For me ’09 was the “year of the pie”, every holiday season my friends (my guinea pigs) expect to receive frequent deliveries at their door steps of pies, strudels, tarts, tortes, basically the result of my mad scientist experiment on whatever fruit or veggie I fresh-picked at some farm, orchard, or grove on the weekend.
No matter what I did to the filling, the crusts on my creature creations were always basically created the same way – mix very icy cold ingredients and bake very very hot. Well this changed in ’09 for me when I became obsessed with experimenting with the crust, after vacationing with my mom in the south of France. I was there in mid-October (well after the tourist season, when locals reappear in the streets). Mom and I were just driving from town to town following the coast, stopping in every little town on the map to eat, walk the village, chat with the people, and everywhere we went there were those magnificent French pastries.
In almost every restaurant, cafe or bistro, the kitchen was part of the dinning room and very open so you could admire the artists at work. After a few stops, I began to realize all the baking ingredients were out on the work tables at room temp, the eggs, butter, cream, etc. I was always taught to keep them ice cold.
Not only were all dairy products at room temp, but the flour was also tampered with before the butter was added. For example, a lemon tart had an entire lemon zested into the 2-3 cups of flour before the room temperature butter was rubbed in with fingers. Cream was used instead of ice water, sometimes salt sometimes not, and always a tablespoon of sugar. In all cases, the soft dough balls were then refrigerated for a while before rolling and baking, resulting in a thicker, more dense crust, but equally yummy.
So if you want traditional, flaky crust, you mix the icy cold ingredients, then bake really really hot, but you’re not going to be disappointed if you play with crust ingredients.
What I have found on my crust crusade are fun new tastes and textures. I have had the most success with the basic ratio of:
- 1 cup flour to
- 1/3(or a little less) cup butter to
- 2-3 tablespoons milk to
- 1/8 teaspoon salt to
- 1 teaspoon sugar
and I include in the flour a dusting (1-2 tsp) of the lead flavor or spice in my filling(cinnamon or lemon zest for example) and refrigerate for 2 hours before baking. Oh yeah, one more thing,( I’m probably the last one discovering this little trick ), I find it sooo much easier to roll dough on wax or parchment paper, most of the time you don’t need to “dust surface with flour” which is messy and sometimes hard to peel dough from, instead you just roll out the dough on the paper and pick up the paper, turn it over into pie plate let fall the dough fall into place, voila.
Maria Betar is Rachael’s sister and the baker in the family. See all of her recipes here!