Why Pastry Dough Is Like an Aged Relative (a Recipe and Meditation)

It can be difficult if not treated carefully. It cracks under the rolling pin. It can be tough if not handled gently. It can also be kind of magnificent in its simplicity and in its ability to handle all kinds of different situations.

 

Mostly, like grandma, pastry dough needs a lot of rest. Several stages of rest, which, if you’re in a hurry, can be really annoying. But if you don’t rest grandma — I mean, your pastry dough — it/she can really wreak havoc on your day, mostly in the form of shrinkage. (Insert Seinfeld shrinkage joke here; I don’t have it in me.)

What’s the difference between pastry dough and pie dough? They’re pretty close in the way you make them, but for the sake of simile I’ll say that pie dough is the big, showy, over-the-top, over-stuffed and over-made-up sister, and pastry dough is the practical, workmanlike and beautiful in a simple yet understated way sister. Or brother, you decide. That should be easy to remember. You work a lot more fat and a lot less binding agents into pie dough. It’s not expected to do much more than be pretty and tasty.

Put more simply, you keep your pie in the pie plate, right, and cut out wedges. You never expect to hold it in your hand and eat it. When you’re not drunk or a teenager, I mean. Pastry dough needs to be sturdy enough to pull the whole tart out of the pan and have it sit prettily on a serving plate or tray without falling apart, and not crumble in your hand.

There are a few easy techniques for making pastry dough, but I recently found a variation that I’ve never encountered before while thumbing through a copy of the wonderful Dorie Greenspan’s equally wonderful book, Paris Sweets. This one is from a flan recipe, given to Dorie by superstar patissier Pierre Herme, and I like it a lot. I call it inside out because it reverses my usual method of starting with flour in the bowl and adding stuff to it. Done in a food processor, this takes about five minutes.

And then grandma . . . I mean the dough . . . (always get the two confused) . . . needs to rest.

INSIDE OUT PASTRY DOUGH

(inspired by Dorie Greenspan’s “Paris Sweets“)

TIP #1: Leave the butter out overnight or for a couple of hours to get to room temperature before you start this.

STEP 1

Into the bowl of your food processor, throw together . . .

1 stick plus 5 T (or 180 grams total) unsalted butter

1/2 t salt

1/2 t sugar

3 1/2 T milk

1 egg yolk (here, Dorie calls for a HALF OF AN EGG YOLK! A HALF!! I use the whole thing)

Pulse this for a good 10-15 seconds to make it all smooth and creamy and no lumps left in the butter.

STEP 2

Now add . . .

2 C all-purpose flour

Pulse this until just combined, maybe 6-8 pulses. Not longer, or grandma, I mean the dough, will toughen.

TIP #2: At this point, it looks like cottage cheese (see photo, above). Not pulled together at all. Which is fine.

STEP 3

Scrape the whole thing out onto a sheet of plastic wrap and use the plastic to gather it together into a disc (or a disk). Chill this in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, or up to 3 days if you go away for a long weekend to, say, the Garden Isle of Kauai. Like grandma left covered with a warm afghan on her recliner chair, with the remote nearby, it won’t even know you left.

STEP 4

On a lightly floured surface or board, press the disc (or disk) down with the heel of your hand and then roll it out into a large circle (the size will be determined by the thickness, per Tip #3, below). Lay this onto a cookie sheet, cover in plastic, and let this chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, and up to a few hours (not enough time for Kauai, or even Maui).

TIP #3: And here’s the crucial thing about pastry dough, besides chilling. How thin do you roll it? If it were pie dough I’d go very thin, but in this case I want it to have some heft, so I roll it out to about the thickness of two quarters (see photo, above).

STEP 5

Now you’re ready to use the dough as the recipe calls for, either blind-baking it first (which means lining it with foil or parchment and filling it with pie weights or beans — I use both) and pre-baking it. Or filling it with whatever the recipe calls for and baking it as one piece. I’ll include instructions for both in individual recipes.

Good luck with your pastry dough! This is a somewhat tricky thing that might take a couple of tries, but once you get the hang of it you’re well on your way to impressing everyone with your mad, tart-making bad self.

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