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“Making dough is a zen sport!” This is my choice phrase, the phrase I use to send the message to students in my culinary classes to relax and “go with the dough”. Whether teaching a one-on-one in a residential kitchen or a group in a commercial cooking class, the same fear of pastry dough grips  all my students. Fear of failure and the inability to execute a tender flaky crust, rolled thinly, in a near perfect circle.

My students tend to cook mostly with their minds, relying solely on recipe directions and ignoring their senses. Zen, like baking, requires focus and a togetherness of body and mind. I ask my students to use their minds and their senses, to pay attention to feel and touch in conquering the perfect crust. I remind them that each failure holds a lesson like a riddle waiting to be solved. I encourage them to learn with their eyes and their hands, for in partnership with the ratio in a recipe, their senses will lead to success.

Tender Pie Dough-enough for double crust or two single crust pies

Ingredients: prep and measure before beginning

2 and 1/4 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

4 ounces unsalted butter, cold

2 ounces shortening, cold

3/4 cup ice cold water + 1 teaspoon red wine or apple cider vinegar

Step 1: Sift together 2 and 1/4 cups all purpose flour (I prefer unbleached) + 1 teaspoon sugar + 1 teaspoon kosher salt.

Step 2: Place dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer. If mixing by hand, use a large bowl. In stand mixer, mix on low speed for 1 minute. By hand, mix and fluff dry ingredients with a fork.

Step 3: Cut 4 ounces of cold unsalted butter + 2 ounces of cold shortening into 3/4 inch pieces. If butter or shortening is soft or warm, return to refrigerator to cool and harden before proceeding.

Step 4: Add cold butter and cold shortening to dry ingredients. Set stand mixer (with paddle attachment) on low speed. Combine mixture until the butter and shortening are well distributed and the butter bits are the size of peas-this will only take a minute or two.

If mixing by hand, use two dinnerware knives and pull them in opposite directions through the mixture, “cutting” the butter and shortening into the dry ingredients. Turn the bowl every few cuts when working by hand.

Note: Do not over mix or form a totally blended dough (this is not cookie dough!)! The desired result is to have small, visible pieces of butter and shortening in the flour mixture.

Step 5: With mixer on lowest speed, slowly drizzle 1/4 of the vinegar-water into the mixture. Continue to add in small increments (I like to add by Tablespoon) until the dough is moist and begins to hold together.

By hand, use a fork to mix, pulling the fork under and over the mixture as well as around.

Note: This step is a challenge for my beginner baking students. As little as 1 Tablespoon of water can change the outcome from just right to over moist dough, creating a stiff v tender crust.

Note: The amount of liquid will vary depending on conditions like the age  and type of the flour and humidity in the environment.

Pick up a hand full of dough and gently squeeze. If the dough holds together it is done.

Note: Dough appears dry and crumbly in the bowl.

Step 6: Dump the contents of the bowl on a clean surface and gently pull together any stray pieces or bits of flour. Knead for one minute just until dough pulls and holds together. A sign of just enough mixing are the visible striations of butter and shortening.

Cut the dough into 2 pieces, weigh for accurate and even division.

 Step 7: Cup your hands on the side of the dough, turn a few times between hands and form the dough into a circle. Flatten the dough with your hands. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes before rolling.
Note: Dough can be refrigerated overnight, if refrigerated longer than 30 minutes, set on counter 10 minutes before attempting to roll. Roll while still chilled. Dough can also be frozen up to 3 months. Defrost frozen dough overnight in refrigerator before using.

Step 8: Sprinkle a clean flat surface with flour in a wide circle. Sprinkle a little flour on the surface of the dough. With a rolling pin, roll the dough from the center to an outer edge. Do not roll down and over the edges as this will “glue” the dough to the counter and create an uneven surface.

Tip: No rolling pin? Use a clean wine bottle!

Move the rolling pin a quarter circle turn each time you roll to create a circle shape. (Rolling back and forth creates a rectangle or square.) Gently lift and turn the dough every few rolls. Roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness.

To lift dough from counter: begin with an edge and gently roll dough around pin, lift and place in pie pan.

Trim all but 1 inch border of excess dough from side with a scissors or a knife. Crimp with fork or finger and thumb.

If dough sticks to the counter surface, slide a thin metal spatula between counter and dough to release.

Note: I use a butter and shortening recipe for my pie crust. Butter for flavor and a bit of shortening for tenderness. I also add vinegar to the water, again for tenderness.

Variations: Alter the ratio of butter:shortening depending on recipe, or if confident make an all butter crust. The key is very cold fat, butter or shortening and very cold water.

Use this same method to make a savory crust for quiche or tarts-just omit the sugar.