Tag Archives: Dough

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.

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Rye pie crust

Not that long ago, I wrote on this very blog that I was kind of a wuss when it comes to pie crust. I am proud to say that that’s no longer true. In the months since I discovered Heidi Swanson’s rye pie crust, I’ve made more pies than I think I ever had previously in my life. There are a few recipes that every cook needs in their back pocket, and this pie crust has rapidly become one of mine.

I like this recipe for several reasons. One, the proportions are easy to remember. Two, it’s very forgiving–this is the one pie crust recipe I’ve never screwed up. It’s sturdy enough to roll and cut and move around without fear, but still bakes to a perfect flaky-crumbly texture. Three, it’s delicious in a totally unexpected way. Most pie crusts are all butter and no bite, fatty and bland and forgettable (more or less by design, I suppose). But the rye flour in this crust gives it a mysterious soft tang that cuts right through the richness of the butter. The flavor is incredibly subtle–it just makes whatever’s on top of it sing out more, somehow. And yes, it’s equally at home in sweet and savory pies.

There are a whole lot of ways to combine flour, butter, and water to make pie crust. You could use a food processor, or a pastry cutter, or a couple of forks, or this elaborate butter-smashing dough-folding technique. I really like doing it by hand, crumbling the butter into the dough with my fingertips. It’s meditative, in a way, and I can feel exactly when the butter is broken down enough to start adding liquid. I also like using sparkling water instead of still water to moisten the dough–maybe it’s my imagination, but I think it makes for a lighter and flakier final product. Whichever water you use, though, make sure it’s ice-cold.

Many recipes call for a partially or fully pre-baked crust. Pre-baking, or blind baking, requires something heavy and heat-conducting to weigh down the crust. You could buy pie weights, but everyone–including me–will tell you to save your money and use raw rice, dried beans, or pennies. They’re cheap, and can be re-used thousands of times. Sending beans or rice through the oven ruins them for cooking, so buy a few pounds and set them aside for baking only. The first time I pre-baked a crust, I went to the dollar store and bought three one-pound bags of black beans, which now live in a jar next to the sugar and salt. Easy as…well, you know.

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