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The Secret of Making Pastry

The Secret of Making Pastry

Few people can make great pastry, even many professional chefs can't do it. Master this and you'll be in great demand!

Think cold.. cold kitchen, cold hands, cold ingredients, cold equipment. Cold is the secret of great pastry.

Make sure your kitchen is cold. If it's winter turn your heating off. If it's summer switch up your air conditioning. If you don't have air conditioning try to pick a cool day with no humidity. Never try to make pastry in a hot or humid kitchen. It will be a total failure.

Grab your ingredients (plain white flour, high quality unsalted butter, shortening such as Crisco, and water) and stick them in the refrigerator for a few hours. Sometimes I use spring water instead of usual tap water. Ingredients matter.

Get your equipment (knife, steel mixing bowl, cup measure, wooden rolling pin and pastry marble) and stick them in the refrigerator for a few hours.

Now prep your ingredients..

You'll need 2 cups of flour, but don't just scoop 2 cups out of the package, that would be a disaster. Use a sifter to sift the flour into the cup measure and then wipe the top level with the back of your knife. Put the 2 cups in the bowl, add a pinch of salt, and put the bowl to the freezer.

Take a stick of butter, cut it into small pieces about 1/2 inch thick and add it to the mixing bowl. Also add 2 tablespoons of the shortening.

Wait a few minutes for everything to chill down.

Hold your cold rolling pin for a minute to chill your hands, especially the tips of your fingers. Then put the rolling pin in the freezer.

Take out the bowl and using only the tips of your fingers break up the butter and shortening into small pieces. But only work for 20 seconds before putting the bowl back into the freezer for a few minutes. So, it's 20 seconds of work and a few minutes of freezer time. Repeat this until the butter is the size of flakes. Don't forget to chill your fingers before each work session.

Pull the bowl out of the freezer and add a small amount of the cold water. Mix with the tips of your chilled fingers or you could use a (chilled) wooden spoon. Repeat until the dough starts to hold together in a rough ball. This is an important step, be careful not to add too much water. The dough should not be sticky, it should be just moist enough to hold together. Return the bowl to the freezer for a few minutes.

Dust your countertop with chilled flour. Chill your hands, this time your palms. NOTE: If possible use a pastry marble in place of your countertop, but remember to chill it in the refrigerator for a few hours before use.

Take the dough out of the bowl, place it on the countertop (or pastry marble) and dust it lightly with chilled flour. Using your palm press the dough ball out into a strip in one straight motion. Collect it back into a ball, rotate a bit and repeat. Then repeat one more time. This process is just helping mix the butter and flour.

Sprinkle with flour and wrap the ball of dough in greaseproof paper and place in the refrigerator (not the freezer). Let it sit overnight. Yes, overnight!

Congratulations, you're done! You just made basic pastry. The French call it Pate Brisee. It's a top quality pastry. It can be used for a wide range of things such as pie crusts, fruit tarts, or even gourmet pizzas. Plus, it's used to make laminated (multi-layer) pastry. Master that pastry and you'll be regarded in awe! And laminated pastry is a critical part of croissants. Master those and you'll be a world class pastry chef! But for now let's be happy with Pate Brisee.

A note about using this pastry..

Be very careful how you use your pastry.

Roll the pastry with a chilled rolling pin. Always roll the pastry in one direction - away from you. Rotate the pastry and roll again. Never roll pastry back and forth. Never roll for more than 20 seconds. Return to the freezer for a few minutes to chill between each rolling. Use a lightweight wooden rolling pin. Don't use those fancy marble things, they are heavy and crush the pastry.

Make sure your oven is pre-heated to 350F. Never put pastry into an oven that's still warming up.

The type of oven matters big time. Pastry needs a quiet still oven. So if you have a convection oven switch off the convention feature. If you can't switch it off then you'll need to find another oven!

No matter what you're making always paint the pastry before it goes into the oven. For meat or vegetable pies paint the pastry with a beaten egg, sugar and cream mixture. For fruit tarts paint the pastry with an apricot preserve, fresh lemon juice and cognac mixture.

Blueberry Tart..

I use this pastry to make a blueberry tart. The filling is wild blueberries marinated in an apricot preserve, fresh lemon juice and cognac mixture. Roll out the pastry, paint it, add the filling and bake.

And finally a note for Blueberry lovers..

Try Huckleberries (in England they are called Wimberries). They are related to the Blueberry family, but have a more intense taste. Blueberries on steroids! They also stain like crazy, so in England the slang for Wimberry Pie is "Mucky Mouth Pie". It's one of my all time favorites!

Content written and posted by Ken Abbott