The pastry investigator hews to scientific method. She formulates her hypothesis: Pastry perfection rests on the ratio of flour to fat to water.
She gets to work — years of false starts and soggy pies. Just as she is underlining her final formula — 2 cups flour, 2 sticks butter, 1/2 cup water — she learns that her colleagues have derived the identical equation. In science, corroboration is good.
She notes subtle distinctions. Each recipe calls for the same ingredients, same proportions, different procedure.
Back in the lab, she runs a trial. One technique specifies dicing the butter into 512 cubes, rubbing 256 into the flour and stirring the remainder in whole. Others cut butter into flour via mixer, food processor or spatula. The final method skips the cut-in. It’s simply toss, roll, fold.
The scientist bakes and tastes. Out of a sample size of five, four are good. One is stunning. It’s nothing but flake — crisp, layered, lovely flake.
For humanitarian reasons, she halts her research and releases the results: The roll method is not better. It’s the best.
NO-STRESS ALL-BUTTER PIE PASTRY
Prep: 15 minutes
Makes: Pastry for one double-crust, 9-inch pie
8 ounces (about 1 3/4 cup) all-purpose flour such as Gold Medal, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons Crystal Diamond kosher salt (half as much if iodized)
2 sticks cold unsalted butter cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup cold water
1. Smash: Sift flour into a medium bowl. Whisk in sugar and salt. Toss butter cubes with flour. Roughly smash each cube flat — nothing more! Stir in water and knead briefly into a ball.
2. Fold: Transfer to a floured work surface, sprinkle with flour, and roll into a 10-by-15 inch sheet, positioned vertically. Fold top edge down and bottom edge up to meet in the center. Fold left edge to meet right, as though closing a book. Fold top to meet bottom, forming a thick block. Cut the block in half.
3. Roll: Dust with flour and roll one portion into a 13-inch round. Brush off excess flour, drape over a 9-inch pie plate. Trim to a 1 1/4 inch overhang; fold under to create a 3/4-inch border that rests on the rim of the plate. Wrap in plastic and chill 2 to 24 hours. Roll remaining dough into a 13-inch round, rest on a baking sheet, cover with plastic and chill 2 to 24 hours.
4. Plot: Pastry is ready to be filled and baked, or it can be frozen for up to 3 months and thawed in a refrigerator. Thinking of apple pie? Coming next week!
Provenance: Adapted from “BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts” by Stella Parks.
©2017 Chicago Tribune
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