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Pies and tarts are pastries that consist of two components: the first, relatively thin pastry (pie) dough, when baked forms a crust (also called pastry shells) that holds the second, the filling. Pie crusts were developed in the Middle Ages, but not for fruit fillings. They were actually first used to contain and preserve meat preparations, resulting in dishes like the Cornish pasty.
HOW TO ROLL, FLUTE AND BLIND BAKE PIE CRUSTS
Pie dough is made from just a few basic ingredients: flour, fat, salt and liquid, in slightly different ratios. Some recipes have the inclusion of additional ingredients such as sugar, eggs, lemon juice or cider vinegar and baking powder and/or baking soda. The flour used is typically all-purpose, but can be a blend using cake, pastry and/or bread flours. The fat used is solid and cold, being lard, shortening or butter. (Oil crusts are made using different mixing techniques.) The liquid used is typically ice-cold water.
Pie dough is classified by the kind, amount and method of the fat's incorporation into the dough. Success or failure depends on keeping the ingredients cold, how the mixing methods used to incorporate the fat, and how the gluten in the wheat flour is developed. Their resulting textures are meant to be flaky and light or compact and crumbly (mealy), and always tender, with a golden brown color and a flavor good enough to eat by itself.
Flaky and Crisp Pie Dough (flaky) crusts are made from short dough containing few ingredients, being flour, fat, salt and water. The fat is cut or rubbed into the flour until their particles resemble the size of peas. The ingredients should be kept cold and mixed only until combined. Overmixing creates a crust that is hard to work with and that is tough instead of flaky and tender. The flakiness of the pie crust depends on the flour-to-fat-ratio, too; the more flour used, the harder the baked crust. Little or no flour should be used when it is rolled out. Go to our Basic and Flaky Pie and Tart Crust Dough Recipe
|Appearance||Rough, blistered surface with no
large air bubbles
Golden brown edges
Center of bottom and top crusts are
light in color
Attractively shaped edges
|Texture||Layers are evident when pastry is
Crisp and flaky
|Tenderness||Cuts easily with a fork but holds
shape when lifted; not so tender
that it falls apart
|Flavor||Pleasing, well blended
Free of unpleasant or distracting
Pâte Brisée (compact and crumbly) sometimes called mealy pie dough is one of the more useful and popular pie dough and makes a good choice when making decorated fluted edges. It is another French classic that is made without sugar and is perfect to use with moist fillings, such as custard, because its fat particles are small and more evenly distributed throughout the dough. It is made with 1 part liquid (typically water), 2 parts fat, and 3 parts flour, by weight, and can be mixed with a paddle attachment with a mixer more thoroughly until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. It generally contains 1 egg for every pound of flour and may include additional flavoring ingredients such as salt, lemon juice or vanilla extract. Try our Flaky Pie Crust or Pate Brisee Tutorial.
Pàte Sucrée (compact and crumbly) translates from French to English as "sugar dough" or short dough. It is made with 1 part liquid (typically water), 2 parts fat, and 3 parts flour, by weight. It generally contains 1 egg for every pound of flour and may include additional flavoring ingredients such as salt, lemon juice or vanilla extract. Its texture is more cookie-like and is the definitive French tart dough for sweet desserts. Blind baking is advised before filling. You'll love our Flaky Cookie-Like Tart Dough or Pate Sucree Recipe.
Pâte Sablée (compact and crumbly) is another example of a tart dough used mainly for desserts. Sablée translates as sand which is befitting its crumbly, cookie-like texture. and it can also be used for cookies or as a component to French style cakes. It is delicate dough that is usually made by creaming the fat with sugar, then mixing in eggs, with the flour (often cake flour) added at the end. This dough is usually baked blind and then filled after it has cooled. Some recipes, though it's not traditional, include egg yolks, and a few recipes actually call for the yolks to be cooked which makes for a more tender crust.
ALTERNATIVE STYLE CRUST (not a pastry crust), There are also alternative piecrusts, not considered pastry, made with graham crackers, cookies, cereal flakes and nuts, or similar. They are turned into crumbs, crushed or finely chopped and then, mixed with sugar. The mixture is then bound together with some fat, typically melted butter. The mixture is pressed into the bottom and sides of the pie pan. It is then baked or left unbaked before using, depending on the recipe. This kind of crust is not flaky.
FLAKY OR MEALY AND TENDER
There are two types of textures to pie dough: flaky and mealy, always being tender, depending on how the fat is blended in with the flour and its temperature. When you moisten these crumbs with liquid, typically ice-water, they form a malleable dough. The dough is chilled in a disk shape to relax the wheat flour gluten, hydrate the flour and firm the fat. Then, it is formed by rolling with a rolling pin, which allows the gluten to develop, and the pieces of fat and flour to flatten and create layers. The dough is carefully shaped into the pie pan and filled. When heated, the pieces of fat melt, and the liquid in the dough steams apart the pockets left by the melted fat. As the dough bakes, the moisture evaporates, and the dough sets in layered flakes, varying in texture, to form a crust.
Flaky crusts are well, flakier, and are best used for top crusts, but can be used as a bottom crust for wet fillings, such as custard, and should be blind baked first to help prevent sogginess. Flakiness is created by mixing the fat with the flour for less time, leaving it in bigger chunks, but it also depends on the kind of fat used, and the temperature at which it is incorporated into the flour. This creates layers of fat when the dough is rolled out, and a flaky texture in the finished product. Just keep in mind that this type of dough needs a little more hydration from water.
Mealy crusts are more compact and crisper because the fat in them is fat particles are small and more evenly distributed throughout the dough. It is preferred for wet fillings, especially if you're going to fill the pie without partially baking the crust beforehand (blind baking). For mealy crusts, the fat is mixed in longer so that the mixture looks like a course cornmeal before the water is added. The crust is very "short" and tender because less gluten can develop. Less water is needed in the dough because the flour cannot absorb as much. It makes perfect dough for bottom crusts, especially fruit or custard pies, because it resists sogginess.
Blind baking is a common practice in the baking world. The definition is to partially or fully bake a pie or tart crust before adding the filling. Since a pie of tart dough has a tendency to warp during cooking, it must be weighted down so that it can retain its shape.
Blind baking is generally used for pies with wet fillings to give the crust a head start and avoid undercooked crust. I like to blind bake at home just to shorten the final baking time. If the crust has a head start, it won't take the pie quite as long to bake once the filling is in it. Also if the pie is cream or chiffon filled you'd have to bake the pie shell in advance anyway as the filling shouldn't be cooked any further.