I’m not a huge fan of crusts.
Sometimes I just get into an anti-crust mood. Sometimes it is halfway through my grilled cheese sandwich. I just don’t want any crust. It applies to baking too.
Pie crust in my house was usually frozen and I think that is what did it. When my Gramma would come over with lemon meringue pie, it would be awesome. But Gramma does pies. Mom doesn’t do pie. She does do a mean banana loaf, but not pie.
In University, Ash and I made a mean apple pie. We even did a “Which Fat?” pie crust test. Unless you’re a veggie: all lard, all the way. No matter what they tell you, you cannot substitute oil in pie crust. Don’t even think about it. As for butter, it works O.K, but is better suited to other crusts. I’m getting there.
I reckoned I had the pie crust down, but had a hankering for delicious Parisian tarts, with chocolate or lemon custard. So when the Bordeaux Quay offered an online deal on their cookery school, I jumped at the chance of the pastry program. We made three types of pastry in the evening: Hazelnut Sables (similar to a shortbread), Shortcrust (with savoury filling), and a Sweet crust pastry.
Pastry has this habit of freaking people out; they revert to frozen shells and have children that scrape out the filling in pie and hide the rest under a napkin (until they go to Paris and dine for 4 days entirely on tarts). But pastry is really quite simple, can be filled in numerous fashions, can be made and stored ahead of time, and is WAY cheaper to make. Because you and future generations deserve good pastry, I will pass on my collection of tips (and the scrumpdiddlyumptious recipes from the Bordeaux Quay).
~ Cold everything. Really. We’re talking bowl, flour, fat, water, even hands. If you are hot handed, keep a bowl of ice beside you to stick your hands in.
~ Pre-cut your fat into pea-sized pieces before you work it into your flour. This makes it so when you do cut it in, you have minimal amount of work to do to make it the texture of coarse breadcrumbs.
~ Work your dough as little as possible. You do not want to develop gluten in your dough.
~ Chill and rest your dough. Ideally, begin with your cold ingredients, cut in your fat, chill (20min), add your water/egg to bind the ingredients, chill (20-40min), then you can roll it out.
~ You can chill your dough for 2-3 days as long as you wrap it well. (You can freeze it for even longer – yes, you too can have frozen pie crusts!) Chilling makes the dough easier to roll and a flakier crust.
~ For pie crust, use all lard. For a sweet crust, use all butter. For short crust, use 1/2 butter and 1/2 lard – all should be cold.
~ For Sables, disregard the cold bit and use room temperature butter.
~ Icing sugar. Icing sugar is like gold for pastry. It combines much nicer with the fat so you don’t get gritty pastry.
~ Adding things into your pastry is a tasty idea. Think vanilla beans, cinnamon, or lemon zest for sweet; maybe some garlic or cayenne for savoury.
~ Only add enough liquid to bind the dough together, add it gradually but quickly to ensure the flour will absorb it.
~ Using egg yolks to bind will give a much richer pastry; adding an egg yolk will give the dough a bit of a rise – handy if you are making a pasty.
~ Don’t be afraid to really flour your surfaces. You can always brush the excess flour off with a soft brush after.
~ Always rotate your dough when rolling it out.
~ You can roll dough out ~3 times before it gets tricky to deal with.
~ When placing it into the pan, don’t stretch – ease the dough in, working with an excess.
~ Bake blind by crumbling up parchment paper and easing it into the corners and filling with baking beans. Bake ~15 minutes, remove paper and bake for another 5 minutes to brown.
Feel a bit more confident? Good. Now go, my pretties and bake tarts.