The New York Times The New York Times Dining & Wine December 10, 2002  

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Dough for Pie or Tart

There are a number of options in making pie or tart dough: Cake flour or all-purpose? Shortening or butter? Mix by hand or with a food processor? The answers to these questions are, respectively: Use either flour, though cake flour is preferable for sweet pies, while all-purpose is better for savory tarts or quiches. Butter is preferable to shortening, which doesn't melt at body temperature and thus may coat one's mouth in a way most people find unpleasant. Mix the dough either way, though mixing by hand almost always yields better results.


Our recipe uses a classic French technique called sablage (after the verb sabler, meaning "to make sandy"), which calls for the cold butter to be mixed into the flour by cutting it with a bowl scraper.

For one 8- or 9-inch shell:
1 cup cake flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold butter
2 tablespoons and 1 teaspoon water.

By Hand:

1. In a bowl or on a cool surface, mix together the cake flour, salt and sugar.

2. Cut the cold butter into 1/2-inch pieces. Add the cubed butter to the dry ingredients and, using a bowl scraper, cut in the butter until the butter pieces are approximately the size of dried lentils (about 1/8 inch), working quickly to avoid melting the butter.

3. Move the butter/flour mixture to a cool surface if you haven't already. Form a well in the mixture and pour some of the cold water into the well.

4. Begin to combine the water into the flour/butter mixture. Be careful not to overwork the dough at this stage. (See below for notes on how to avoid such problems with your dough.) Add more water as needed until all of the dough is about the consistency of raw hamburger.

5. To ensure that the dough is well blended, remove walnut-size pieces and crush them against the work surface with the heel of your hand or with a plastic bowl scraper. 6. Gather all the pieces of dough together, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour (or freeze for 20 minutes), up to overnight, to relax the gluten.

By Processor or Mixer:

Combine the flour, salt, sugar, water and butter (in 1/2-inch pieces) in a processor or mixer. Pulse until the mixture is in pieces just larger than cornmeal, about 10 seconds. Do not overprocess (if overprocessed, the dough will begin to form larger clumps and will feel denser and less sandy.)

Notes on the Dough:

The amount of water needed to hydrate the dough will vary greatly depending on the amount of moisture in the flour.

If using a processor or mixer, stop and start the machine often to check the size of the butter.

The dough should always be well chilled before using.

Pieces or streaks of butter should be visible when rolling out the dough. If the pieces are so big that there is no dough sandwiching them, it should be folded several times and rolled out again. These large pieces will end up being holes after baking. If no pieces of butter are visible, the butter was cut in too fine or melted into the dough, and the baked product will not be flaky.

If the dough is extremely crumbly and cracks when rolled out, not enough water was added. You can try adding water, though you may need to start from scratch.

If the dough is extremely soft after sufficient chilling, too much water was added.

If the dough is elastic when rolling out, it has been overworked during the mixing. Resting and chilling the dough may save it, but overworked dough will not produce a tender crust.

The baked dough should be tender and flaky. Flakiness is the result of the pieces of butter sandwiched between the dough. When baked, the butter melts and creates steam, which forces the dough apart and then melts into it.

Rolling and Placing the Dough:

1. Sprinkle some all-purpose flour on a cool surface. Have some extra handy. Place the dough down and press down firmly on the dough with a rolling pin. Turn it 90 degrees and repeat.

2. Begin to roll gently, from the middle up, then back to the middle and down, rotating the dough between rolls. Sprinkle more flour on the dough and/or the surface if it starts to stick.

3. Roll to about 1/8-inch thickness.

4. Place the dough into the pie or tart pan by rolling it onto the pin, then unrolling into the pan; or gently fold it into quarters, transfer by hand and unfold in the pan.

5. Push the dough into the corners of the pan, making sure not to stretch or push holes into the dough.

6. Using a knife, trim off any excess dough (you can combine extra dough in a ball and freeze for a later use).

7. If you would like a decorative edge, crimp the lip of the shell with your fingers or a crimper.

8. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before adding the filling and baking.

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