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Pie dough: favorite recipe and kneading technique?

I'm relatively new to baking (though not cooking) and am still trying to perfect my pie dough. I've tried a bunch of recipes (Julia's, Rose Levy Beranbaum's, Cooks Illustrated, and a few on epicurious.) I seem to have the most consistent luck w/ Rose's Flaky cream cheese pie dough (apparently the cream cheese removes some of the guess work for adding water.) But I still can't seem to figure out the best way to "knead" the dough to get it to adhere before the first chill and rolling.

What do you do? Pie and pastry suggests putting it in a plastic bag, but that has never worked in practice for me. Julia Child suggests a "frisee" where you smear clumps of dough in front of you. That helps it adhere, but I worry about loosing the flakiness.

So, what do you do? What's your foolproof technique?

Happy baking!

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  1. I actually use my food process - using the pulse and not overdoing it. The best tip I learned years ago was that the dough should be more on the wet side rather than dry. I don't knead, just bring together until it forms a ball. You don't want to activate the gluten, which happens when the flour is worked, and results in a tough dough. Same idea as when making biscuits - work the dough as little as possible.

    1. Pie crust should not be kneaded. If you have a food processor it is quite simple. If you don't you can use a pastry blender, 2 knives or even an electric mixer.

      For a 2 crust pie, cut 2 sticks unsalted butter in to pieces (tbs. spoon size is good) and freeze them for about 1/2 hour.

      Put 2 C. all purpose flour in to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel knife. Add a hlaf tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. baking powder (shake the can before spooning it out) then give it a pulse or two to blend. Distribute the butter over the flour. Put the lid on and begin pulsing until the butter and flour until it looks like large peas. Then add 4 Tbs. iced water and pulse. Feel the dough, it won't be holding together yet but see if it feels dry. If it does add another Tbs or two of the iced water. Then pulse until it just comes together on the blade. Turn out onto a sheet of plastic wrap and smush it together into a round and wrap well. Chill an hour or a few days, it will keep. In the meantime while it is chilling go to BB&B and buy a mat made for rolling out pastry.

      When ready to roll it out flour the surface of the mat well. Divide the dough in two. Flour the surface of the dough with flour. Then I cover with another sheet of plastic wrap. Roll from the center out, do not roll back and forth. Use short brisk firm strokes. Fit into your pie plate and repeat with the top.

      1. One more hint: Lay the dough into the pie pan, but do not stretch it. If you stretch it it shrinks back when baking.

        1. no NEED to KNEAD. Moisture should hold dough together. Kneading will make a tough pastry crust. Be tender, and tentative when dealing with pie crust. A light hand makes a tender crust.

          1. My favorite piecrust making secret is: After you add the water and you know your dough is moist enough, dump all the crumbs onto a 14-15 inch piece of saran wrap, close up all four sides to enclose all the crumbs. They should all be in an enclosed rectangle. Now just roll over it in different directions with your rolling pin. It will fill in any holes and completely compact the dough. Roll both sidesuntil it is tight and smooth, and then just refrigerate until you are ready.

            It only takes a few minutes, your hands stay clean, and your hands do not heat up the dough. It works great!

            1. As Candy says, "smush it together into a round" about covers it. Definitely no kneading, not much mixing or handling. If you are having trouble, my guess is that you aren't adding quite enough water. Also, after it sits, it will handle better.

              1. Frissage has no place in pie dought-- only tart dough where the goal is a homogeneous product.

                And no kneading either. Your goal is finely mix enough fat into the doughthat it will blend with the flour and butter. There should also be large bits of fat i.e. peas that will smear and create flakey layers. That, mixed with water, and smooshed into two disks and chilled, is enough working.

                If you are new to pie dough then consider working with a half fat / crisco blend. It is inferior flavor-wise but much easier to work with.

                1 Reply
                1. re: JudiAU

                  Julia doesn't seem to agree with you. She uses frissage in crusts for both sweet and savory pies. Her instructions give the ingredients for a sweet crust and then refer the reader to the rest of the recipe for savory crusts --- with instructions and drawing of frissage.

                2. The less you handle it the better. Kneading is definitely out.

                  My no-fail recipe comes from my grandma:

                  3 c. flour
                  1 1/2 t. salt
                  1 1/4 c. shortening (you can use butter instead; I've only done it with butter once, but it worked just fine and actually tasted better--but that's for special pies, in my opinion)
                  1 egg
                  1 t. vinegar
                  4-5 T. cold water

                  Mix flour & salt then cut in fat with a pastry blender until particles are the size of small peas. Beat egg with vinegar and water; sprinkle over flour mixture. Toss with fork, let stand 10 minutes, then roll out as needed.

                  (The "let stand 10 minutes" part is essential; it allows the dough to relax a bit so it can be rolled thin.)

                  The only time I ever had this recipe fail was once when I was first starting out and mixed in too much flour as I was rolling it, and handled it too much. It got really tough and brittle and I couldn't get it rolled out worth a hoot, and then it fell all apart when I went to put it in the pan. But knowing what I did wrong, I have literally never had it fail since, and that was probably 15 years ago.

                  1. Hi all,

                    Many thanks for all the guidance, its helpful to have more experienced virtual eyes look over your sholder from time to time!

                    I think the main lessons I've learned from this are two 1) incorporate the butter more thoroughly (very few pea sized pieces) and 2) let the moisture hold the dough together.

                    I do my dough in the food processor, so I think I've been afraid of overprocessing the mixture. But it seems if I mix more, and add enough liquid, I can handle the dough less.

                    I was always confused by RLB's instructions to "knead" the dough in the plastic bag, and this helps affirm what I thought!

                    Speaking of, has anyone tried her technique to incorporate part of the butter by placing the mixture in a bag, and using a rolling pin to flatten the butter into think flakes? Sounds a little more complicated, but I wonder if the results are worth it!

                    Happy baking!

                    1. My personal favorite is the Cooks Illustrated recipe that uses vodka with the water. It's completely idiot-proof (if you have a food processor). The trick, besides the vodka, is that they thoroughly mix the shortening with the flour so that it's completely coated before cutting in the butter. That way there's no chance of gluten forming, and the pea-sized pieces of butter make it really flaky. A couple of down sides to it is that it doesn't keep well prior to baking (no more than a couple of days in the fridge, and frozen maybe a week or so), and it's a really moist dough, so it doesn't hold it's shape too well during baking. The crimped edges don't stand up sharply. The taste and flakiness is awesome though. I always get requests for the recipe.
                      Otherwise, I agree with all of the advice you've gotten here. (Other than the fact that you certainly don't need to add baking powder, assuming your technique is good, or an acid like vinegar or lemon juice. Just flour, salt, a little sugar if you like, fat, and water.)