Until this morning, you might have said my approach to pie crust was a little fraught. I fussed and worried, wildly flip-flopping allegiances from the practical and traditional Joy of Cooking to the fantastically overwrought Cook’s Illustrated. (Although I have to say, the Cook’s vodka pie crust recipe is pretty impressive. I love the science of the alcohol as a replacement for water. Such brilliant and subversive fun!) I could never settle on MY piecrust though, and shouldn’t one be able to have a single recipe to use every time? One of the best things my mom makes is piecrust and if you watched her make one, you’d never guess how perfect it is. She uses no gimmicky trick in making her all butter crust. And it is perfectly flakey. My mother credits the lemon juice but I say she handles the dough in a way that I just haven’t been able to figure out. Anyway, after my experience last week, I think I’m onto something.
I was thinking about piecrust with regard to quiche because my kids are suddenly obsessed by quiche, less for its gustatory pleasures than literary. (My kids read the Bone graphic novel series so they’re wildly into quiche right now.) I reached into the bookshelf for Mastering the Art of French Cooking – who would know better than Ms. Child about the best quiche method? Suddenly, I knew I was on a mission and actually it wasn’t quiche that was calling to me but crust. After a recent bad experience (confession alert!) with a frozen Trader Joe’s pie crust I was determined to just do it myself, and speedily without over-thinking. I was going to try the Julia method! (Just to put this craziness into context – this is minutes before I had to leave for the school bus!) I started rummaging around for the ingredients like a madwoman, yelling to the kids to “Get your coats and lunch boxes and wait by the front door with the dog! I’ll just be a few minutes!”
Weirdly, there was no fussing around. Even though Julia Child has a reputation for being complicated, her pâte brisée recipe turned out to be the pie crust I was looking for. In just 15 minutes, far less time than it takes to defrost a frozen pie crust, you can easily make one from scratch. You probably won’t even have to go to the grocery store.
Ms. Child does not use any wacky ingredients (i.e. vodka). What she details is a technique that was new to me. Fraisage. Nobody ever talked about fraisage in any of the other recipes. Combine the technique with a trusty food processor and all of a sudden a once dreaded pie crust is a thing to whip up in a few stolen moments before the school bus arrives. The dough turned out silky, pliable and it was a breeze to roll out. The baked crust was refined and flaky, unlike my previous crust work which, although flaky, had a sort of homely brutishness, stemming from a fear of over-handling the dough. If you are fearful, you’ll never fully amalgamate the butter with the flour and the pockets of butter embedded in the dough will be enormous, causing shrinkage and a blobbish crimped edge. With Ms Child’s method, the fat is perfectly united with the flour, creating those little melty steam pockets to make perfect flakiness. In addition, this dough will not shrink disturbingly.
Fraisage sounds like a complicated technique you’d have to apprentice yourself to a patissier in France to learn, but it’s not. I figured it out in fifteen minutes between throwing the breakfast dishes in the dishwasher and running the kids out to the bus stop, so obviously you’ll be able to. Unless you are a deeply inexperienced baker I would think you will not need a dry run for this recipe. Please make your own pie crust. We need to preserve our cooking culture! Pie bakers unite! Just say “No!” to vile, palm oil sullied, industrial crusts!
Pâte Brisée – for one double crust pie
- 2 1/2 c. flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 cup unsalted butter, very cold, cut into 1/2 inch cubes. (I cut them, put them on a plate and put them in the freezer until I’m ready)
- 1/2 cup + 4 tbsp ice water) and perhaps a little more
Combine the dry ingredients in the bowl of your food processor and pulse a few times to fully combine.
Add the butter, distributing it evenly over the flour mixture. Pulse 4 or 5 times. Now you have to be very quick. With the machine on, add a half cup of water all at once. Then quickly turn it off. Pulse 5-7 more times.
The dough should look like dry curds, if not, add small amounts of ice water (by the tablespoon, no more), to the dough, pulsing carefully. When it looks like the photo above, on to fraisage!
Lightly flour an area on your counter where you can manipulate the dough. You’ll need a clear clean 18″ square area. Place the dough on the counter.
Using the heel of your hand (your palm will be too warm and start to melt the butter) quickly press down and away from you, small amounts of the dough, smearing it out about 6 inches. This smearing is the fraisage.
Using a dough scraper or a stiff spatula, pull all the dough together and knead it (not too much) into a smooth-ish round ball.
Divide it into two equal halves, dust lightly with flour, flatten into disks and wrap with plastic.
Now the dough has to rest. Do not imagine that you can just skip this part. (Which is what I used to do.) Put it in the freezer for an hour or the refrigerator for at least two hours or up to 3 days. It can be frozen for weeks and defrosted in the refrigerator. If it is too hard to roll out, bash it hard with your rolling pin. You can then knead it quickly into a flat disk, ready to roll out.
Lightly flour the dough and roll it out into a circle, firmly but gently, always rolling away from you. Periodically, you might want to run a thin flexible knife or offset spatula underneath to ensure the dough hasn’t stuck to the counter.
Roll the dough until 1/8″ thick. Using your rolling pin to support it, carefully drape the dough over the pie pan.
Repeat with the other circle.
Fill with apples, berries or whatever your heart desires. (In case you are wondering what I’m doing, it’s apple. Send a note to comments if you need directions for fillings! I am always happy to help.)
P.S. When my pie is finished, late morning on Thanksgiving, I will definitely post a picture!