Flakey Pie Crust

There are few things as intimidating as good pie crust. I’d like to say that I struggled with it for years but honestly, I had two horrible attempts that shamed me into convenient pre-made, frozen pie crusts. I looked over recipes and found that a lot of them emphasized keeping dough chilled but little else. Their beautiful smooth dough put mine to shame. Even if I got the dough pretty and smooth, never could I find the delicate flakey crust until I learned… it all comes down to butter. But doesn’t it most of the time?

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 Tbsp sugar

1 tsp salt

1 1/2 sticks chilled butter (unsalted), cut into pieces

1/2 cup ice water

Equipment

pastry blender (optional)

rolling pin

pie pan

Combine flour, sugar and salt together until thoroughly mixed.

Take your chilled butter and blend into your flour. Cut the butter into the flour until it’s crumbly. You do not want this to be tiny pieces or totally smooth. About pea sized pieces and a little bigger is okay too. You should be able to see the butter pieces. There are two ways to do this. Take your pastry blender and use it to cut the butter into the flour mix. Or, you could use your finger tips. I do not at all recommend using your hands because it’s too warm and will melt the butter into your flour and your crust will not be so flakey. Please, just the tips of the fingers… it is more difficult but that extra effort is what makes a better pie. When using your finger tips, I like to do a sort of dip and lift to ensure that I’m not touching the same pieces of butter too much to warm them. I dip my fingers in and smash some pieces and lift out and dip into another spot. A single smashing each dip.

Chill the flour in the fridge for about 20 minutes or if you’re really careful or used your fingers to blend, chill in the freezer for about 10 minutes. Prepare your work surface and sprinkle with some flour. Get your ice water to form the dough

Remove the chilled flour mix. Begin adding the ice water just a tablespoon at a time. I live in a desert so my flour is extra dry and requires more water. It should take about 1/4 cup of water but mine is closer to 1/3. To keep from over wetting the dough, add the water, 1 Tbsp at a time. Overly wet dough will be springy… that’s not what you want. Springy means the gluten started to develop and it’ll be a less delicate texture.

Use a butter knife to incorporate your water into the dough. Once you have enough water to get the dough to just stick together (you don’t want it sticky, the dough should come together and hold when pressed but not at all sticky), turn dough onto your work surface. Carefully pressed the dough together and if it won’t hold or crumbles apart, add a little more water. Knead a couple times and divide the dough in half.

Shape each half into a ball and smash down the top a little. Wrap the entire ball in cling wrap. Smash down in the cling wrap to about 1 1/2 inch thickness. This forces the dough to hold together tighter and therefore will be easier to roll. Chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours. Overnight has best results.

Preheat oven at 425. Lightly flour your work surface and your rolling pin. Take out one disk of dough and unwrap. Here’s the fun part… smack your dough with the rolling pin! It seems somewhat violent but it makes your rolling easier. It smashes down the dough and softens the butter for rolling without heating it. Turn your dough and smack it some more to make a more uniform circle.

Roll out your crust. Lift and turn so it doesn’t stick to your surface. Dust with flour as needed. once your crust is about a 1/4 inch thick, lift gently into your pie pan. When you’re rolling, you’ll be able to see pieces of your butter that’s visible in the crust. This is desirable! If your dough is too smooth, then you won’t have a delicate, flakey crust. I think it affects the taste too but that might be from my personal dissatisfaction.

When placing your crust into the pan, gently lift and allow the crust to fall into place. Guide dough gently with your fingers. Please don’t pull or you’ll create breaks in the crust. Fill your pie then layer with your top pie crust. Seal however you like and cut vents into the top crust if you have a wet or fruit filling. Cover with aluminum foil and bake. I like to cover with foil for at least the first 30 minutes to prevent the top from over browning. Makes for a prettier top crust. I also brush with an egg wash sometimes to make an even prettier crust. Depending on the size of the dish, if it’s double layer pie, what filling you used will determine how long to leave in the oven. If you have a recipe you’re following, use their instructions. Store in the fridge for a few days or in the freezer for a couple weeks. If frozen, give it time to thaw before working the dough. Enjoy!

