Friday, June 12, 2009

If It's Broke, Don't Fix It - Pâte Brisée

Pâte Brisée, French for Broken Dough, is what most of us would simply refer to as Basic Pie crust. It is a short dough, meaning fat has been rubbed into the flour to slow or stop the formation of gluten. Unlike bread, which owes it's chewy delicious texture to the carbon dioxide gas harboring gluten strands, chewy pie crust is usually not the goal. Thus long protein strand formation (gluten) must stopped, or the proteins must be "shortened", to acquire that flaky texture so adored by pie & tart lovers everywhere.

The basic premise is this: When Wheat flour comes into contact with water, the protein in the flour, known as glutenin, begins forming molecular cross-links (this is gluten developing). With bread, the process of kneading creates more cross-links and thus more gluten which allows the dough to stretch while restraining the carbon dioxide gas formed by the fermentation of the yeast. Fats inhibit the formation of the cross-links between the glutenin molecules and thus retard the formation of gluten.

Now, that being said.... Here is the 3 commandments of Pâte Brisée, or basic pie crust.
  • Thou Shalt keep all things cold
  • Thou Shalt be quick about it
  • Thou Shalt keep it as dry as possible.

Everything should be as cold as possible; Butter contains water, so when you are cutting the butter into the flour, it needs to stay cold to keep the water suspended in the fat and away from glutenin. If you butter begins to soften, throw everything back in the freezer or refrigerator for 5-10 minutes. (Your gonna need that water later, so ya don't want to loose it)

Speed is of the essence; The longer you work the butter into the flour, the softer the butter is becoming. Once you have added the water the more you stir and mix, the more gluten you are forming... Get that dough, once it holds cohesively, into the refrigerator as fast as possible to relax any gluten that has formed. When rolling the dough, the more you work it, the more gluten you are making...

Dryness is next to flakiness; You want to use the minimum amount of ice water possible. Why ice water? It's slower to react with the glutenin and it will keep the butter cold. Start with 3 oz (just under 1/2 cup) if it is not holding together add more, tablespoon by tablespoon. Until the dough just barely hold together.

I am sure you noticed that in all three of these "commandments" the butter keeps rearing it's "fat" head. There is a reason for not melting the butter... That water in the butter is what is going to make your pie crust flaky. Just like Puff Pasty, when the pie is cooking, the butter will begin to melt, and release the water as steam which will create little pockets in the dough... This is the road to flaky pie crust. The butter MUST be protected at ALL costs during this process.

Incidentally, this is also the reason that I use my fingers.... I create little flakes of butter in the flour by literally pinching, or rubbing, the butter into the flour. You cannot accomplish this in a food processor or with a pasty cutter.

You are going to have to wait to see what I am making with this until tomorrow, I am big on 24 hours for pie crust in the refrigerator. Unless I am in a uber-hurry or something.

Pâte Brisée 
(Broken Dough)

8 oz Unsalted butter, VERY cold, and cut into very thin slices
2 3/4 cups (10.6 oz) (300g) AP Flour
1/4 cup (1 oz) (28g) Cake Flour
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
2 TB Granulated Sugar
Approximately 1/2 - 2/3 cup (4-5.5 oz) (125-160ml) very cold water

First slice you butter fairly thin, and place it in the freezer for 15-30 minutes

Mix the flours, salt and sugar with a whisk together very lightly and place in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Add slices of butter and toss briefly to coat them.

These are really the best tools for the job, but a pastry cutter works too.

Work the butter through the flour with your finger tips, sort of rubbing the flour into the butter or use a pastry cutter.

If butter becomes too warm in your hands, place bowl back in refrigerator.
You still want to be able to see butter flakes in the flour. (This is why I use my fingers, to rub thin flakes of butter into the flour)

Add the ice-cold water starting with 1/3 cup (3 oz) (100ml) and mix very fast with your hand just enough that the dough coheres.

If it does not, add more water 1 TB at a time... You want it to just barely hold together.
Wrap in plastic and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to 1 hour.

When ready to use, simply cut the dough in half, placing one half on a lightly floured board to be rolled out, and leaving the other half in the refrigerator until ready for use.

Never leave Pâte Brisée sitting on the counter to allow the butter to begin softening. When you have finished lining your pie plate, place it in the refrigerator to relax.

Pate Brisee on Foodista


Anonymous said...

I love seeing the stop by step process. Looking forward to seeing what kind of pie is to come!
Patti T

Heather S-G said...

Lookin' good so far. Love the 3 commandments...and I didn't know that it meant broken. Cool.

Bob said...

Ha! The commandments are awesome, you should make up some refrigerator magnets with them. :)

Hailey said...

Oh man. I went to culinary school, and I still can't make a good pie crust. I just popped my first home made blue berry lattice top pie in the oven. I'm so happy. This recipe is great, and it made the perfect crust.