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myths exploded

January 13, 2013

It was years before I could make pastry. The received wisdom in my family was that there was some special quality that you had  to have in order to be able to make pastry and this quality was quite rare (and, if truth be told, it wasn’t really a quality that was to be desired).  If, by some unfortunate quirk of fate, you had to make pastry I gleaned that it was almost impossible without the blessing of the aforementioned unattainable quality, and so the solution was to make a suet crust pastry which went on top of a meat pie, or a crumble topping which went on the top of  fruit pie.

All very well unless you wanted to make a pie with the pastry at the bottom. I had a few goes, but usually I made pastry that held things in, but no one in their right mind would eat – unless they were very hungry, or students, or both.

Then one day I watched a cookery programme in which the rabbi Julia Neuberger was taught to cook a sponge cake. All her sponge cakes hitherto had been flat and either slightly crispy at the edges or rubbery. She thought she didn’t have the cake making gift, but her teacher (and I can’t remember who it was) told her that she just needed to follow the  recipe. Julia scoffed – who needs a recipe to make a cake? The teacher watched her as Julia weighed out 6oz of flour. “That can’t be enough!” declared the rabbi and was about to add another tablespoon when the steadying hand of the experienced cake baker stopped her. At the end of the tutorial there was a perfect, fluffy cake. Julia was amazed – and I was too.

pastry1 pastry2 pastry3 pastry4pastryI looked in a recipe book at a pastry recipe and instead of putting warm butter into flour and mixing it together for ages and then adding water and  kneading the lot before rolling it out, it suggested I put cold butter into cold flour and gently rub it in with cold fingers. My fingers are always cold.

Then you have to add just the right amount of water little by little, stopping before the lot gets wet, and gently gather it into a ball. After all this it must rest in a cool place for an hour before it’s used and, because it’s had a rest, when you want to roll it out it behaves beautifully and you don’t need lots of flour to stop it sticking. In fact sometimes it’s better to have a little grease on your rolling out table not flour.

The result was remarkable. Edible pastry. A wonder to behold.

Note to my lovely children: it doesn’t mean I’ve followed the recipe, it just means that I’ve followed the method – and there’s a world of difference.

Pastry. Use either metric or imperial weights. Weigh 6oz/175 grams of plain flour into a bowl and add 3oz/85 grams cold butter chopped into bits. Rub the butter and flour between your fingers until it looks like breadcrumbs. Add water to bind it together – 50ml or 2 fl oz –  a bit at a time and mix it in with a fork at first until the pastry holds together, but isn’t sticky. (You may not need all the water, or you may need a little more depending on how dry the flour is). Gather the pastry into a ball and leave to rest for an hour before you use it. When you do roll it out, don’t stretch it to line the dish. Roll the pastry out enough to generously cover the area required and tease it into the dish pushing it into the corners rather than pulling it over. If you like you can have a Cinderella moment as you cut the excess pastry off with a knife while singing…

This will be enough pastry to line a 9″ flan case.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 14, 2013 12:43 am

    Loved the post. I can cook, bake, sew, garden, tend animals, do an assortment of DIY projects, and a host of other things. However, I’ve never been able to make pie crust that could be enjoyed. I’ll be trying your suggestions.

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