NOTES: The reason why it’s so important to have the larger pieces of butter is that butter has water in it. As it bakes, the water will boil out of the butter. When it does this, it escapes as it can and creates the flakey layers. If the butter is melted into the flour, instead of flakey crust, it’ll be a harder crust. Also, the butter layering between the flour and working it as little as possible helps keep the gluten (flour proteins) from working up and giving a tougher/chewier texture. That’s only good in bread.

Also! Make sure the buy regular ol’ unsalted butter. This is one of the times it’s important to NOT use European butter. European butter has a lower water content and that leads to a less flakey, delicate crust. European butter is needed though if you want to make croissants  or danishes or anything like that.

Fudgey Brownies

I have searched and searched for years for the best fudgey brownies. Cake brownies always just tasted like dry, dense cake to me and just seemed unappetizing. Like someone passing off failed cake as a brownie instead. An unfair assessment of cakey brownies I suppose, since I’m a very biased fan of the fudgey variety. A couple years ago, I finally decided that I just cannot produce the proper mix of sweet but not too sweet, chocolatey but not too rich brownie without using box. What’s better than Ghiradelli’s brownie mix? Until recently, my answer was “nothing!”. Now, I’m happy to say that I no longer feel that way. Finally, a from-scratch recipe that I am happy with. As always it’s a mix of many recipes 🙂

12 oz semisweet chocolate chips

1 stick unsalted butter (8 Tbsp)

2 cups sugar

1/3 cup espresso or strong coffee

1 tsp Vanilla extract

3 large eggs or 4 medium eggs (room temp)

1 cup + 2 Tbsp All purpose flour

1/3 cup cocoa powder

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

Set oven at 350. Grease a 9×13 inch pan.

Melt chocolate chips and butter. I like to use the microwave, in 30 second intervals. Stir gently with a spoon or butter knife between intervals until all the chocolate has been melted and the mixture is smooth. Set aside to cool. Note below for why.

Combine sugar and espresso/coffee mixture together. The sugar will melt a bit in the coffee and the brownies will be smoother without sugar crystals. Also, water causes chocolate to seize and mixing these separate will help prevent seizing. Combine coffee mix into the chocolate mix.

Beat eggs and vanilla until smooth in a large bowl.

Combine all remaining dry ingredients. Set aside.

Once the chocolate mixture has cooled, warm but not hot. Add the chocolate to the egg mixture. I beat the chocolate mix into the egg in about 4 parts. Beat until all integrated and smooth.

Fold in the flour mix in 3 parts. Over mixing batter yields tough brownies and lets face it… who wants that? Not me!

Pour into pan and place in oven. Bake for about 45 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. If there are some crumbs stuck, it’s alright but not wet batter. Careful not to under bake as it’ll be soupy. Let cool before serving.


Notes:

When greasing a pan, use either baking spray or butter/shortening with cocoa powder. Baking spray is better than regular nonstick spray because of soy lecithin. That is what causes that burnt on stickiness that’s near impossible to clean off. Make sure to get a baking spray that does not have soy (I use baker’s joy). Also! Good to grease with butter or shortening and then dust the grease with cocoa powder rather than flour like in traditional baking. When baking anything that’s chocolate it’s better to dust with cocoa powder so you don’t get a white residue on your beautiful chocolate baked goods.

I use the microwave rather than a double boiler method because it’s far easier to control for moisture and heat. If you burn your chocolate it’s useless and if chocolate gets moisture while melting it “seizes” and is also useless. So! I microwave. Plus, it’s fast and I’m a little impatient. Careful not to over heat in the microwave. That’s why I recommend 30 second intervals.

 

Blueberry Muffins

I’m going to start this one with a bold statement. Of all the things that I may create, this is my husband’s favorite. Granted he has his favorite cookies, or breakfast food or whatever! But beyond all of that, this seems to eclipse them all. So, I thought it good enough to share. Like many of my recipes, this one is merged with quite a few different recipes.

