(Chinese versions coming soon)
I should’ve known that I’ve been an all-around, bonafide crust-person since the beginning. I mean there were signs… moments when I found myself eyeing the crust others left behind from their pizza and seconds later realizing frantically that I’ve stared too long. Or moments when I stood by the pastry counter and parents thought I was fixated on the glistening strawberries on the tart, but in fact I was secretly lusting over the pastry shell with all its beauty and luscious, buttery flaky-ness. But it wasn’t until I started making my own crusts-of-any-kinds that I had the final epiphany. It was at the particular moment when I found myself crouching by the kitchen counter and scavenging on pie-crust scraps that I finally came out of self-denial and made peace with the fact – I’m a crust person.
And among the stars in The Hall of All Crusts, Thomas Keller’s quiche shell is I’d say the best. Easily adapted for salty or sweet and only takes a few turns in the mixer, his recipe will deliver a buttery crust so flaky and full of layers that it can practically disguise as puff pastry. My admiration for his ingenuity is well documented in previous posts, alongside the 20+ steps that came with it… which admittedly I didn’t enjoy much. But then I realized that the most hated steps of all time – the pre-baking procedure – is an oppressive act against the pie dough. Pre-bake procedure is when you place something heavy (usually beans) on the dough to prevent it from puffing up in the oven…
Now, this is where I feel a bit sorry. Pie doughs have rights. It is built inside their DNA to puff and rise… all those butter bits cut into it screaming “Push! Push!”. Trying to kill it would be like trying to stop cats from scaring me, and to ban dogs from making me laugh. It isn’t right. So as a crust activist, I’m going to initiate a little Operation Freedom Crust here. I propose a place where pie crusts are allowed to puff freely and be what they want to be. A place where they can rise tall and say, “We are more interesting than what we were made to hold.” And given the chance, they’ll prove that they have more to offer puffed-up than weighed-down…
That they can be satisfying treats all on their own. In this case, kind of half cookie half cracker, and come out of the oven ready to eat. But if you feel like dressing them up a bit, I understand too. For example, chocoed-up, sliced in half and become a custard sandwich. Yes a Napoleon, but without the need of puff pastry! Before I completely lose it, go insane and attempt my own puff pastry at home, I’m gonna say that this flaky, buttery pie crust is good enough to replace it.
Servings: 16 ~ 18 sandwiches
- 1 3/4 cups of flour
- 1/4 cup of coco powder
- 3 tbsp of sugar
- 1/4 tsp of salt
- 1/2 tsp of ground cinnamon
- 200 g of frozen butter (use 225 g if you want it to be extra buttery)
- 4 ~ 5 tbsp of iced water
Vanilla Custard: adapted from Smitten Kitchen
- 2 cups of milk
- 1/2 vanilla bean
- 6 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup of sugar
- 6 tbsp of tapioca flour/starch
- 4 tbsp of unsalted butter
Your Favorite Jam: I’m using black cherry jam
To make the custard:
The custard needs to be chilled overnight in order to reach a certain thickness. This recipe is adapted from the Smitten Kitchen.
Slice the vanilla bean in half and scrape off all the seeds. Add the vanilla pods, seeds and milk in a sauce pot and bring to a simmer. Turn off the heat and let it sit for 10 min then discard the pods. Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks and sugar in a stand mixer with a whisk attachment until they are fluffy and airy, then add the tapioca starch and mix until combined. Keep the mixer on low, add the warm milk 1 ladle at a time into the egg yolks mixture and you will have what is now a custard mixture. Pour everything back into the sauce pot and set it over very low heat. Keep whisking until the custard starts to thicken and bubbles ever so slightly. Take it off the heat immediately at this point and keep whisking for another minute (to prevent the custard from curdling at the bottom where the pot is still hot). Chill in the fridge overnight before using.
To make pie dough:
Cube the unsalted butter and freeze them for 20 min. Sift flour, coco powder, sugar, salt and ground cinnamon into a bowl then divide it into 2 portions.
In a stand mixer with pedal attachment, mix 1/2 of the flour mixture and all the frozen butter together on low until they are COMPLETELY blended together (no visible butter bits). Get the iced water ready during this time. When the butter is completely blended into the flour, add the other 1/2 of the flour mixture in and start mixing again. Add the iced water 1 tbsp at a time until a dough forms. This will take approximately 4 ~ 6 tbsp. Stop the mixer at this point and transfer the dough and all the loose bits onto the counter. Knead slightly JUST TO incorporate all the loose pieces, then pad it into a flat disk. Return the dough back to the fridge to chill for 30 min, or the freezer (for the impatient like me) for 15~20 min. The dough can be made the day before and be kept in the fridge.
Flour the working surface and the rolling pin. Roll the dough out into a 5 mm thick rectangle (as rectangular as possible). The dough can be quite hard in the beginning but keep working at it. It’ll give. Use a sharp knife and slice the dough into 3 cm x 10 cm rectangles (approx 1″ x 4″). Gather the scraps again into a ball and repeat the steps. Stack these rectangular pieces together and put them back into the freezer for 20 min.
Preheat the oven on 375ºF/190ºC. Lay the rectangular pie dough onto a sheet pan and brush the top with egg wash (beat 1 egg + 1 tbsp of water together). Bake in the oven until puffed and golden. Approx 20 min.
Let them cool on a cooling rack then you can eat them like cookies. But if you want to go the extra miles:
Use a sharp knife and slice the pie crust in half. The crust is VERY flaky and fragile so you may want to take it slow. Stuff the layers with custard and your favorite jam and dust with powder sugar.
I think they are even better after chilling in the fridge for a couple of hours.