The rich flavor, delicate texture, and versatility of pâte brisée have made it the standard at Martha Stewart Living and in this book, where it is used for pies and tarts both sweet and savory. From three main components — flour, fat, and water — plus a little sugar and salt, you get a crust that is incomparably flaky, yet sturdy enough to contain nearly any filling. An all-butter pâte brisée tastes best, but some cooks use shortening or lard for additional tenderness. The name pâte brisée means “broken pastry,” and refers to cutting the butter into the flour, either by hand or with a food processor. The butter-flour mixture should resemble coarse meal, with some pieces of butter the size of small peas, before cold water is drizzled into it; these bits of unincorporated butter give pâte brisée its famously flaky texture by releasing steam as they melt.
Pulse flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor (or whisk together by hand in a bowl). Add butter, and pulse (or quickly cut in with a pastry blender or your fingertips) until mixture resembles coarse meal, with some larger pieces remaining. Drizzle ¼ cup water over mixture. Pulse (or mix with a fork) until mixture just begins to hold together. If dough is too dry, add ¼ cup more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and pulse (or mix with a fork).
Divide dough in half onto two pieces of plastic wrap. Gather into 2 balls, wrap loosely in plastic, and press each into a disk using a rolling pin. Refrigerate until firm, well wrapped in plastic, 1 hour or up to 1 day. (Dough can be frozen up to 3 months; thaw in refrigerator before using.)
Shortening Variation: Replace ½ cup (1 stick) butter with ½ cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into small pieces.