I’ve seen a number of old pie recipes that use something called a hot-water crust. Can you tell me more about this type of dough, and do you recommend it?
For centuries, pastry dough was used mainly as a cooking receptacle. It wasn’t flaky, nor was it all that good. In fact, food historians debate whether it was even consumed. Hot-water crusts are one of the oldest forms of pastry; they were molded around a filling and baked free form, rather than in a pie dish. With a hot-water crust, instead of cutting cold fat into flour and then adding cold water, boiling water is whisked into fat (usually lard) until it forms an emulsion. This lard mixture is then added to flour. The result is an extremely pliable dough that’s easy to work with since it doesn’t crack or tear.
When we compared a hot-water crust in several recipes (quiche, deep-dish apple pie, and blueberry turnovers) with our Foolproof Pie Dough (Nov./Dec. 2007), we understood why it might not have been eaten in the past. It baked up so tender, some tasters called it “mealy”—the result of both its higher-than-usual fat content and the fact that “precooking” the flour with a hot-water emulsion causes some of its starches to immediately swell with water, making less of the liquid available to form structure-building gluten.
While a hot-water crust is simple to prepare and easy to work with, stick with our Foolproof Pie Dough if you want pastry worth eating.