Julia Child’s tips and tricks for making great pie dough.
Makes enough dough for four 9- to 10-inch tarts or open-faced pies or 2 double-crusted pies.
Bakers like to talk about the “secrets” of making great pie crusts. In truth, there are tips, but no unknowable secrets and nothing daunting enough to explain why cool, calm, collected types turn nervous at the thought of tackling a pie crust.
Like the fillings they cradle, crusts have personalities: crisp, tender, and flaky -- or some combination thereof. Which traits are dominant is, in good measure, a result of ingredients: Butter is the great giver of flavor and vegetable shortening the flake maker; together they produce a crust both flaky and tender, sweet and full-flavored, the kind most prized by American pie hands. This mixed crust (the best example of which follows) can be used for pies and tarts, sweet and savory, American- or European-style.
An all-butter dough will give you a crisp, sturdy crust with little flakiness (unless the butter is left in largish pieces). When prebaked on its own, a butter crust will stand firm against juicy fillings. Handled properly, a butter crust is strong enough to be rolled out and molded into a free-form shape or a galette. For most bakers, an all-shortening crust is usually not an option, because, although it produces lots of flake, it delivers almost no flavour.
If you could have only one pie dough in your repertoire (heaven forbid), it would have to be this one, the classic dough that earns blue ribbons at county fairs and stars at esteemed pastry shops. The mix of butter and shortening guarantees that the dough will be flaky, flavourful, and tender. You can use this dough to make any kind of pie or tart, sweet or savory, plain or fancy. It is easy to roll and crimp and is made quickly by hand, in a mixer
, or food processor
. The recipe is large and can be cut in half or even quartered, but since the dough can be frozen for up to a month, it's practical to make the full batch. You can freeze the dough in disks, rolled out in circles, or already fitted into pie pans or tart molds, ready to go into the oven-without thawing--when you're in a crunch for a crust.
To make the dough by hand
, mix the flour and salt together in a large bowl. Add the butter and, using a pastry blender (or your fingers, if you prefer), cut it into the flour until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Be patient--this takes a while. Break up the shortening and add it in bits to the bowl. Still working with the pastry blender (or your fingers), cut in the shortening until the mixture has small clumps and curds. Switch to a wooden spoon and add the ice water, stirring to incorporate it. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and fold it over on itself a few times--don't get carried away. The dough will be soft, but it will firm sufficiently in the refrigerator.
To make the dough in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment
, put the flour and salt into the bowl and stir to mix. Add the butter and mix on low until it is cut into the dry ingredients and the mixture looks coarse and crumbly. Add the shortening in small bits and continue to mix on low. When the mixture is clumpy and curdy and holds together when a small bit is pressed between your fingers, add the water and mix only until it is incorporated. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and fold it over on itself two or three times, just to finish the mixing and to gather it together.
To make the dough in a food processor
, start with very cold ingredients and take care not to overwork them. Place the dry ingredients in the food processor
fitted with a metal blade and pulse just to mix. Take the top off, scatter the chilled cubed butter and shortening over the flour, cover, and pulse again, working only until the fats are cut in and the mixture resembles slightly moist cornmeal. Add a little of the liquid and pulse a few times, then add more liquid and pulse again. Continue until the mixture has curds and clumps and sticks together when pressed between your fingers. Don't process until the dough forms a ball that rides on the blade--that's overdoing it.
Chilling the Dough:
Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or for as long as 5 days. When the dough is thoroughly chilled and firm, it is ready to roll out and use in any recipe calling for flaky pie crust.
The dough can be kept in the refrigerator for 5 days or frozen for 1 month. It's a good idea to divide the dough into quarters for freezing since one quarter of the recipe is generally enough for one pie crust or tart shell. Defrost, still wrapped, in the refrigerator.