2 cups flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp cinnamon

8 Tbsp (1 stick) butter

1 cup packed brown sugar

2 eggs

1 Tbsp vanilla

1/2 cup half and half (or whole milk will do)

2 cups blueberries

zest of 1 lemon – yields approx. 20 muffins

Preheat the oven to 350. You’ll drop the temperature to 325 once the muffins are in the oven. Set butter out to soften. 30-40 minutes should suffice. Careful to not let it “melt” at room temperature (see post about cookie tips). The butter will come up in temperature when it’s getting beaten.

Mix dry ingredients. Beat butter until fluffy, might not look that impressive since it doesn’t have that much butter. Add brown sugar, I like the flavor of the dark brown sugar but light will do too. Add eggs until fully incorporated. Make sure to stop and scrape the sides of the bowl. Add in flour in thirds, it lessens the flour from flying out of the bowl. Alternate the flour additions with the milk. Add in your vanilla (it seems like a lot… it was an accidental discovery that kind of tricks the mind into thinking it tastes sweeter than the amount of sugar would do). Add in your zest, make sure it’s clumped together anywhere. Fold in your blueberries.

Drop your muffin batter into a lined muffin tin. I normally use my ice cream scoop because it’s easy or some times two spoons. Fill to almost the top, not quite full. Bake at 325 (drop from 350 that the preheat was) for 24-28 minutes.

Remove when the muffin is springy to the touch. Let cool for about minutes and enjoy!

I couldn’t get my daughter to leave the muffin alone to get a picture

Professional looking no knead bread like from a bakery

Like nearly everyone else who’s alive, I check out pinterest and very sadly I have seen awful no knead bread recipes. I have struggled with bread baking for years. From TBF (total bread failure) to PBF (partial bread failure), I’ve seen it all and struggled with consistency using similar recipes and instructions. I have about 5 bread books and after tutorials and whatever other resource I could find, I have finally been able to consistently bake bread that rivals albertsons or publix fresh baked bread. You southerners know what I’m talking about.

Here are some problems with the bread recipes I see. They do not allow proper proving before baking. One cannot get a strong gluten structure with one rise. Nope, I’ve tried it. And if you wiggle the bread too much, it all deflates! Also… a 30 minute rise is horribly insufficient. Here may be some common troubles with your bake.

bread deflates – improper structure, improper proving

tough crust – improper gluten structure

tough crust and gummy center – improper gluten structure and didn’t cool long enough! (I know, it’s so hard to let it)

dense bread, didn’t rise at all! – yeast probably died, didn’t get a proof

If you’ve had these problems, I know I have! Then you’ve listened to those blogs from people who listened to blogs or got an insufficient book and looked no further. I have a couple and I have followed these blogs. These sweet dears probably do not know that it’s possible to make the awesome bread in the stores. I thought, maybe there are additives or preservatives for those results, like in box cake… no… the instructions were out there and I wish I had found them sooner.  So! I will share my recipe and instructions and then explain “the why”.

Simple boule (round bread, or “bowl” bread)

3 cups all purpose or bread flour

1 1/2 cups distilled water (adjust 10% increase for dry climates)

1 Tbsp yeast

3/4 Tbsp – 1 Tbsp salt (to taste)

Mix flour, yeast, and salt together in your largest bowl. Pour in your water and mix. I like to use my hands or a butter knife. Yeah, may sound crazy but it works and cleans off easily. You want to mix to make sure the flour is all incorporated or you’ll end up with “flour pearls” and that makes for ugly (and homemade looking) bread. Once you’ve got a nice sticky heap, cover and set aside for at least 2 hours!

