There are very few recipes that you should bother committing to memory. Especially when cooking, a great meal comes from the artistry, improvisation and technique an experienced cook conjures. What's in season? What's in my fridge? What sounds yummy? How can I combine all of these things into one? You ask yourselves these questions and then whisk, braise, chop, season and transpose your vision into, hopefully, a great-tasting dish.
However, if there is one recipe worth memorizing, it's a great pate brisee. Sorry, pâte brisée. That's French for "buttery pie crust." Whip that one out at your next office party. This all-butter pie crust can be used for sweet or savory pies and includes five ingredients that you definitely have on-hand. Here's the recipe that I use and have memorized by Elise at Simply Recipes. Make it twice and you'll remember it too. Then, whip it out for quiches, pies and even hand-held dessert pastries. It will come in handy more than you think it might!
Step One: Do this right now. Cut one stick of unsalted butter into 1/2 inch pieces. Put your butter pieces into Ziploc bags and FREEZE. Better yet, do this with a few sticks of butter (separate bag for each stick)--this will come in handy when you want to make a top crust for that apple pie.
I always like to have frozen butter. It eliminates that moment that I'm sure we've all experienced: "I want to make a pie," you think. Followed by, "crap, I should've started this yesterday." Having really, really cold butter makes a flakier crust. The butter, when cold, gets distributed in tiny chunks throughout the dough. They melt while baking, creating minuscule butter pockets, away from which bready pieces fall away. At least, that's what I think is happening. It may be in my imagination. Or I may have seen that on an episode of Good Eats when I was halfway sleeping. Anyway, don't cite me on that one.
Step Two: In a food processor, combine butter, 1 1/4 cups flour, 1/2 teaspoon sugar (1 1/2 for sweet pies) and 1/2 teaspoon salt. The dough will begin to come together, but you'll need 2-4 tablespoons of icy water (you don't want to melt the butter) to get it to the right texture. Drizzle water in while pulsing until dough pulls away from the sides of the food processor and beads begin to form. I just watch the dough when adding water. It's hard to say exactly how much water is best, plus it'll depend on the humidity on a given day.
Don't overwork your dough! Too much friction will melt your butter.
Step Three: Turn dough out onto floured surface. Press the dough into itself a few times (thing of yourself making layers in the dough that you press down, thin out and then repeat, adding more thin layers on top of one another--not too many times, though!) and form dough into one disk. Wrap disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour. You can also freeze if your pie making is more than a day in the future.
Step Four: Take out your dough and let it rest on a tabletop for about 10 minutes (more if frozen). This makes rolling out easier. Roll out your dough until large enough to fit into your entire pie pan. Roll up your dough around your rolling pin, so that you can transfer to your pie pan without tearing. Here's a video to demonstrate (with Gordon, obviously):
Trim edges, leaving some overhang; crust will shrink when baking. Bake according to your pie recipe's specifications. With tarts and quiches, you may pre-bake the crust, in which case you'll need some beans or pie weights. For pies, you'll likely bake the crust with filling.