Pastry 101: Pie Dough vs. Sweet Dough

sweet dough, pie dough

If someone had told me years ago that mastery of two basic doughs would bring all kinds of pies, tarts, quiches, pot pies and sugar cookies within my reach, I’d have learned these long ago. I have to admit that pies have always been intimidating, unless I break down and purchase a store bought crust. In the culinary world we call things like that “convenience foods.” And there are appropriate times and circumstances for convenience foods. Pie crusts no longer qualify.

Recipes for both of these basic doughs will follow in subsequent posts. Both doughs can be refrigerated for several days or wrapped tightly and frozen for a few months. You’ll never have to buy a crust again!

basic pie dough

Basic Pie Dough is also known as Pate Brisée (French for “broken dough”) and 3-2-1 dough. The 3-2-1 refers to the proportion, by weight, of flour to fat to water. This dough can be used in savory applications such as pot pies and quiches as well as sweet desserts including classic pies and tarts. This crust should be tender and flaky and is made quickly and easily by hand.

The science:

Flakiness in pie dough comes from chunks of fat- in this case butter- that melt when heated, produce steam, and subsequently form layers within the finished crust. Small, cold pieces of butter are flattened into small dime or nickel size disks and surrounded by flour. This is most effectively done by pinching the butter between your fingers… no special tools needed.

Tenderness comes from minimizing amount of gluten formation. Gluten does not begin to form until moisture is added to flour, and gluten is minimized by handling the moist dough as little as possible. For those reasons, we add water after our butter has been pinched into the flour. We also mix in the water until it is barely combined. When we roll out our chilled dough, we again minimize amount of handling.

sweet dough

Sweet Dough is also known as Pate Sucrée and can be used in tarts or other desserts requiring a sweet crust. It also makes an incredibly easy-to-cut and decorate sugar cookie. This dough is made with a mixer and yields a rich, crisp, delicate and sweet flavored product.

The science:

Room temperature butter is creamed with sugar in a mixer until smooth but not overly aerated to produce a uniformly distributed dough. The higher proportion of fat gives it a crispier texture and richer flavor. Flour is, again, added at the end to minimize gluten formation. This dough is very forgivable and can withstand more handling, rolling and re-rolling than can the basic pie dough.


2 thoughts on “Pastry 101: Pie Dough vs. Sweet Dough

  1. Good post! I am interested in pie crust. I was told every thing should be ice cold going into the pie crust including the butter, the water and even the flour. I also like to use part shortening because I think it makes the crust flakier, but that is just my opinion! Have fun practicing!

    • Your are completely right with the pie dough… the colder the ingredients the better your butter will hold its shape to produce flakiness. And it’s also true that vegetable shortenings (such as Crisco) will tend toward a flakier crust- they have the advantage of not becoming soft at room temperature. The downside of vegetable shortenings is the loss of flavor compared to butter, so using some of each is a perfectly great option to try to get the best of both worlds. Happy baking! 🙂

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