Dust the top of the risen dough, a clean work surface and your hands with flour. Your dough should still be quite sticky and droopy. Shape your dough into a rough rectangle. Lightly dust with flour (called a gluten coat… I don’t know why), and fold into thirds. Take your dough and fold that in half and drop into an oiled bowl (or sometimes I dump it back into my previous bowl with dough residue… just slightly more work to get it out if you do it this way). Your dough will rise much quicker this time. Maybe a 1/2 hr rise. Take it out (do not punch it) and shape into a ball. Allow the air bubbles to pop out (this will prevent giant holes in your bread). You want to achieve a taught surface without the dough tearing. This surface provides tension for your yeast to rise against and further develop the gluten.

Heat your oven to 475 and place your dutch oven to heat up. (If you don’t have a dutch oven, that’s okay… but I’ve found it makes the best bread. Place a pan with water in the oven next to the bread) Prep your parchment paper for either the dutch oven or your baking sheet. Shape your dough again into a ball and set on your parchment paper. Place your bowl it came out of on top of the dough so that it does dry out during this proof. I let it rise anywhere from 20-30 minutes (better than an overproof).

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Take a knife and slice at least a half inch into your dough, deeper if you dare! Remove your dutch oven from the oven and drop your dough into it! Place the lid and set your timer for 45 minutes!

Once done, remove and let cool for at least 20 minutes. Listen to that beautiful crackling and revel in the joy of a good bake 🙂

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The Why’s

Now, the reasons I do these things. Many recipes call for yeast to be added to water to bubble… other than find that your yeast is alive, it doesn’t serve much purpose. This is different than what is called “creating a sponge” which is a developed base for your bread. That’s like a bread soup or bready paste to be added to flour later for more complicated breads, very different. The problem that could develop is the warm water… what exactly is warm water? I’ve known people (and done this myself) who have microwaved the water to get to a higher temperature and accidentally zapped those poor yeast and hence… no rise. Now improper yeast storage is also a problem! My poor yeast didn’t rise because they were all dead! Store your yeast jar in the fridge. Also, adding sugar changes the taste of the bread which could be nice in some instances but for regular ole bread, it isn’t needed.

Well… my yeast was refrigerated and I did this recipe, but my bread still didn’t rise! Okay… did ya use distilled water? hmm? The reason to use distilled water is that the chlorine (in all tap water) kills the yeast! Chlorine kills everything, that’s why it’s a great disinfectant. Purified water isn’t good enough, most come from the tap of wherever it’s bottled. Sad truth. I have found that in a pinch, a thrice filtered water isn’t so bad. Not as great as distilled but kills less yeast than tap. I’ve also used distilled water that is enriched with minerals (because I couldn’t find distilled) and it’s about the same as a thrice filtered tap water. For best rise, go with distilled.

The reason for shaping and reshaping the dough is to develop the gluten. Gluten is the protein in wheat flour that come together in a matrix that leads to a chewy texture, think pizza crust vs cake. In the no knead method, the yeast bubbling away is enough agitation to develop the gluten into a matrix. But one rise is not enough. You may have heard of the “window pane” test to see if your bread is ready (you can stretch your dough until it’s thin and lets light through or almost see out of it). You will not get a window pane with a one rise dough. This is why your bread will deflate because the gluten is not developed enough to provide structure to hold it’s shape. This is why you shape and reshape. Having the tension is essential to develop the bread.

Slicing the dough, besides giving a pretty design to your bread, gives the dough room to rise so you have less broken edges. Some is nice but you have a more finished looking product with slices. Or cuts! Many one rise recipes do not include a slice because with the gluten not being developed, the bread will immediately deflate once cut. It also isn’t as able to be as fluffy on the inside! While talking of texture, it’s very important to let your bread cool because if you tear into it too early, the moisture will evaporate out of the bread! That is how you end up with a gummy texture. The bread needs time for the moist hot air to redistribute back through the bread, this also helps give a softer crust too. Prior to learning these additional steps, I always had incredibly thick and tough crust. I love a good crust but this was bordering on tooth breaking.

So, I hope that your bread turns out wonderful and you enjoy the sweet music of crackling crust from fresh baked bread. Happy baking!