Tag Archives: Rye

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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Nectarine galette with rye crust

I made my first galette over the weekend. I’m quite proud, actually–I’m usually a bit of a pie wimp, and this was my first foray in a long time into the realm of flaky dough and bubbling fruit juices. As far as pie-type desserts go, I can now say from experience that a galette is an unfussy cook’s best friend: there’s only one crust to roll out, no pan-lining or crimping or pre-baking, and even the roughest and most haphazard attempts at folding the dough over the fruit end up looking like you meant to do it that way.

The real revelation here is the pie dough, a rye flour-inflected recipe I pinched from 101 Cookbooks. I love the old-country tang of good rye bread, and the notion of working that flavor into a pie dough was irresistible. Beyond the addition of the rye flour, the dough is pretty classic–flour, butter, salt, and cold fizzy water to keep the whole thing light. It was a dream to work with, rolling without complaint and baking to perfect crisp-flakiness. I could easily see this as the lid for a pot pie, or the wrapper for a batch of piroshki, and certainly as the base for any number of sweet or savory pies. This will be my go-to crust in future, no question.

As for what to wrap the dough around, there wasn’t much contest: nectarines are in their element in California right now, and few things make me weak at the knees like a sweet white nectarine. I found the perfect ones at the farmer’s market, fat and smooth and just coming into sugary ripeness. I cut the nectarines into wedges–more than a few of which disappeared along the way–and nestled them into the center of that simple gorgeous rye dough, on a bed of almond meal and flour to catch any oozing juices. Within ten minutes of putting it in the oven, the whole kitchen smelled like a little corner of summer: hot collapsing fruit and browning sugar and butter. It was the kind of dessert that makes you a little mournful when it’s gone, longing for just a little taste more of shattering crust and slumped fruit.

This was my first galette, and the first of many. I’m already planning my next one–perhaps something savory as we slide into fall. I’ll keep you updated.

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