Welcome back! We've spoken at length about the various aspects of a pie crust, such as the liquids, types of flour, and even the types of fat you can use. You know what we haven't actually talked about, though?
Pie crusts themselves, including types and their various specialties and properties! There are many varieties, such as an old fashioned crust that your grandma got from a Betty Crocker book and perfected to actually taste like something, to something more new age and trendy, like J Kenji Lopez-Alt's vodka pie crust. The classic French pâtes are a mainstay of baking, and we'll be talking about them along with some other ones.
Pâte brisée: The OPC (original pie crust), this is what you mostly imagine when you think of pie crust. It's considered a shortcrust pastry, and the name translates to "broken pastry", referring to the way the fat is broken into pieces and incorporated into the dough. It has a lighter, more delicate texture to it due to the higher quantity of butter, generally being 3/5ths of the total ingredients used. Our famous all-butter pie crust used in all our pies is a pâte brisée!
Cream cheese: Doughs made with cream cheese tend to use it alongside butter. This crust is more supple than a pâte brisée, and is much more forgiving. The high moisture content in the cream cheese makes this dough easy to roll out, and imparts a slightly tangy flavor to the crust.
Cookie crusts: These tend to be made with cookie crumbs that have baked alongside some sort of binding agent, such as butter, resulting in a crumbly, delicate, and sweet crust. Examples include graham cracker, Oreo, and so forth, and they tend to work well for especially sweet or desert-like pies. I personally use them exclusively for ice cream pie, and they’re popular for use in key lime pies.
Pâte sablée: This crust is basically a sugar cookie dough that makes a crumbly, almost sandy crust--hence the name which translates to "sandy pastry”. This dough can be very soft, so rolling it out won't be easy. Instead, press the dough into your pie or tart pan, and bake the extra scraps into some delicious cookies!
Pâte sucrée: Literally translating to “sweet pastry", this dough is sturdy. This strength comes from more sugar and the addition of an egg yolk. The abundance of sugar within the dough impedes the formation of gluten strands, generating a pastry that falls apart in the mouth more easily than other types of crust. Perfect for tarts that will be unmolded, this crust will break cleanly under a fork, unlike a pâte brisée which will shatter into flakes.
Puff pastry: A variety of pastry dough notable for its fickle means of making and many layers. Also known as pâte feuilletée, puff pastry is made through a method known as “laminating,” where many layers of détrempe (flour with a little butter) and bourrage (butter with a little flour) are repeatedly rolled and folded on top of each other. When baked, steam is released from the butter, forming large air pockets, resulting in the flakiest crust. If you've had a croissant, you've had puff pastry.
Although the ones we've spoken of here aren't all the types that exist, you can see from this list alone that there pie crusts to chooses from. Be it the shortcrusts of French origin or something a little more outlandish (looking at you, cream cheese), there's a lot to choose from when you're making a pie.
Fun Fact: Puff pastry shares a number of similarities with an older variety of dough known as phyllo, a type of unleavened dough originating from the Middle East long before the invention of puff pastry. The appearance and texture of phyllo is more papery and crispy than puff pastry, and its use in popular Middle Eastern deserts such as baklava and spanakopita makes it a versatile dough. Some historians even have argued that phyllo dates back as far as the Ancient Greeks, although its documentation is unreliable and spotty.