Problems with Pie Crust
I was wondering if anyone could help with my pie crust woes. I use the same recipe as my mother but hers turns out flaky and light while mine is significantly less so. The only difference that I can determine is that I use unbleached all purpose flour and she uses the bleached all white stuff. Could this make that big of a difference? Thanks for any help you can offer.
Not sure about the flour, but I do know that the atmosphere has a lot to do with it. If it's warmer, cooler, humid, etc. So the amount of water that you add will completely depend on the day. Make sure you start with just a touch of water and add from there... that may be part of the problem.
What kind of fat are you using?
I make really good pie crust when I visit my family in November in LA. In Honolulu in July, it is marginal at best. Like laurendlewis said, the weather/atmosphere has a huge effect on piecrust. Do you and your mom live in the same area? Do you find your results vary at different times of the year?
Keep it cool, keep it dry. I do find that if I keep my flour in the fridge (cold and dry) there is a much better chance my Honolulu crusts will turn out better. The moisture in the crust is from the water (a controlled amount), not from "moist" flour (hard to gauge till its too late).
Pie crust is as much about technique as it is about the recipe. The real key is to make sure everything is cold.
Are you making sure that your butter or shortening is ice cold? If it's too warm, it will melt into the flour instead of forming distinct little pieces (which is what gives your crust the flakiness). Same goes for the water - it should be as cold as possible.
The other day, I had no frozen butter and ended up using refrigerated instead - HUGE difference in flakiness and texture.
and don't handle it too much, nor mix it too much. Cut your shortening in (ice cold as tartiflette says) I use a knife and chop it into my flour then using fingertips for as short a time as possible, then add the water and I mix with a fork until it just needs the crumbs collected at the end when I pull it together with fingers.
onto floured board or surface, flour my rolling pin and roll as quickly as possible. when the right size, roll it onto your rolling pin and off the pin into your pie shell. Press in gently, cut to size and off you go.
I used to attribute my lousy pie crusts to my extraordinarily hot hands. But I've since learned how to overcome that: I grate in frozen butter/shortening/lard (use the big holes); I handle the dough as tentatively and quickly as I would an angry raccoon; I put ice cubes in my water and add the water a tiny bit at a time, stopping the minute the dough BEGINS to come together; I don't try to completely incorporate the butter with the flour (wouldn't frisaging, as mentioned in the comment below, result in a less flaky pie crust?); and, I chill the dough thoroughly before rolling it out.
i don't think bleached/unbleached will make much of a difference. gluten content, however, will, especially if you're accidentally overworking the dough.
my experience with nonprofessional pastry cooks is that they are often unaware of their personal technique. they've developed their technique over time, and the little tricks they've learned are just second nature. your mom, for instance, may frisage the dough without realizing it. it's difficult to see someone doing something like that unless you observe very closely.
i suggest you and your mom each make a double batch of dough, then you and your mom each make one crust apiece from each batch of dough. compare and contrast the differences, and that should give you a better idea of where you differ from mom.
In addition to the excellent comments above about COLD and NOT OVERWORKING, make sure that you only work the fat into the flour until it forms chunks the size of peas. If you work it in any more (eg to "cornmeal") stage, your pastry will be short rather than flaky.
Flaky= big pieces
For years I tried to use my mother-in-laws pie crust recipe with the same sad results each time and a monumental amount of frustration.
Now I use the recipe in the "Baking with Julia" cookbook by Dorie Greenspan and Julia Child.
I get 3 wonderful flaky easy to work with pie crusts from this recipe. No more tears or tears (weeping or ripping) with this one!