Despite the need to unbutton our pants by the end of the meal, Thanksgiving (or any holiday, really) is never complete without some fresh baked pie for dessert. It’s always been my opinion that the dessert is just as important as the main meal. Here are a few tips and tricks to ensure your pies are the best part of the holiday.
When getting your ingredients together, the butter should be cut into approximately 1” square cubes. When the butter is mixed together with the other ingredients, it breaks down into smaller pieces.
If you want a flakey crust, you should stop when the butter is broken into walnut sized pieces. For a mealy crust, the butter should be broken into pea-sized pieces.
When making dough, the butter should not be completely mixed in. You should still be able to see sizeable pockets of butter when removing it from the bowl. These pockets are what create that perfectly flakey crust.
Ensuring the butter is cold before mixing it in ensures your dough winds up with those butter pockets.
Most of us keep our pantries stocked with all-purpose flour, the most common kind found in stores. All-purpose is a mixture of bread (made from hard wheat) and pastry (made from soft wheat) flours.
Pastry flour is less glutinous than all-purpose, creating a softer dough with a more tender crumb, that is both easier to roll out, and has a better all around texture.
Mixing water and flour creates gluten. The more agitation (mixing), the more gluten is formed. Gluten formation is vital to most baked goods, but too much can lead to an unappetizing texture.
For this reason it is important to stop mixing as soon as the dough comes together.
It’s hard to wait, but it really does make a huge difference. Letting the dough sit overnight allows the gluten to relax, creating a better texture and an easier time rolling it out.
When rolling your dough, work as fast and smooth as possible. Overworking the dough will develop the gluten further.
When piecrust bakes, the dough sets around the butter as it melts, creating flaky layers. The colder the butter is before baking, the longer it will take to melt in the oven, and the flakier the crust will be.