Hi guys, I have decided it is about time to finally write another “how to” post. This time I decided to focus on pie crust or shortbread. Why so? Because many people are afraid of it, many are scared to even try it. Which is a shame, considering that you can make soooo many wonderful things with it. At the end of this post you will find a list of recipes you can make and believe me, there is so much more than only pie you can make with! As you can see from my pictures, cookies or tarts also taste wonderful with it. You can make decorations such as the featured roses or surprise somebody with cookie stamp cookies as pictured below.
#1 Keep your ingredients cold
This may sound dumb, but many people don’t know that the temperature of ingredients is crucial for the outcome of your cakes and cookies. Especially butter and eggs play an important role here. Unfortunately, not for all pastries, doughs, and batters the eggs and butter have to have room temperature. The opposite isn’t true either, so what you will need to keep in mind is that pie crust needs it cold. Other dough may need room temperature ingredients, but pie crust doesn’t. So don’t take out the eggs or butter beforehand, but get them straight out the fridge when you prepare your dough.
#2 Apply the 3-2-1 rule
German pie crust is slightly different from American one. We have the 3-2-1 rule here. Three times flour, two times butter and one time sugar is how we normally make it. This rule has helped me whenever I wanted to either double, halve or change the recipe in any other way. So far I have not had any problems and it has always worked like a charm. How this looks in recipe language?
For a double pie crust you will need, according to the 3-2-1 rule:
- 300 grams of all-purpose flour
- 200 grams of cold butter
- 100 grams of regular sugar (this can be reduced and is reduced for neutral pie crusts)
#3 Make crumbs with your hands quickly before adding the binder
Since it is crucial for all ingredients to be cold, it is very easy to understand why warm hands are probably not the best for working pie crust. For the first step of making the pie crust, you usually have to form crumbs with said three ingredients. You can with either do that with two knives or even a kitchen machine using the hook attachment. I have also seen videos of using a hand mixer and making crumbs that way. Either way you do it, don’t take too long. I usually go for crumbs the size of peas and I feel making them by hand is the fastest possible way, for some reason all other methods just don’t create the same result as simply using my hands. You may have to see which method works best for you, but keep in mind, as soon as you touch the butter with your warm hands, act quickly and don’t take long breaks in between.
#4 Try different binders: egg, water, or even vodka
Traditionally American pie crust is made with ice-cold water. Germans for some reason like to use an egg as the binder and I have recently discovered that vodka is supposedly also a binder that makes the dough very flaky. Either way you go, be sure that your binder is also as cold as possible. I have discovered that the egg makes the dough more elastic than water, so if you wish to make very detailed ornaments, I would definitely recommend using the egg, if you want to make bold cookies, water will be just fine. As a little side-remark, if you are going fo the chocolate version as I did in my oreo cookies, you may also want to try milk instead of water.
#5 Never add the full amount of the binder at the beginning
How much water/egg/vodka your dough needs, depends on many factors, your flour may be processed differently and therefore may need more or less than the recipe calls for. It also depends on the weather, humidity, or whether you used margarine or shortening instead of butter. So my rule of thumb is, add about 3/4 and then only add little by little until you reach the right consistency. In case you use an egg, stir it with a fork in a small bowl and add 3/4 or more if need be.
#6 Don’t overwork the dough, but just be sure to work it into a ball
At this point, I highly recommend switching to your hands in order to form the dough if you didn’t use them beforehand. Just try to work the dough into a ball. If the dough is still crumbly, you will need to add more of your binder. If you used up the egg fully, just add a teaspoon of very cold water. Don’t overwork the dough, once you can make a ball and the dough does not feel crumbly anymore, stop.
This may sound trivial and you may have wondered why pie crust or shortbread always has to be chilled before you start working with it. The answer is that you allow the gluten to work its magic. Your dough will be more elastic and easier to work with once you let it chill. Many people think reason for the chilling is the butter. It is correct that we also want the butter to get hard again so it is easier to roll out, but it is not the main reason why chilling is mandatory, it is the flour. The gluten needs this time to get working and for that reason you cannot speed up the process by putting the dough in the freezer. Minimum is half an hour in the fridge, many recipes require even longer resting periods. If you have time constraints, you can prepare the dough the night before or even up to five days if you wrap it in plastic wrap and keep it in the fridge. Pie crust can also be frozen for up to three months. Put in fridge the night before as otherwise you will have problems rolling it out.
#8 Briefly warm up dough with your hands before you start rolling it out
Sometimes pie crust can be hard like a brick when you take it out of the fridge. This is especially the case if you let it chill overnight. I usually warm it a little with my hands and then press down the ball with my hands first before I start rolling it out.
#9 When rolling out, flour surface and be sure to rotate the dough so it doesn’t stick to the surface
Nothing is more annoying than when you rolled out the dough and then you realize that it’s sticking to the surface. This has happened to me many times. The trick is to actually move your dough constantly while rolling out to avoid this. First flour the surface and then only roll a few times before rotating the dough, I even turn it upside down. Also, flour the surface in between. You can dust off too much flour much more easily than actually transferring sticky pie dough.
#10 Fold the dough to the middle before transferring to the pan
Ever experienced this? You have a super nice rolled-out dough and when transferring it to the pie form, it breaks, duh! So annoying! This is my tip for you, fold the rolled-out circle all around into the middle or if you wish, fold into an envelope. Once you transferred your dough, you can unfold it in the pan you are using. It really works much better than trying to transfer the dough just as it is.
I hope that these tips are useful for you. As promised, below are the recipes I have made this way. Let me know if you try any!