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Dec 2, 2012 02:04 PM

Do you live in the desert? Do you make pies?

If I have a culinary Achilles heel it's baking and pie crust in particular. Yet AGAIN I tried to make a pie today with mixed results. I now will only weigh my flour to assure there isn't too much compaction but I still really struggle with how wet my dough should be. Today I used the America's Test Kitchen recipe that called for 12.5 oz of flour 1/4 c. cold vodka and 1/4 c. cold water. After a quick stir with a fork I found the dough to be too dry and added another tbs of cold water. Looked pretty good (or so I thought) so I divided and began to wrap in plastic. But once wrapped I could see cracks in the dough and just didn't have the confidence that while chilling the moisture content would dissipate and bring the dough together, my last pie crust looked the same and it never came together after chilling - I had to add water before it could be rolled out.. So I put the dough back in the bowl and added more cold water. When I went to roll out the dough I had some overly wet spots and the edges were still a bit shaggy.

How can I tell when my crust is wet enough?
Does anyone have a feel for how much extra water is typically needed in desert climates?
Any tips you'd suggest?



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  1. Hi Bazel: Maybe this link might be a help to you. As well I purchased a pie mat which facilitates the rolling of the pie, it really helps.

    1. I don't live in the desert but I do spend time at about 8,000 ft, which is a very dry climate as well. I do find that my crust needs more water at altitude though i can't really say how much since I don't follow a specific recipe (I'm assuming what you posted was just the flour/water aspect of what you are doing with your crust. . . . ).

      If after a rest you still have overly wet spots and cracking edges then it sounds like the first issue you need to address is your mixing. While the rest does help the moisture to move through the dough, and the flour to hydrate (and yes gluten to relax among other things) . . . the dough should be so inconsistent that you're ending up with overly wet and dry spots.

      Are you only mixing with a spoon or do you give it a little knead by hand?

      1 Reply
      1. re: thimes

        I think thimes might have something here for you to consider, Bazel. I moved to the desert (Tucson) 5 months ago, and have made many pies since and have done nothing differently than when I made pies in the SF Bay Area at humid sea level. I use a food processor for the initial mixing, and then put the dough in a plastic bag for the final mixing ("frisage"?). After it's cold, I roll it out between parchment papers. The CI recipe should work even if you use a bit too much liquid, since the whole point of the vodka is to enable you to have an softer, wetter dough so that it's easier to roll out. As rasputina said, just keep making more, and you'll get there. Hope this helps.

      2. I lived in the desert for over 10 years and then moved to the humid coastal South. Honestly, I didn't do anything different. The water always goes last and how much to use is always a judgement made based on how it's coming together. I think knowing what is enough is something that just comes with time and experience. So just keep making pie crust and enjoy the results.

        1. I have lived many years in the desert Southwest and I now live at 8500ft. I weigh flour for just about every recipe. My concern has been the hydration of the flour. You might want to read this

          The flour in paper bags is probably at a very low % water as the air here and where you are is dry. I doubt it is the 14% mentioned in the last comment on the thread. If you put it straight into an airtight container at home, it will stay at whatever hydration it was at the store. If you leave it in the bag, it will likely increase if you humidify your home.

          I have found I need to adjust recipes because it is so dry. Often the high altitude adjustment is enough, if I am doing any altitude adjustment.

          Here are some more references

          (The following talks about varying protein content and water absorption
          (How they determine moisture content before the vacuum method