Saturday is Bastille Day, time to give a French basic a try. The following is a shortened recipe for Pâté Brisée, or basic pie dough, from James Peterson’s “Glorious French Food.” Shorter doesn’t mean short, and Peterson takes you through each step of the process, including rolling out the dough, which is good to know, even if you are using a store-bought crust.
Let’s face it. Most of us don’t like to make our own pie crust.
“It’s no wonder pie crust makes people nervous — there is so much controversy about the right way to make it,” Peterson says. “For several reasons, the French have it easier than we Americans. First, they weigh ingredients, and doing so produces more consistent results than using cups and spoons for volume measurements. Second, their flour contains less protein than ours (and hence less of the gluten that makes tart dough tough) and their butter contains less water (water activates the gluten in the flour). Third, they’re not concerned with making the dough ‘flaky,’ but rather want it to crumble in the mouth like sand. … Fourth, they use the metric system, which makes it easy to remember proportions and quickly understand the relationships between ingredients when comparing different recipes.”
There are two ways to make the dough, by hand or by food processor, and Peterson provides both.
So, give pie crust a try. With so much fresh fruit in the market, a peach pie or cherry-cranberry pie using Bing cherries would be welcome by anyone in your family.
Pâté Brisée (Basic Pie and Tart Dough)
1 stick (1/4 pound/115 g) plus 1 tablespoon butter
1 3/4 cups (220 g) flour
1 large egg, plus 1 egg yolk right out of the refrigerator beaten with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon water
1-2 tablespoons water, added 1/2 tablespoon at a time
Hand method: French and American cooks go about things differently. I can’t say that one method is better than the other except that the American method involves dirtying an extra bowl, and so I use the French method. Both methods start out by chopping the butter into the flour. In America this is done in a bowl, ideally with a pastry blender, a gadget consisting of a handle to which a half dozen arcing wires are attached at either end — something you’re likely to have seen only at the back of one of your grandmother’s kitchen drawers. First the butter is cut into chunks with a knife, then it is worked into smaller pieces with the flour using the pastry blender. Liquid is added, then chopped into the flour with the pastry blender, and the nascent dough is dumped onto the work surface where it is worked until smooth. In France, the butter is chopped into the flour right on the work surface with a flat metal or plastic pastry scraper sometimes called a bench scraper and then quickly worked into the flour with the tips of the fingers. A well is made in the flour mixture, the liquid ingredients are added to the well, and the mixture is quickly combined with the tips of the finger. If the dough is still crumbly, add water (a half tablespoon at a time) and fraisage again. Repeat until the dough comes together. A rest in the fridge follows.
Food processor method: The cubes of cold butter are pulsed with the flour in the processor until the butter chunks are the size of peas. The liquid is added and the mixture is pulsed again until the dough forms a ball. The ball is then flattened into a disk and chilled.
Rolling out tart dough: Once the dough is chilled and rested, roll it out and put it in the tart pan. Unwrap the dough before placing it on a lightly floured work surface. most cooks put too much flour on the work surface, sprinkling flour directly over the surface and again on top of the dough. This can make the dough dry. French recipes say to faire un nuage (make a cloud) with the flour by taking a large pinch of it and tossing it with a quick snap of the wrist, releasing the flour about 6 inches from the work surface so that it settles in a thin, even coating. This takes a little practice — and while learning you’ll mess up the kitchen. If you can’t get the knack, slowly sprinkle the flour from about 2 feet above the work surface. When the dough comes out of the fridge, it is usually too hard to roll out — give it a couple of good whacks with the rolling pin to soften it slightly. Place it on your lightly floured work surface and move it once in a circle so that it gets floured underneath. Flour it on top — again, lightly. Rub the rolling pin with flour to further prevent sticking and roll the dough out slightly, starting one-third of the way into the disk and rolling out the back two-thirds away from you. Don’t try to roll out too much at one time — this can cause the dough to stick and tear, and don’t roll all the way over the edge away from you — this can cause the dough to stick and tear, and don’t roll all the way over the edge away from you — this will will make the dough too thin at the edges. Between each roll or two, dust with flour and rotate the angle of the dough — not the pin — on the floured work surface so that the bottom of the dough keeps getting floured. At the same time, rotate the disk about a quarter turn, and roll out — again just the back two-thirds, not rolling over the end. Keep moving, rotating, dusting and rolling until the dough forms a circle about 3 inches wider than your tart pan so that you’ll have extra dough to line the sides of the pan and to form a border. (The circle of dough should be 13 inches in diameter for a 10-inch tart pan.) The dough should be between 1/8-inch and 1/4-inch thick.
Once you’ve rolled out the dough, you’ve got to get it into the pan. Brush any excess flour off the dough — there are special brushes for this, but I just give it a quick swat with a towel. Most of the time you can simply roll the dough up on the rolling pin — again brushing off excess flour — and then unroll it over the pan. but if it’s a hot day or the dough is cracking and being uncooperative, rolling it up on the pin may cause the dough to stick to the pin or to fall apart. In this situation, fold the dough in quarters, place the center corner in the middle of the tart pan, and unfold the dough in the pan.
Once you’ve transferred the dough, you need to fit it snugly into the tart pan and make a border. Lift the dough hanging over the side of the pan straight up and press it into the corners of the pan with your fingers. Don’t stretch the dough, just feed as much as you need from the top as you’re forming the corners. Rotate the tart pan and continue until you’ve formed an edge all around the pan. At this point, use your fingers to push the dough in slightly from the outer edge so that you have about 1/3 inch extra dough all around the tart to reinforce the sides and make them slightly thicker than the rest of the dough. Pinch the overhanging dough about 1/4 inch away from the edge of the tart pan and push inward toward the center of the pan so that you create a little extra lip of dough along the inside rim of the pan. Push down on the top of the rim, using the edge to cut through the dough and leaving the excess dough on the outside of the tart and a little extra dough along the inside of the rim. Rotate the tart pan, pinching and cutting until you’ve pinched all around the outside edge. Roll the rolling pin over the pan, cutting off any dough still clinging around the outside. With your thumb and forefinger, gently pinch and press straight down on the extra dough along the inside of the tart rim, making the sides slightly thicker and forming a smooth border that comes up a little less than 1/4 inch above the rim of the tart pan. Refrigerate the lined tart pan for 1 hour.
The rest depends on the pie you plan to make.
Makes 1 pie crust.
From “Glorious French Food” by James Peterson