Baking School Day 9: Pâte Brisée (Pie Crust)

Baking School Day 9: Pâte Brisée (Pie Crust)

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Tessa Huff
Oct 15, 2015
(Image credit: Lindsay Ribe)

The Kitchn's Baking School Day 9: All about pâte brisée.
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Buttery and flaky, pâte brisée is basically your quintessential pie crust with a fancy French name. It is an unsweetened, versatile shortcrust that is great for both sweet and savory fillings. The key to producing its signature, tender flakes is in the handling, as well as — you guessed it — butter!

(Image credit: Lindsay Ribe)

Pâte Brisée in the Kitchen

Pâte brisée is a basic dough made of flour, cold butter, and a little water to hold it together. In the oven, it bakes into a golden crust that flakes when you cut into it with a fork.

It is the go-to pastry for making pies and tarts — everything from apple pie in the fall to peach pie in the summer. It is also used to make rich, buttery shells for savory quiches and meat pies, and can be used to make hand pies, rustic galettes, and anything else requiring a flaky pastry shell.

Making pie dough in a food processor.
(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

Butter in Pâte Brisée

Classic pâte brisée is all about butter. It gets cut — literally cut, with a pastry cutter, knife, or a food processor — into the flour, so it stays in relatively large pieces — about the size of a pea or bean. This makes sure the fat coats the flour particles, which helps slow gluten formation and keeps the crust tender instead of tough. Just the right amount of blending creates a barrier between the flour and liquid, so this step must occur before any water is added.

Once the dough is rolled out, you'll see streaks and blobs from the butter all throughout. In the heat of the oven, those bits of butter melt, creating flaky, crispy layers in the dough. That's pie bliss, right there.

While any old butter (or shortening, or lard!) can be used to make pie dough, this is one place where the quality of the butter you use makes a big difference in the overall flavor of your finished dish. Use a butter whose flavor you really like — sweeter-tasting butters are great in fruit pies, and you might think about trying more strongly flavored cultured butters in savory pies.

How the dough holds together.
(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

How to Make Pâte Brisée

Since pâte brisée is made with only a few ingredients and just a handful of steps, it is important that each instruction is followed with care. Fortunately, once you've made a few pies on your own, those skills are yours for life — the process of cutting the cold butter into the flour, rolling out the dough, and crimping the edges becomes ingrained in your mind.

  • Cold butter: First, keep the butter cold. If it's too warm, it will mix too much with the flour and the tart won't be flaky. To make sure it's really cold, dice it first, then throw it in the freezer while you gather and prepare the remaining ingredients.
  • Mix the butter with the flour: When ready, cut the butter into the flour mixture using a pastry cutter, knife, or food processor (more on that below). You can also do this step by pinching and rubbing the butter with your fingertips; work lightly yet quickly, trying to handle the butter as little as possible to avoid melting it.
  • Add a small amount of cold water: Next, slowly add in ice water, a tablespoon at a time, stirring with a tossing or fluffing motion. Use the least amount of water as possible to avoid a soggy dough or creating too much gluten (which can make your pie tough and brittle instead of tender). You want to add just enough water so the dough holds together when you squeeze some in your hand and doesn't fall back apart when you poke it. Add more water as needed, but pay attention to not overmix or overwork the dough.
  • Chill the dough: Divide the dough in two, pat into a disk, and wrap it in plastic. Chill it in the fridge for at least one hour before rolling out the dough.
  • Roll out the dough: Gently roll the dough between sheets of wax paper to keep from sticking. Carefully transfer to your pie dish and trim the edges. You may do this simply with kitchen shears or a paring knife. Alternatively, you may pinch the edges to create a fluted finish.
  • Chill the rolled dough again: Chill the dough after being placed in the pie dish for another 30 minutes while the oven preheats. All of these chill steps are necessary to make sure the butter stays solid and doesn't melt into the flour. When the pie hits the oven, the liquids steam, causing the layers to puff and resulting in a flakier crust.
  • Bake the pie: At this point, the pie can be filled and baked, or it can be blind-baked. Which way you go depends on the specific pie you're making and your recipe.

Get your step-by-step baking lesson:

How to Make Flaky Pie Crust

Pâte Brisée in a Food Processor

Making pâte brisée in a food processor sounds easy, doesn't it? Albeit untraditional, you can achieve great results by letting the machine do some of the work. However, it may work too well, so still use caution.

Using a food processor helps keep the ingredients cool and makes the steps of cutting the butter into the flour and mixing in the water go faster — two major factors when producing a flaky pie crust. But because it does come together so quickly, it can be easy to mix too much and overwork the dough. Pulse the dough and turn out onto your work surface just as the water is incorporated to avoid overworking.

Pie dough, ready to be rolled out.
(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

Why You Shouldn't Overwork the Dough

The more the dough is mixed, rolled, and handled, the more the gluten develops. An overworked dough makes it difficult to work with and makes the finished pie crust tough. The crust may also shrink after it is baked.

To keep this from happening, try not to over-blend the butter when cutting it into the flour. And then, during mixing, only add in enough water as needed to bring the dough together, and only mix until the flour is moistened. It should hold together if you press two pieces together with your fingers.

Overworked dough typically needs more water to bind everything together, emphasizing the problem even more.

Is your dough getting sticky? Toss it into the fridge for a bit instead of adding more flour to overcompensate.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

Storing Pie Dough for Later

Well-wrapped dough may be stored in the fridge for up to about 5 days or in the freezer for up to 2 months. A fully-baked pie crust may be carefully packed and frozen.

(Image credit: Melissa Ryan)
(Image credit: Lindsay Ribe)

Every lesson has three homework options. Maybe you’ve already got one down, or you just have time for a quick study session. So pick one, and show us by tagging it with #kitchnbakingschool on Instagram or Twitter.

(Image credit: Lindsay Ribe)

Watch this video on how to make a pie crust.

(Image credit: Lindsay Ribe)

Make extra pie dough and freeze for Thanksgiving. (You'll thank yourself later.)

(Image credit: Lindsay Ribe)

Make a pie and decorate the top in a fun way. Try a lattice top! Show it off on Instagram with the hashtag #kitchnbakingschool

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