Contemplating Pie Crusts (and Rustic Apple Pie)

Making a pie crust is like learning math. Neither is terribly difficult, but most people are convinced they can’t do it.

Search online for “pie crust” and you’ll find plenty of “No-fear pie crust“, “Conquering fear of pie crusts“, and “Overcoming pie crust phobia.”  It’s silly and a self-fulfilling prophecy, because pie crust is trivial. A good crust comes down to two things: ingredients and technique. The ingredients are simple; a basic crust needs only three. The technique is simple; it’s about quick and cold.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Let’s start with the INGREDIENTS. In Chef Michael Ruhlman’s must-have book “Ratio,” he writes

Pie Dough = 3 parts flour : 2 parts fat : 1 part water

The flour is flour; the fat can be butter, lard, or vegetable shortening; and the water is water. Let’s work that out in practice for a basic unsweetened Pâte Brisée (pah-TAY briz-ZAY), which is perfect for tarts, quiches, and pies of any kind.

flour — 3 parts — 8 ounces
butter — 2 parts — 4 ounces
water — 1 part — 2 ounces

Now for TECHNIQUE. A pie crust is flaky because small bits of the fat make tiny pockets in the dough. We do this by keeping the butter really cold so it doesn’t melt while we’re breaking it up and mixing it into the flour. The time-honored method is to quickly work it into the flour with your fingers until it forms gravel-sized bits of flour-coated butter bits.

Gravel-sized bits of flour-coated butter bits. I like the sound of that.

Personally, I’m a fan of the food processor. Put the flour and butter in the bowl and pulse a few times until the gravelly butter-bits appear. Then drizzle in ice water (keeps that butter cold!), and quickly work the dough until it just forms a rough ball. Easy peasy. Here’s the recipe.

Pâte Brisée Pie Crust

  • 8 ounces (230g)  flour
  • 4 ounces (115g) very cold (or frozen) butter
  • 2 ounces (60g) ice water
  • a pinch of salt (to add a bit of flavor)
  1. Weigh the flour and pour it into the bowl of your food processor.
  2. Weigh the butter, chop it into tablespoons, and add it to the bowl.
  3. Pulse a few time until the texture looks like coarse white gravel.
  4. Add the water and process until the dough just starts forming into a ball.
  5. Remove the dough, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate at least 15 minutes (to cool the butter bits).

Now that you’ve mastered the crust, let’s get on to the pie. My local apples from Gould Hill Farm need little except sugar and spice, and a bit of cornstarch for thickening.

Rustic Apple Pie

  • 6-8 medium apples, in 1/4 inch slices (I left the peels on for flavor)
  • 8 ounces (230g) sugar
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • a good pinch each of ground allspice and clove
  1. Preheat the oven to 425F.
  2. Mix the sugar, cornstarch, and spice in a large bowl.
  3. Add the apples and toss to coat.
  4. Remove the dough (above) from the refrigerator, and unwrap onto a lightly-floured (preferably cold) counter.
  5. Roll out the dough in a circle until it’s about 2 inches larger than your pie dish. Lift the dough over the dish, and gently press it in place until the dish is completely covered. Trim the excess from the edge of the dish.
  6. Use a fork to prick tiny holes over the bottom and sides of the dough. This prevents air pockets from forming and making your dough bubble up.
  7. Pour the apples evenly into the crust, place the dish on a sheet pan or cookie sheet, and bake about an hour. It’s done when the liquid inside is thick and bubbly and the crust is nicely browned.
  8. Cool several hours.
  9. (Optional) Sprinkle each slice with a little aged Gouda (I like the 5 year) and 60-70% (never bitter!) dark chocolate.

Mine’s cool now, so excuse me while I cut myself a healthy slice!

~Rich