No-fear pie crust

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Recipe from Cooks Country and used for icebox strawberry pie.

When it comes to frustration, few kitchen tasks can rival that of making pie dough. The rules are both precise (for optimal flakiness the fat must be very cold and cut into the flour just so) and maddeningly vague (recipes typically call for 4 to 6 tablespoons of ice water, or more as needed). And moving the pastry into the waiting pie plate is easier said than done. But buying a prebaked pie shell isn't the answer; these all-shortening doughs lack buttery flavor. We set out to find a pie dough that we could make without fear. Here's what we learned.

Test Kitchen Discoveries

  • A pat-in-the-pan pie dough is a no-fear dough because there's no need to roll it out or to transfer it to the pie plate after it's been rolled out. Conventional doughs are either too sticky or too stiff to be pressed directly into a pie plate.
  • Adding cream cheese makes pie dough easy to manipulate. In addition, both the acidity of the cream cheese and its fat promote tenderness.
  • The moisture in cream cheese replaces the traditional ice water, eliminating the guesswork about the amount to add.
  • As long as the dough is chilled when it goes into the oven, it won't shrink, so there's no need to use the pie weights usually required when baking an empty pie shell.

Recipe

Makes one 9-inch Pie Shell

The pastry can be pressed into the pie plate and refrigerated for up to 2 days or double-wrapped in plastic and frozen for up to 1 month. Once baked and cooled, the shell can be wrapped tightly in plastic and stored at room temperature for up to 1 day.

  • 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), softened but still cool
  • 2 ounces cream cheese , softened but still cool

1. Lightly coat 9-inch Pyrex pie plate with cooking spray. Whisk flour, sugar, and salt together in bowl.

2. With electric mixer at medium-high speed, beat butter and cream cheese in large bowl, stopping once or twice to scrape down beater and sides of bowl, until completely homogenous, about 2 minutes. Add flour mixture and combine on medium-low until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal, about 20 seconds. Scrape down sides of bowl. Increase mixer speed to medium-high and beat until dough begins to form large clumps, about 30 seconds. Reserve 3 tablespoons of dough. Turn remaining dough onto lightly floured surface, gather into ball, and flatten into 6-inch disk. Transfer disk to greased pie plate.

3. Press dough evenly over bottom of pie plate toward sides, using heel of your hand. Hold plate up to light to ensure that dough is evenly distributed (see photo 1 at left). With your fingertips, continue to work dough over bottom of plate and up sides until evenly distributed.

4. On floured surface, roll reserved dough into 12-inch rope. Divide into three pieces, roll each piece into 8-inch rope, and form fluted edge (photos 2 through 4). Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

5. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly prick bottom of crust with fork. Bake until golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool on wire rack. (If large bubbles form, wait until crust is fully baked, then gently press on bubbles with kitchen towel. Bubbles will settle as crust cools.)

Notes

Equipment
I used a 4-cup food processor, which I happened to already have out and slightly dirtied from making strawberry frozen yogurt. This was not a wise equipment choice in lieu of a stand mixer or even an electric hand mixer. The food processor blades didn't really combine the butter & cream cheese, a process I had to help along. However, once I added the dry ingredients, it did successfully create a dough. I skipped the rope stage.
Technique
I skipped the rope technique because the dough felt too soft to be rollable, and I didn't want to take the time to chill a portion of it. Because the dough was soft, my hands are warm, and I didn't want to dirty my fingers, I put a large piece of wax paper (several inches longer than the pie plate diameter) over the disk of dough in the pie plate and used a flat-bottomed glass to press it into the bottom and up the sides of the pie plate. (Next time, I will freeze the glass first.) I was in a rush and didn't take care to ensure that the bottom crust was even, so one half of the bottom was thicker than the other, and one side didn't have enough overhang to create a fluted edge.
Cooking Time
The crust took only 30 minutes before it was golden on the bottom. Next time, I will try using a pie shield or foil to protect the edges from over-browning.
The Verdict So Far
June 29, 2009 -- The crust is tasty. Brown as the edges got, they did not taste burnt the way that traditional crusts can. This one is toothsome and vaguely shortbready. However, it really sticks to the Pyrex pie plate. I did not spray the plate with nonstick spray, as the only can in the house was filled with gross-sounding additives. Nor did I butter the plate very thoroughly, so this could have been the problem. I can't help wondering how it is that such a greasy pie dough wouldn't be easier to lift from the plate. Next time, I will try greasing copiously.