Long time pastry chef and culinary instructor, Cindy Mushet, knows everything there is to know about flours. If you're using all-purpose flour, make sure it's unbleached. Bleaching is unnecessary and, according to Cindy, doesn't taste as good. Bleached all-purpose flour has a lower protein content and doesn't absorb as much liquid as unbleached. This is especially important when making pie dough, a process that demands a precise amount of moisture. If a pie dough is too wet, the dough will shrink when baked.
Cake flour has the lowest amount of protein which means that it helps makes a very tender crumb. You won't get the same soft crumb with all-purpose flour.
Bread flour is a high protein flour, which means that it has a high gluten content. Cindy likes to use bread flour to roll out dough; use it as a dusting flour. It's low starch content doesn't stick to the dough.
Cindy's latest book is The Art and Soul of Baking.
Flaky Pie Dough
1 stick cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 to 4 Tablespoons cold water
1 1/4 cups (6 1/4 oz.) unbleached all-purpost flour
1 1/2 tsps sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1) Place the butter pieces in a bowl or on a plate and freeze for at leas 20 minutes. Refrigerate the water in a small measuring cup until needed.
2) Place the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of the food processor. Process for 10 seconds to blend the ingredients. Add the frozen butter pieces and pulse 6 to 10 times (in 1-second bursts), until the butter and flour mixture looks like crushed crackers and peas.
3) Immediately transfer the butter-flour mixture to the large bowl. Sprinkle a tablespoon of the cold water over the mixture and "fluff" it in, then add another, and another, until 3 tablespoons have been added. Continue to fluff and stir 10 or 12 times It will not be a cohesive dough at the his point but a bowl of shaggy crumbs and clumps of dough. Before bringing the dough together, you need to test it for the correct moisture content. Take a handful of the mixture and squeeze firmly. Open your hand. If the clump falls apart and looks dry, remove and large, moist clumps from the bowl then add more water, one teaspoon at a time, sprinkling it over the top of the mixture and immediately stirring or mixing it in. Test again before adding any more water. Repeat, if needed. The dough is done with it holds together (even if a few small pieces fall off). If the butter feels of and squishy, refrigerate before continuing, If the butter is still cold and firm, continue to the next step).
4) Turn the dough onto a word surface and knead gently 3 to 6 times. If it won't come together and looks very dry, return it to the bowl and add another teaspoon or two of water (one at a time), mixing in as above, and try again. Flatten the dough into a 6 or 7-inch disk, wrap in plastic or parchment paper, and refrigerate for 30 minutes. This allows time for the dough to hydrate fully and for the butter to firm up again.
5) If the dough has been refrigerated for more than 30 minutes, it may be very firm and hard and will crack if you try to roll it. Let it sit on the counter for 10 to 15 minutes until it is malleable but still cold. Dust your work surface generously with flour and set the disk on the flour. Dust the top with flour. Roll, turning the dough, until you've got a 14 to 15 inch circle about 1/8-inch thick. If at any point the dough becomes warm and sticky, gently fold it into quarters, unfold it onto a baking sheet and refrigerate for 15 minutes, or until the butter if firm again.
6) If a crack or hole forms while rolling, brush andy flour away and patch the area.
7) Fold the dough circle into quarters, brushing off and excess flour as you fold. Put the point of the folded dough in the center of the pie pan, tart pan, or baking sheet and unfold the dough, lifting it slightly as necessary to east it into the crevices of the pan. Do not stretch or pull the dough, which can cause thin spots, holes and/or shrinkage during baking.
8) Use a pair of kitchen scissors to trim the dough so it overhangs the edge of the pan by 1 inch. Fold the overhanging dough under itself around the pan edge, then crimp or form a decorative border. Chill for 30 minutes before baking.
Herbed Chicken Pot Pie
1 recipe Flaky Pie or Tart Dough, prepared through Step 5
3/4 stick (3 oz) unsalted butter
1 cup (5 1/2 oz) diced onion, about 1 medium
1/2 cup (2 1/2 oz) diced celery, about 2 stalks
6 Tablespoons (3 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
4 cups (1 qt) homemade chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup (3 oz) peeled and diced carrot, about 1 medium
1 Tablespoon olive oil
10 oz sliced mushrooms
1 lb cooked chicken meat, diced
1 cup (5 ounces) frozen peas
1 Tablespoon snipped fresh chives
1 1/2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
1 1/2 tsps finely chopped fresh thyme
1 large egg yolk
2 Tablespoons milk or cream
1) Transfer the circle of pie or tart dough to a baking sheet and chill until ready to use.
2) Melt the butter over medium heat in the saucepan. Add the onion and celery and cook, stirring occasionally with the spatula, for 5 to 7 minutes, until softened. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the flour. Whisk vigorously to blend the flour with the vegetables and butter. Return to the heat and cook, whisking, for 2 to 3 minutes (do not let the flour brown). Remove the pan from the heat. Add about 1 cup of the stock and whisk until the mixture is smooth and pastelike. This is your only chance to remove any lumps of flour, so whisk thoroughly. Once the paste is smooth, whisk in the remaining stock. Return the pan to the heat and bring to a boil, whisking frequently. Add the carrots. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.
3) Fill the large bowl halfway with ice and water and set it aside. Heat the olive oil in the sauté pan over high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring every 2 to 3 minutes, until deep golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Add the mushrooms to the filling along with the chicken, peas, chives, parsley, and thyme. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set the saucepan into the bowl of ice water. Stir occasionally until the filling is cool. (Chilling the filling prevents the flaky pastry from melting when it’s placed on top of the pie.) Scrape the filling into the pie pan.
4) Preheat the oven to 375°F and position an oven rack in the center. Brush the edge of the pie pan with a thin film of water. Transfer the dough to the pan, roll the edges to form a thick rope along the edge of the pan, then crimp or form a decorative border as desired. Any leftover pie dough can be used to make decorative designs, such as a chicken, on top of the pie crust. In a small bowl, beat the egg yolk with the milk or cream and use the pastry brush to lightly glaze the surface of the pie.
5) Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the filling is bubbling and the crust is golden brown and crisp. Transfer to a rack and let cool for 15 to 20 minutes. Serve hot, spooning filling and crust into wide, shallow bowls.
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