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Secrets to great pâte brisée

The word pâte brisée is French, and it literally translates to “broken/shattered pastry” in English.  Why broken or shattered?  The word we would use in English is flaky.  Great pie crust is light and flaky, with lots of very light layers that are easily broken by a fork. 

Here are the secrets to making flaky, delicious pâte brisée:

1) Try to keep everything cold. 

The butter should be straight out of the refrigerator.  The water should be iced.  And until it’s ready to go into the oven, your pastry should hang out in the refrigerator, not on your kitchen counter.

2) Be gentle.  

Mix gently by hand, not with a mixer.  Don’t press down too hard with your rolling pin.  Resist the urge to pick it up the pastry and play with it.  Don’t handle it any more than you have to, and when you do, use a very light touch.

3) Don’t use too much water. 

A perfectly light, flaky pastry crust needs just enough water to allow it to be pressed together, but not enough to make it a wet dough.

4) Use good judgment. 

On the day you are cooking at home, your kitchen might happen to be humid, so you might need less water.  Or hot and dry, so you might need a bit more.  Or, your oven might be a bit hotter (or less hot) than our, so you might need another minute (or one minute less) cooking time than the recipe calls for.  The more you cook, the better you’ll be able to figure out when something is not quite right, and what to do about it.