What does gluten have to do with pie making?
We hear a lot about gluten these days…mostly because awareness around gluten allergies has increased, and many gluten-free products are now available. But did you know that understanding gluten is key to becoming a skilled baker?
What is gluten?
Wheat flour contains two proteins, glutenin and gliadin. When water is added to flour, the two proteins combine to make gluten.
How does gluten work in baking?
When flour and water are mixed or kneaded, gluten strands develop and lengthen, giving structure to the dough. This is exactly what you want when making yeast bread. Developing the gluten allows the dough to stretch (but not break) when yeast causes it to expand or rise.
When making muffins, cakes or pie crust you want to limit the development of those gluten strands, so that your baked-goods stay tender, crumbly or flaky. That’s why you don’t over-mix muffin batter, and you avoid over-working pie dough.
- 2 ¼ cups of all-purpose flour, plus some for dusting the work surface.
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoon sugar
- 16 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (2 sticks, cut into 16 pieces)
- about 6 tablespoons ice water, plus more as needed.
- Start by putting ½ cup of water in the freezer. Next, cut the two sticks of butter into tablespoon-sized pieces, and place in the freezer while you prepare the dry ingredients.
- Combine the flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl, or (preferably) the container of a food processor.
- The easiest way to make pie dough involves a food processor. It’s the best tool for cutting butter into flour. If you don’t have one, get a pastry blender. It is a hand-held tool with a curved set of blades and a handle.
- Pressing the blades into the butter and flour mixture, rocking and repeating will eventually get your butter incorporated into your flour.
- If you do have a food processor, use it. Pulse the dry ingredients once or twice. Add the chilled butter, and pulse repeatedly until the butter and flour are blended and the mixture looks like cornmeal, with some pea-sized chunks of butter remaining, about 10-20seconds.
- Dump the mixture in a bowl and sprinkle 3 tablespoons of the ice water over it. Use a wooden spoon or your hands to carefully incorporate the water. Add 3 more tablespoons, and continue to blend. Too much mixing will over-develop the gluten. Gradually gather the mixture into a ball; if the mixture seems dry, add another ½ tablespoon ice water. When you can make the mixture into a ball with your hands, do so. It’s okay if it is a bit crumbly.
- Divide dough into two pieces, wrap in plastic wrap, flatten into a small disk, and freeze the dough for 10 minutes or refrigerate for 30 minutes. You can also refrigerate the dough for a day or two, or freeze it for a month or so.
- Sprinkle a clean countertop with flour. Unwrap one of the dough disks and place it on the work surface; sprinkle the top with flour, and rub some flour onto a rolling pin.
- Roll from the center out. Don’t worry if it seems too stiff or hard to roll. It will soften as it warms up. Your goal is to keep it from warming too much. If the dough seems sticky at first, add flour liberally. If it becomes sticky after you have been working with it for a few minutes, return it to the refrigerator for 10 minutes.
- Continue to roll, adding sprinkles of flour as necessary. Rotate the dough occasionally, and turn it over once or twice during the process. This can take some practice. Don’t panic if it splits, or cracks or isn’t smooth and easy to work with. That means you haven’t used too much water, and have not overworked it. That’s how you get a flakey pie crust! You can use some ragged edges of dough to repair any tears, adding a drop of water while you press the patch into place.
- Roll until the dough is about 10 inches in diameter and around ¼-inch thick, or less. Turn your pie plate upside down over the dough to check the size (it needs to be about an inch bigger than the pan, all around). . Move the dough into the pie plate by draping it over the rolling pin and carefully flopping it into the pan. Press it firmly into the bottom, sides. Trim the excess dough to about ½ inch all around.
- Repeat with the other dough disk, but leave the second one flat, on a board or plate. Freeze both for 10 minutes (or refrigerate it for 30 minutes). Proceed with filling and baking.