Friday, April 3, 2009

The secret of flakey pastry

Trust me when I say I know flakey. I backed into my own barn (painted bright yellow) in the middle of the day while sober TWICE in one month. I saw the barn, but somehow forgot it was solid...? & that is just a small, recent example. I do flakey things with almost every breathe.

I think A's favorite must be the time I told Rick Smalley I was really sick of looking at all that bucky-sh*t & from now on if I found any magazines with C60 on the cover they were going straight into the recycling; A was interviewing for a job with Rick at the time. This turned out to be not such a bad thing actually. Rick's then-current wife had an I-cannot-believe-I-am-stuck-at-another-one-of-these-meet-&-greets look on her face most of the evening, but after I opened my mouth she perked up. I am sure A had mentioned why he was interviewing for this job, but it must have slipped my mind.

Now that my flakey credentials are established, let me pass along my recipe for flakey pastry. You can use it for empanadas or turnovers or you can roll it flat & use it for pie crusts (of the main course or dessert variety). Unlike most of my recipes, there will be some actual measurements involved. Please understand this means they are important, but it is still all mostly about proportion.

You will want a big mixing bowl with a wide opening (to work in) & another smaller bowl (for refrigerating the dough at the different stages). I like to mix in a ceramic bowl & refrigerate in a metal bowl, but that's me.

- in the large mixing bowl dry mix 3 cups of flour & of 1.5 teaspoons of sea salt (I think it matters but there are plenty who disagree). More flour than this will be unmanageable, so if you want 'more' you are better off making the dough twice.

- after these ingredients are well mixed (you can just keep spooning if through a sifter if you worry you will not be able to tell when the white grainy ingredient is well mixed into the white grainy ingredient), push it all into a mound in the bowl & make a small hollow in the center.

- add cold water to the empty center slowly. Stop, mix everything around a bit, make another hollow, add a bit more water, repeat (just like lather, rinse, repeat or faire mousser, rincer, répéter if you use salon brands). Ultimately it will about .75 cups of water, but in a humid climate it might be less; in a dry heat it will be more.

- during the repeats, slowly add 3.5 teaspoons of vinegar. I have always used a light (white wine or rice) vinegar, but someday I will use balsamic, just to see what happens.

- in a separate bowl, whisk 2 large egg yolks (or 3 medium or 4 small). Once all the water/vinegar has been absorbed by the flour/sea salt, mix the eggs in. The best way is with your clean, lightly floured hands. Keep a butter knife handy to scrape that sticky-eggy-goo back into the bowl every so often.

- it can be hard to see (it always looks not-quite-mixed), but you will be able to feel when it is well mixed. no really. Pat the dough into a ball shape & tip it into your refrigerator bowl (if you are changing bowls, which I really do recommend). Cover; you can use saran wrap or whatever & put in the fridge for not less than 30 minutes.

Now for the secret part. Earlier you should have taken one stick of unsalted butter & one stick of regular, lightly salted butter & put them on the counter to warm up. I should have mentioned this at the beginning but it is flakey pastry after all...

- in a small clean bowl (a third bowl, maybe), mix the two sticks of butter together. By the time you are finished, it should be easy to scoop some butter on a spatula & spread it evenly. The two sticks will be slightly different in color & texture, so you can see when they are blended. Do not substitute anything for this butter; margarine oils will separate & your pastry will not flake. Do not use either two salted sticks (too salty) or two unsalted sticks (wrong texture). One of each, I mean it.

- remove the chilled dough from the fridge, flour your counter (or board, but it will need to be a big board) & roll as flat & square/rectangle as you can. Let it rest for a minute or two. Then spread about 1/3 of the butter across the surface. Let it rest & then fold the dough back on itself. DO NOT KNEAD. Lift back into bowl, cover & refrigerate for another 30+ minutes.

- roll out, rest, spread another 1/3, rest, & fold. Back in the fridge & repeat one last time.

- after the butter has all been spread, leave the dough in the refrigerator for at least one hour. Overnight is fine, too.

Now you can move forward in an ordinary way. You will need to roll it out flat again & cut to fit your pie pan or dumpling press or whatever. Stuff with whatever please you. I have stuffed small empanada-style shapes with our regular pizza topping (cheese tomato sauce & broccoli in our house) , I have made larger ones filled with left-over chicken/potato/carrot casserole. Whatever you use, be sure it is either already cooked OR the cooking time will be adequate. If you are making a pie crust, bake (filled with pie filling) 350F for 35-45 minutes. If you are making smaller stuffed pastries, cook (filled with stuffing) 350F for about 15-25 minutes.

The secret is, of course the butter & how it behaves when cooked. You need thin thin layers of butter to create the light flakey dough. If you knead the butter in, the dough will not separate into layers, making light flakes & you will not get the desired effect or taste. It is still good, just not as good.

I have never made this recipe with anything other than butter but I was once served it made with margarine. Not only did it not flake, but it was a denser dough & did not roll out as smoothly. As a result, although it was lower in calorie it took more to make the pastry shells. I am sure it was not a calorie-for-calorie match, but if you ARE going to eat something fattening, shouldn't it be the best something it can be? If you are avoiding butter because it is a meat meal, let me suggest you go with something else all-together.

//the day I took these photos I used a whole wheat flour. I do not usually, but I did not have as much regular flour as I thought. As a result the dough was not as elastic & it did not spread as thin or fold as easily as it usually does. The results tasted different, but flaked just fine.

1 comment:

  1. really, this is why I love reading your blog. thank you!