 eggs + 1 egg yolk

pinch of salt

icing sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 and butter a 9 x 13 in baking pan.

To make the crust, sift the icing sugar, flour, and salt into the bowl of your stand mixer. With the paddle attachment, mix on a low speed to combine.

Add the butter and mix on a low speed just until a dough forms. Put the dough in the pan and press it evenly into the base.

Line the crust with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake the crust about 30-35 minutes, until it evenly colors and is a deep golden brown. Mine actually took 40 minutes.

While the crust is baking, make the filling. Combine the flour and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add the lemon juice and zest and mix to dissolve the sugar.

In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and the egg yolk with salt. Add the eggs into the lemon and sugar mixture and whisk until well combined.

Once the crust is golden, pull the oven rack out of the oven slightly and pour the filling into the crust while it is still in the oven.

Reduce the oven temperature to 300 F and bake for 30 – 40 minutes, until the center is just set.

Allow the bars to cool completely, then chill well in the fridge before cutting. Dust with icing sugar to serve.

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