Nov 02 2010
Confession: Before last week, I had never really made a pie. Okay, there was this chocolate one and these mini tarts, but in terms of an old-fashioned, crusty, fruit-filled pie, I admit I’m fully intimidated.
Until Friday, that is, when our school day consisted of a workshop in basic pastry dough — that buttery, flaky, crumbly mixture that lines many a tart and pie pan. Everyone made either a Fresh Fruit Tart or a Tarte Tatin. Everyone except me, who was the lone soldier assigned to my instructor’s own Pear and Ginger Pie (finished product above).
Not bad for a first pie, right? And no, that’s not a fish cut out on top, it’s an acorn. And it’s probably not a shape I’d use again, considering the confusion that ensued.
I’m sure most readers aren’t as wimpy as I am when it comes to cooking traditional dishes, but if you do find yourself pie-phobic, please reconsider. A good basic pastry dough recipe, when executed correctly, will hold up to all kinds of shaping, crimping, cutting and general handling. But here are a few tips anyway.
Always use cold butter in the dough, and make sure to keep the dough as chilled as possible. That means chilling it in the fridge after every time you handle it, in addition to being careful not to work it much with the palms of your hands. Your body heat will warm it up faster than you realize, and your crust won’t be as flaky when it’s baked.
Chill the dough in the general shape you want to use it later. If you’re making a pie, you want it to be in a small, flat circle shape so that it’s easy to roll out later. One need only make this mistake once for it to set in.
Hold back on the water in your original recipe. You can always add more, but you can’t take it away, and you want your dough to be able to just barely form a ball for maximum crumbly goodness.
I sincerely wish I could share the recipe I used here, but I’m unfortunately not allowed to! Look for one that calls for flour, cold butter, a pinch of salt and water, and you should be fine.
My pie was filled with apples, pears, golden raisins and crystallized ginger, so it was very seasonal. Perfect for a Thanksgiving meal, come to think of it. But enough about me.
Here are a few of the Fresh Fruit Tarts made by my classmates, which all turned out beautifully. It’s just a basic crust covered with pastry cream and topped with layers of berries and kiwi. Even more gorgeous close up:
I’m on a mission to make one before all the summer berries are used up. But once they are, there are always these Tarte Tatins.
It’s a layer of caramel, cooked apples and a pastry crust all baked together, and I quite literally order it every time I see it on a dessert menu. Each student used a different type of apple — Braeburn, Granny Smith, etc. — to demonstrate how each variety cooks down differently. Braeburn was one of the best ones, for the record.
You can also see the wide range of caramel colors, some very dark and some just golden. Personally, I love the slight bitterness of dark caramel.
As much as I’ve enjoyed filleting fish and making pizzas, I find that I’m always most excited when pastry day comes around. There is something soothing about making desserts — and I LOVE decorating them. I’m happy to report that my piping skills are improving by the day.