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How to Make Pastry – a Refresher for the Holiday Season

During the holidays, basic pastry-making skills come in handy when you need to make pumpkin pie, mince tarts, little pastry-wrapped party appies and other festive goodies. Here are a few tips, plus a good basic formula, to take you through the season.

When making pastry, you need to use a solid fat. Lard and shortening will produce a flakier crust, while butter adds flavor – a combination of the two gives you the best of both worlds. In terms of flour, all-purpose is fine there’s no need to buy cake & pastry flour, which has a lower gluten content.

When mixing pastry from scratch, it’s important to keep the ingredients primarily the fat cold. Cold fat particles are what produce flaky layers. When butter and shortening begin to melt, they can become greasy and produce a heavy crust. There are many techniques cooks employ to accomplish this: freezing the butter and grating it into the flour, chilling or freezing the dry ingredients after the fat has been added, making sure the water is ice-cold, or using a pastry blender or food processor to cut in the butter or shortening so that their warm fingers don’t melt the fat as it is blended in. When you add the butter and shortening to the flour mixture, the mixture should be blended so that the bits of fat range from the consistency of bread crumbs to the size of small peas. Smaller pieces make your pastry tender, and the larger pieces make it flaky. This part can be done quickly and easily in a food processor just make sure you pulse it only until the mixture is crumbly. Don’t blend it to the point where it becomes completely homogeneous.

Once the fat has been added, or “cut in”, you’ll need to add your liquid. Using ice-cold water will keep the small particles of fat from melting. Many pie bakers swear by a teaspoon of vinegar in their pastry to keep it tender by preventing the formation of gluten, strands of protein that make pastry tough. It’s not necessary, but if you want to add a teaspoon of vinegar, stir it into your water. The amount of water you’ll need to hold your pastry together will vary depending on factors like humidity and the flour you use, so sprinkle a little at a time over the dry ingredients, just until the dough comes together. If you want to do this part in the food processor, pulse just until the mixture starts to clump together, then gather it into a ball by hand. Your second goal should be to handle the dough as little as possible mixing, kneading and rolling develops the gluten in flour, making it tough.

Classic Pie Pastry

For a single crust pie:
1 1/3 cups (330 mL) all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. (15 mL) sugar
1/2 tsp. (2 mL) salt
1/4 cup (60 mL) butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/4 cup (60 mL) vegetable shortening, chilled and cut into small pieces
3-4 Tbsp. (45-60 mL) ice water
For a double crust pie, or two single pie crusts:
2 1/2 cups (625 mL) all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. (30 mL) sugar
1 tsp. (5 mL) salt
3/4 cup (185 mL) butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/4 cup (60 mL) vegetable shortening, chilled and cut into small pieces
6-8 Tbsp. (90-125 mL) ice water

In a large bowl or the bowl of a food processor, stir together the flour, sugar and salt. Add the butter and shortening and use a fork, pastry blender, wire whisk or the “pulse” motion of the food processor to blend the mixture until it resembles coarse meal, with lumps of fat no bigger than a pea. Drizzle the minimum amount of water over the mixture and stir until the dough comes together, adding a little more a bit at a time if you need it. Gather the dough into a ball, flatten it into a disc, wrap it in plastic and chill it for at least half an hour. If you are making a double crust pie, divide the dough in half, making one half slightly larger than the other. (Your pastry can be prepared up to this point and frozen for up to 4 months; let it thaw on the countertop when you need to use it.)

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out into a 12 inch circle. Gently fold the dough into quarters to transfer it into a 9- inch pie plate. Unfold the dough onto the plate, center it, and gently fit the dough into the plate without stretching it. Trim the edge of the dough to within 1/2 inch of the plate rim with scissors or a knife. Tuck the edge of the pastry under itself so that it is even with the edge of the pan, and flute it with your fingers or press it gently with a fork to create a border.

If you have time, refrigerate the crust for about half an hour while you make the filling. Proceed with your recipe as directed.

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