Friday, November 22, 2013

Julia Child's Pâte Brisée Sucrée ... The Perfect Pie Crust

I love making my own pastry dough. It's actually my favorite thing to make in the kitchen. Pastry dough is way more fun to make than, say, cakes or cookies. To me, anyway... although I feel like I might be in the minority when it comes to this particular preference...

In fact, many people seem to fear making their own pastry dough, which is really sad because it's not scary at all! As long as you have a little patience and follow a good recipe precisely, pastry dough is a very manageable kitchen task to conquer. And boy are the results worth it -- it tastes so good!

I've fooled around with a number of recipes in the past, some that included interesting ingredients like vodka or apple juice. Some contained all butter, some had a mixture of different fats, some drastically reduced the amount of fat...

In the end, I like this classic recipe from Julia Child best. I haven't really strayed from it since I first discovered it in 2009. (Yes, this might have a little something to do with the release of a certain movie.) Julia's detailed instructions and accompanying illustrations about how to prepare the dough were very helpful, as were her explanations about accurately measuring flour, which I've incorporated into the recipe notes below. Most importantly, she taught me about the fraisage, or final blending -- something I had never even heard of before, in spite of reading and making countless other pie doughs. I'm positive that this technique alone has been instrumental to my success with pastry since adapting Julia's recipe as my own. 

The following recipe is all Julia, just put into my own words. I've also included several useful foot notes about pastry making that I've gathered from Julia, other recipes, and my own experience. Enjoy!

Julia Child's Pâte Brisée Sucrée (Sweet Short Paste, Pastry Dough, Pie Crust)
Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking

This recipe can be made either by hand or in a food processor. I usually make it by hand, but I was astonished at how fast and easy the food processor really made it. I've included directions for both, but if you've never made pie dough by hand, consider Julia's words on the matter: "a necessary part of learning how to cook is to get the feel of the dough in your fingers."
Yield: 1 nine-inch pie crust
1 cup (4.25 ounces, 125 grams) all purpose flour
1/3 cup (1.3 ounces, 35 grams) cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut in small cubes and chilled
3 tablespoons of shortening, chilled
5-6 tablespoons iced water

If using a food processor: Fit the bowl of your food processor with a steel blade; measure flours, salt, and sugar into the bowl. Pulse a couple of times to aerate and blend together the dry ingredients. Add butter and shortening to the bowl; pulse 4 to 5 times. Measure out 5 tablespoons of the iced water in a small bowl, turn your food processor on, and then pour it in all at once. Immediately begin to turn the machine off and on several times until the dough begins to mass together. If this doesn't happen rather quickly, dribble in the remaining tablespoon of iced water and continue to pulse the machine off and on. If the dough still doesn't begin to mass together, repeat one more time. Once the dough has begun to mass together it is done. Do not over mix the dough. Proceed to the fraisage.

If mixing by hand: Measure flours, salt, and sugar into a large bowl. Whisk the dry ingredients in order to aerate and blend them together. Rub the butter and shortening into the dry ingredients with the tips of your fingers until the pieces of fat resemble the size of oatmeal flakes. Do not over mix at this step; you don't want the fat pieces to be too small. Add the 5 tablespoons of water, all at once, as you use a cupped hand to try to form a crumbly dough and work to gather it into a single, shaggy mass. Add other tablespoon of water if needed to incorporate all flour into the dough. Firmly press the dough into a ball. Proceed to the fraisage.

The fraisage (the final blending): Place the dough on a lightly floured surface. Using the heel of your hand, rapidly press egg-sized blobs of pastry dough away from you in 6-inch smears. Do this to all sections of the dough, until what was once a mass of dough is now flattened. [The goal of the fraisage is to incorporate streaks of butter into the dough, which will help create a flaky crust; you will actually be able to see the streaks of butter throughout the dough.]

Gather the dough into a smooth, round ball. Wrap it in plastic wrap and allow it to rest in the refrigerator for 2 hours or in the freezer for 1 hour before rolling it out. Once the dough has rested, proceed to roll it out and use it with your favorite pie recipe.

-Uncooked pastry dough will keep in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. It can also be frozen for a month or two, but be sure to wrap it in wax paper and then seal in a freezer bag.
-Weighing dry ingredients is the most accurate way to get consistent results with any kind of baking. If you don't have a kitchen scale available, be sure to use the scoop and sweep method to measure your flour, in which your gently spoon flour into the cup measurement and then use a knife to level it off. This prevents the flour from being packed in, which happens when you use the cup measurement as the scoop itself. When you pack the flour in like this, you are actually getting a lot more flour than anticipated, which can definitely alter finicky baked goods like pastry dough. For more information on how to accurately measure flour, click here.
-I like to measure out the butter, shortening, and water first, then stick them in the freezer while I start to measure the other ingredients. By the time I need the butter, shortening, and water, they've chilled nicely.
-If you live in a humid area, making pastry dough can be quite challenging. Keeping everything as cold as possible really helps. Try working on a marble slab if you have it, freeze any bowls, etc. and crank up the A.C.! You might not need to use as much water either. I'd advise to start slowly with the water and keeping adding more as needed.
-Finally, try not to overwork the dough at any stage in the process. If it becomes hard to work with when you are rolling it out, just stick it back in the fridge (covered) for 10-15 minutes and come back to it.


  1. I can't wait to try this dough in the food processor, thanks Kristin!!

    1. Awesome, thanks Karina! I hope it works well for you. Feel free to give any feedback after you try it. :)

  2. Kristen, thank you for providing the mass (gram) measures. I know that conversions can be done using tables / nutrition data on the bag of flour etc., but it's much better to have metric quantities that in testing have actually worked.

  3. I have the Original Julia's' 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking',and nowhere does it mention shortening. Her recipe was all butter. There is no need to modify a great recipe. JP