I have to admit I was both excited and nervous for this week's cooking class, because I knew our assignment was making pie pastry from scratch.
There's an art to the perfect pie crust, I know that. My mom's figured it out - she makes a variety of pies, notably pecan, pumpkin and apple, and the crust is always flaky and buttery.
I love to bake but I've been daunted by pie pastry all this time - preferring to stick to cakes, cookies, and squares.
But on Tuesday I was forced to make my first attempt, and I have to say, it wasn't all bad. The theme for the class was eggs, and making the pie pastry was just the first step in assembling and baking a Quiche Lorraine (with mushroom, bacon, cheese, onion, Emmenthal cheese among the filling ingredients).
Chef Marty gave us a number of tips for making a thin, flaky pie crust. First, measure out the required amount of chilled butter and dice it into small chunks. Then put the butter bits back into the fridge along with some ice water for making the pastry. Mix the flour and salt together, then take out the chilled butter bits and work them into the dry ingredients using your fingers. The mixture will be chunky at this point. Then pull the water out of the fridge and start adding a small amount at a time just until the dough comes together in a ball (you may not use as much as the recipe calls for).
Wrap the ball of dough in plastic, place it in a bowl and refrigerate it for half an hour. Once it's chilled, unwrap it and roll it out on a floured surface, using a floured rolling pin. Keep the dough moving, turn it over from time to time as you're rolling, and roll in opposite directions, so that your pastry is an even thickness. You're looking for a thickness of 1/4 inch to 1/8 inch.
When the dough is the desired thickness, place the rolling pin on top of the dough at the end farthest from you. Then roll the dough around the pin, towards you, until you've wrapped the entire circle of dough around the pin. Then, unroll the dough over the pie dish you're using. This is a nice trick to get the dough into the dish (hopefully) without tearing it.
Press the dough into the pie dish without stretching it - remember you don't want your crust any thinner than it already is. Lift up the excess crust from around the pie plate to aid with filling the corners and sides with your pie pastry. Use the tines of a fork, or your fingers, to create a pattern around the edge of the crust. Remove the excess dough, but remember to leave a bit extra because the dough will shrink somewhat as it's baking.
Your recipe may call for you to blind-bake the crust before adding the filling and baking the rest of the way. We did this for the quiche, and to prevent the crust from bubbling up or rising we docked (or pierced) the crust with the tines of a fork. another method is to place a sheet of parchment paper over the crust and fill it with pie weights or uncooked beans. Then you place it in the over for the specified time (I blind-baked mine in a convection oven at 350C for 10 minutes).
Then, remove the crust, fill it with whatever you're using, whether that's fruit, custard, or in my case quiche filling, and continue to bake until the filling is cooked and the crust is golden brown. In the powerful convection oven my quiche only took about 8 minutes to set.
As for the all-important tasting? Well aside from the fact that my crust was a little darker brown than I'd like around the edges, it tasted really nice, and the quiche filling was delicious.
I'm going to try another pie crust this weekend, for the practice. I'm thinking a lemon tart might be nice!
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