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Pate brisee is a very light, flaky pastry dough. This dough is incredibly versatile, and it can be used in everything from quiche to chocolate tarts. It is also extremely easy to make, belying the myth that making pie dough is difficult.
You may also see pate brisee referred to as “pate brisee fine.” In French, this phrase literally means “short dough,” a reference to the fact that it contains a very high ratio of fat to flour. It is this ratio which gives the dough its unique properties, turning it crumbly, flaky, and incredibly rich. This ratio also makes pate brisee easy to work with, because it makes this dough more forgiving than other pie and tart doughs.
To make pate brisee, scoop out two and one half cups of flour, and then cut in one cup of chilled butter. Use a fork or spoon to mash the ingredients together, being careful not to let the butter melt into the flour. The goal is to create a loose, granular mass, breaking the flour down into small grains so that the mixture looks almost sandy. Next, dissolve a teaspoon of salt in a third cup of ice water, along with a teaspoon of sugar, and add the water all at once, using your trusty mixing utensil to pull the ingredients into the dough.
Next, wash your hands with cool water, and use the heel of your hand to smear the dough against the side of the mixing bowl several times. This smearing action will create a multitude of small layers in the pate brisee, causing to act almost like a puff pastry; the result will be a light, fluffy dough, rather than a dense, heavy one. Use your hands to gather the dough into a ball, which you can either roll out immediately, or chill for around an hour to make it more workable, especially if it is hot. This dough can also be frozen for up to three months, in which case it should be thawed overnight before use.
This pate brisee recipe makes enough dough for a covered pie; you can also halve it if you just need a bottom crust. For a sweeter dough, add more sugar; you can use up to a tablespoon in this recipe. For a more tart dough, cut down on the sugar, and up the salt a bit. Leave a little bit of sugar in your dough when you use it for savory recipes, as it will provide a nice counterpoint to the savory flavor. You can also add things like lemon zest, nutmeg, and ground nuts to the dough for extra texture and flavor.
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