Thursday, July 12, 2007

Pastry I

Pie crust

Pie crust has an undeserved reputation as being difficult to make. It isn't. But there are important points that aren't usually included in recipes, so I'll include them below. You may use a vegetable shortening, or you may use half lard (or shortening) and half butter, though the crumb will be shorter. Do not try to make a pie crust with all butter; if you want to use all butter, go with a short crust instead.

Too much fat makes the crust shrink when you bake it (if you've ever used those pre-made crusts from the store, they always shrink because they contain too high a proportion of fat). Too much flour will make your crust tough, which most people know. But too much water will also make your crust tough — and most people use too much water.

The überprinciple here is handle the dough as gently and as little as possible!

2 c. flour
1 t. salt
2/3 c. cold lard or shortening (butter makes an inferior pie crust)
1/4 c. ice water

Mix the flour and the salt in a large metal (not plastic) bowl — plastic absorbs some of the moisture and you invariably end up adding too much water.

You're now going to cut in the lard. You can use a pastry blender if you have one, a fork, or your hands. Using a mixer always gives sub-standard results. Don't. If you've never done this before, or if you've never done this successfully before, you can make this easier by cutting up the lard into pieces before you start. Add the lard to the flour and salt, and if you're using a pastry blender, cut the lard into the flour with rocking motions until the mixture looks like coarse meal. If you're using your hands, work as quickly as you can, working the lard into the flour with your fingertips, again, until the mixture resembles coarse meal (you want to work as quickly as possible if using your hands because your hands are warm).

Sprinkle the ice water on the top of the mixture, and mix together until the dough just holds together. I prefer using my hands, but you can use a wooden spoon or a scraper. Be warned: It takes longer than you think to work all the water into the flour and lard until it begins to ball up. Resist the temptation to add more water. It only looks like you need more water. Keep mixing, and the dough will ball up.

At this point, you may wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for a half hour. You'll get better results if you do, but it's not essential.

Very lightly flour the counter — very lightly. Cut the dough ball in half, and put half on the counter. Very lightly sprinkle the top of the dough with flour and roll it out to almost three inches larger than the (upper) circumference of the pie pan. Roll the dough lightly and quickly from the middle out, in all directions (no, it probably won't look perfectly circular like it does in the cookbook, and nobody cares — it will also probably be ragged, and that's fine too). Very gently fold it in half, then place it in the pan and unfold. Do not stretch it. You want the pastry to fit loosely. You also want the pastry to overlap the sides of the pan so you can seal it later. If the crust tears (shame! What did I say about fitting it in loosely?) dip your finger in water, then moisten the tear and gently push it together. Gently push the dough down into the pan from the top.

Fill the crust, then roll out the second half of the dough to the same size as the first. Fold in half, gently lay on top of the pie, and unfold. Working around the pie, fold the top crust under the overlap of the bottom crust and fold over again, then gently press down (for a single crust pie, fold the overhanging rim of the bottom crust under itself and the pan rim). Make a V with the first two fingers of your left hand, and while using them to press the rim out, use the index finger of your other hand between them to pull in, to scallop the rim (or you can do the fork thing). Cut slits in the top and bake according to the recipe directions.

1-2-3 Dough

This is a CIA recipe we used at L'Artiste. It's an all-purpose sweet tart dough recipe, and makes a crumbly product. It's fairly obvious where the name of the recipe comes from. It's quick, easy, with no cutting in, and makes as good a tart shell as any recipe. It works well as a cheesecake crust, too, though it would be odd as a replacement for a pie crust. Oh, if you have kids (or adults) who love cookie dough, keep them away from this.

1 c. sugar
2 c. butter, room temperature
3 c. flour
1 egg

Combine flour and sugar. Mix in the butter, then the egg, just until the dough holds together. Form into a ball, wrap in Saran wrap, and refrigerate for thirty minutes before using.

To use, press (do not roll this dough) into a buttered tart shell. Prick all over with a fork (or fill with beans) and bake at 350 for ten minutes, if using for a baked tart. If the tart is not baked, remove the beans (if you used them) after the initial ten minutes, and bake for an additional twenty minutes (total thirty minutes).

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