Saturday, September 28, 2013

Trying to Make the Perfect Pie Crust


I've been nerding out about pie crust these days. It comes from a place of nostalgia, amateur molecular gastronomy and desire to create a variety of perfect crusts. People who can't eat gluten have the right to enjoy pie, too!

It started a month or two ago. I roasted vegetables, tofu and wheat gluten meaty chunks in a loaf pan for lunch at work.

At some point I realized my lunches needed more starch and fiber. I wanted that postprandial feeling of full. Feeling sated had become a quest some time ago.

I don't binge eat. At least, I don't in any way that shows to the outside world. A fair amount of food still goes down my gullet, though. Yet I often remain hungry without appetite.

I read, I believe at NutritionData.com, that protein, fiber and water act as main factors influencing sense of fullness. Long story short, they activate nerves in the stomach, hormones and neutrotransmitters that affect the sense of hunger and satiety.

Also I have experienced that slow-burning starches (like tapioca noodles) cut down on hunger pangs. They probably contribute to the same processes I mentioned above. Either way, doesn't hurt. We need to get easy energy somewhere.

Nostalgia-wise, I started making pie crusts back when Michi and I got together eleven years ago. I made a dinner pie with a mushroom-based thick gravy and veggies inside for when she returned from an out-of-town trip. Tasted great, but it got old, I moved on from the pie. Still some great, warm memories, though.

My first run at pie crust this time used the following ingredients:

  • Whole wheat flour
  • Vegan margarine (mostly soy-based)
  • Salt
  • Coconut sugar (most sugar uses an animal product bleach)
  • Water
I found it too thick, dry and tough. Enjoyable the first couple times, but I predicted it getting old easy. I played with proportions of flour and margarine. That experimentation made it too crumbly.

I thought of the Indian dish, dosa. Yes, the dosa dough usually comes off as too tough for a pie. Getting a crust that thin would make a good target, though. I could work on the texture later.

Years ago I tried making dosa. It didn't work well. I used either pea flour or garbanzo bean flour, not sure which. The result doesn't stick in my mind. It didn't work, though, it just plain didn't work.

Nonetheless, I tried garbanzo flour for pie crust. The combination of starch and protein should make a thinner, tougher crust, right?

Wrong. The result: maybe thinner, but too crumbly and fragile. I even mixed it with whole wheat flour to try moderating characteristics. It fell apart too much. It felt like eating soft cereal with vegetables in it. Not satisfactory.

I went back to the Internet. "The Pizza Lab: On Flour Types, Foams, and Dough" makes for great, innovative reading. Crust is a foam!

The main point of preparation involves breaking down the protein walls then having them glom together with new bonds. The article suggests using a food processor. It will help cut and break down the bonds better than rolling and mushing with hands.

I tried using the Kitchen Aid. The bowl ended up too big. The attachment couldn't reach all the dough.

Michi suggested I try our pastry/dough cutter. It accomplished the job. It cut through the dough and mushed it better than anything else I used. The final result improved but not as much as I would have liked.

"The Pizza Lab" article almost took for granted that gluten-heavy flour needs to be used. Despite taking on the defense of wheat gluten against haters who don't have celiac disease or allergy, I wanted to not depend on it. I wanted to think that any protein can do the job.


I felt desperate, though. The results didn't satisfy me. Either nature was wrong or I didn't understand nature. Nature can't be wrong. It is what it is. When Nature and Humanity disagree, Nature will always win.

Back to the drawing board. I will embrace the recipe known to work then play with it. I know my original recipe stays together. It only had one problem: too thick.

I won't consider using butter. I don't want to use animal products. Besides, we've found that the right Earth Balance margarine product substitutes for butter just fine.

Trying vegetable oil didn't help any, either.

I nixed using white flour, too. I think it increases blood sugar faster than whole wheat flour and has nutrients stripped away from it. Whole wheat flour also has more, better taste than white flour. Bleached flour bores my taste buds.

Powdered wheat gluten came to mind as a good compromise. Since I don't want to use white flour, why not go straight to the culprit that breaks down then bonds things back together? Again, I want to go back to the basics: wheat gluten.

I used a ratio of 1/3 wheat gluten and 2/3 whole wheat flour. Final results improved leaps and bounds. The crust ended thinner and remained intact.

Even the dough before baking came out better. It glommed together, stayed moist and didn't stick to my hands. I normally have to wash my hands before doing anything else, but I didn't have that problem.

It still needs some work, though. I want it thinner. Going thinner will help me understand how dough works better. I already have a couple ideas that I want to execute some day: calzones and empanedas with poutine inside. Should be fun.

Next time, I'll try 1/2 wheat gluten and 1/2 whole wheat flour. I hope it comes out perfect. Then I can stop focusing so much on figuring out my base model. I can get creative with it by producing different variations and forms. That's what I really look forward to.

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