Different Pie Crust and Pastry Doughs
Pastry dough is an essential part of a chef's repertoire, and can be easily mastered with a basic understanding of how the few, simple ingredients react with moisture, time, temperature, and mixing method.
Here, we'll discuss the traditional methods of creating pie crust dough, pâte brisée (paht bree-ZAY), tart doughs, pâte sucrée (paht soo-KRAY) and pâte sablée, and choux dough, pâte à choux (paht ah shoo).
Pâte Brisée, the Short Pastry Dough
Literally translated, pâte brisée means "short dough," referencing the high ratio of fat to flour, and underdeveloped gluten. A culinary anomaly, the perfect pâte brisée is tender, flaky, crumbly, and rich, at the same time.
French and British versions of pâte brisée contain only four ingredients--fat, flour, salt, and water. American versions introduce small amounts of sugar, sometimes substitute cream or whole milk for water, and may call for an acid, such as vinegar, lemon juice, wine, or vodka as a means to shorten the gluten strands during the mixing process in order to yield a flaky crust.
Fat Facts for Pie Crust and Pastry Dough
Any type of solid fat can be used to make pâte brisée. Fat acts as a gluten interrupter, shortening the strands. An all-butter recipe is traditional, but vegetable shortening and lard are also used in the industry, either alone or in combination with butter. The style of butter matters as well. Using an unsalted European style butter offers more control over salt and moisture. European style butters tend to contain less water and more fat than American-made butters; more fat equals more flavor and flaky texture.
Understanding the Pie Crust and Pastry Dough Moisture & Flour Balance
Moisture is always a variable in pâte brisée -- the mixing process requires you to be flexible and intuitive in order to recognize and accommodate the moisture demands of the flour. If not enough water is added, the dough will be crumbly and difficult to work with. If too much water is added, the dough will be sticky. Sticky dough requires additional flour and mixing, which can result in overdeveloped gluten and a tough texture.
The type of water you use may also affect the dough. Tap water can contain chlorine and other chemicals that can react with ingredients. Consider distilled or filtered water for a consistent finished product.
Pâte brisée relies on steam to produce flakes of dough. When the solid pieces of fat melt, steam evaporates, creating tiny pockets of air in various sizes between the layers of flour. These tiny pockets of air make up the flaky texture you're trying to achieve. In order to produce enough steam at the right time in the baking process, ingredients must remain ice cold, keeping evaporation to a minimum and ensuring the fat remains solid.
Cooking Techniques: Keeping Pie Crust and Pastry Dough Cool
It's a good idea to work near a cooler so ingredients can be immediately chilled if they begin to come to room temperature. Placing pastry blenders, measuring cups and spoons, and food processor bowls and blades in the freezer for 30 minutes or more before you use them can prevent the ingredients from warming to room temperature as they're being blended. Using ice water instead of room temperature water also keeps the fat and ingredients cold during the mixing process. If the ingredients begin to soften or become sticky, place everything onto a baking sheet and slide into a cooler for at least five minutes.