The Basics of Pies and Their Crusts
Pies and pie dough crusts have been a big part of baking for a long time and are a staple in many countries. Pies fall into the category of pastries, and pastries to a novice cook can conjure up images of sophisticated, complex and intimidating work.
While pastries can become as complex as one’s skill will allow it, pies can be simple and delicious. Pastry making is the art of creating containers for all types of fillings. If you take it one step at a time, most pastries are nothing more than building blocks or components assembled in a variety of ways.
The cornerstone and important building block for pie (and pastry making) is the dough. There are flaky doughs, mealy doughs, sweet doughs/pastes, puff pastry, choux paste and meringues. Many of the pies and pastries are constructed from these same doughs. We will explore the basics fundamentals of pies, tarts and crusts.
Pie Dough & Crust Basics
Flaky and Mealy Doughs
Flaky and mealy pie doughs are quick, easy and versatile. Flaky dough, sometimes called pate brisee, takes its name from the final baked texture, which leaves it very flaky and light. It is best for pie top crusts and lattice coverings and can be used for prebaked shells that are filled with a cooled filling.
Mealy dough gets its name from its raw texture. It is used whenever a soggy crust would be a problem – like in the bottom crust of a custard or fruit pie. The reason is because a mealy dough resists soaking much better than a flaky dough does. Both flaky and mealy doughs are too delicate for tarts, however.
Flakes and mealy doughts contain very little or zero sugar and can be prepared from the same formula with only a slight variation in mixing method. For both types of dough a cold fat, such as butter or shortening, is cut into the flour. The amount of flakiness in the baked crust depends on the size of the fat particles in the dough. The larger the pieces of fat, the flakier the crust will be.
The amount of flakiness in the baked crust depends on the size of the fat particles in the dough.
The type of fat used will affect both flavor and flakiness of the dough. Butter contributes a delicious flavor, but does not produce as flaky a crust as other fats. butter is also a bit more difficult to work with than other fats due to its low melting point and its frequency to become brittle when chilled.
All-purpose shortening produces a flaky crust but contributes nothing to its flavor. The flakiest pie dough and pastries are made from lard. Oil is not an appropriate substitute.
After the fat is cut into the flour using a pastry cutter, water or milk is added to form a soft dough. Less water is needed for a mealy dough. Cold water is typically used for both flaky and mealy doughs. The water should be well chilled to prevent softening of the fat or shortening. Milk may be used to increase richness and nutritional value. It can reduce the crispiness of the dough and produce a much darker crust.
The water should be well chilled to prevent softening of the fat or shortening.
If you are going to be making smaller quantities, then the best practice is to use hand mixing to mix the dough. You have much better control over the procedure when you can feel the fat being incorporated. It is very difficult to make a flaky dough with an electric mixer or food processor, as it tends to cut the fat in too much.
The Culinary Cook Professional Series Cutting Board
Mealy and Flaky Pie Dough Recipe
- Sift flour, salt and sugar (if needed) together in a large bowl
- Cut the fat into the flour.
- Gradually add a cold liquid, mixing gently until the dough holds together. Do not overmix.
- Cover the dough with plastic wrap and chill thoroughly before using.
Basic Pie Dough Recipe
Yield: 5 lbs
|Pastry Flour||1.5kg||3 lb|
|Milk Powder||85g||3 oz|
|Water, cold||425 mL||14 fl. oz.|
- Blend the flour and milk in a mixing bowl
- Add the shortening/lard and cut it into the flour until the fat is pea-sized
- Dissolve the salt in the water
- Add the water all at once to the flour and fat mixture, blend or mix by hand until the mix comes together.