Rye pie crust, revisited

This. This pie crust right here is what convinced me to start baking by weight.

For a long while, I thought I had pie crust down. I fell in love with Heidi Swanson’s rye pie crust recipe, and fiddled with it to make it my own. It was a consistent winner, something I could throw together in minutes and stick in the fridge for a pie-less day. I was the queen of the Sunday-lunch galette and the party pie. It was wonderful.

Until I ran out of light rye flour, and couldn’t find it at any of my local stores. So I bought some dark rye flour instead, and immediately the crust recipe I relied on started failing on me. The dark rye flour added a terrific depth of flavor that I loved, but crust after crust came out sticky and impossible to roll. My theory is that the light rye flour, which has gluten added, was covering up my lazy baking decisions–measuring things imprecisely, using too much water, letting the butter get too warm. I realized I needed to re-teach myself the recipe.

So I did. I got myself a kitchen scale and started using the weight measurements in the original 101 Cookbooks post. And wouldn’t you know it, things started improving almost immediately. It wasn’t a magic bullet, but getting my ingredients in the exact right ratios meant that the crusts were consistently easier to handle. Plus, it turns out that baking by weight is actually easier and less messy than faffing around with cups–just scoop the flour directly into the bowl, no sweeping or leveling required. I’m totally sold, and will be baking things by weight from now on.

But even the scale didn’t totally fix the problem. I’ve also realized that something more old-fashioned is at play: patience and experience. I wasn’t really paying attention to what a well-made crust feels like in the bowl–slightly crumbly, just moist enough to stick together–and so I was guessing and throwing off my aim. I’ve started to slow down when making pie crust, crumbling the butter in more gently, mashing it less with my fingers. I’ve also started adding water by feel rather than by measurement, since I’ve found that the flour takes up different amounts of liquid on different days. And I’ve been making sure to chill the dough long enough, and to handle it as little as possible to keep it from getting sticky. I’m still learning, still practicing, and I think that’s really the point. A good, precise recipe will get you part of the way; the rest is up to practice.

rye pie crust better

Rye Pie Crust, Redux (makes two 9-inch pie crusts)

Adapted slightly from 101 Cookbooks

175 g ( 1 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour

75 g (very scant 2/3 cup) dark rye flour

1/2 tsp (4 g) fine sea salt

1 cup (2 sticks/8 oz) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes

About 80 mL (5 tbsp) ice-cold sparkling water or beer, as needed

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together all-purpose flour, rye flour, and salt. Add butter cubes and use a pastry cutter, two forks, or your fingertips to mix the butter into the flour until it’s completely incorporated and crumbly (some pea-sized chunks, some lima bean-sized chunks, and some crumbs). Sprinkle sparkling water or beer over the butter-flour mixture, 1 tbsp at a time, mixing until the liquid is evenly incorporated. The finished dough should be slightly crumbly, but stick together when pressed.

Gather the dough together and fold it over on itself in the bowl a few times, just to bring it together. Split the dough in half, and form each half into a flat disc. Wrap the discs of dough tightly in plastic wrap.

Refrigerate the dough for at least 1 hour, and up to 2 days, before rolling it out. You can also freeze the dough for up to 2 months, then thaw in the refrigerator overnight before using.

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