Thursday, June 7, 2012

King Arthur Flour Blog & Bake 2012 - Part 5!

I was very lucky to be invited to this year's King Arthur Flour Blog & Bake (Don't miss Part 1, Part 2Part 3, and Part 4).

As my readers may be aware, I have suffered from pie crust anxiety in the past.  I have recently learned to make a decent crust, but the opportunity to learn pie crust from the masters at King Arthur Flour was so exciting I had a hard time containing myself.

Our instructor for the Portable Pies class was Robyn Sargent.  Despite what is says on the white board behind her, she is neither short nor flaky.

We learned how to make two different kinds of pastry crust - basic all butter pastry crust (with which we made brown sugar and cinnamon toaster pies), and a half butter-half lard pastry crust (with which we made chick pea and chorizo empenadas.  That's right.  And yums).

For both of these crusts, we used unsalted butter and all-purpose flour.  Higher protein flours would result in a chewy crust, and lower protein flours would result in a "short," or cookie-like crust.  While Robyn told us that food processors are a great way to make pie crust - simply pulse gently with a metal blade - she wanted to teach us how to do it right by hand.

You may be wondering about the lard.  It is traditional in things like the empenada dough.  Robyn asserted that lard has gotten a bad rap.  This is because it must be fresh, as it can easily go rancid, and that's just nasty.  While lard is saturated fat, it's at least a natural fat, and not full of chemicals and processing.  So there is that.  I still don't see myself going out and buying lard, but she made a valid point.

The key to good crust is to reach the magic spot between "short" and "flaky" - and the best way to do this is to cut your butter into the flour in two different sizes.  Mix in half the butter in small pieces until the mixture resembles corn meal.
Big hunk o' butter

For the second half of the butter, you want it in rather large pieces.  Toss these in flour, and then flatten them one at a time and put them back into the bowl.  This doesn't have to be perfect, but it will create great flakes in your crust.

That's a nice pie dough
Robyn advocates mixing the flour and butter mixture with your fingertips.  The flour insulates the butter a bit, so it shouldn't melt.  You want to add in just enough ice water so that the dough holds together in a ball, and once the water is added, it's easier to toss it around with a bowl scraper.  If your dough is cracking, you need to add a little more water.  Robyn added it a tablespoon or two at a time.  The ball should form and begin to essentially clean the bowl as it forms.

Bloggers making crust
When the bowl is formed, you need to wrap the ball in plastic wrap and flatten lightly into a disc.  Then, it needs to chill for about half an hour.  This resting will allow the flour to completely hydrate, and it will relax the gluten, so that your final crust is smooth.  Visible butter ("VB") is a really good thing.

Another important lesson we learned was on rolling dough.  If you saw your rolling pin back and forth willy nilly, it will toughen the dough.  The best way to roll is to start in the middle and press outward, then flip, and repeat, until your dough is uniform thickness.

Now, for the toaster tarts, we rolled the dough into two even rectangles.  Yes, a ruler was used.  We used the ruler to press the dough into a good rectangular shape, and to measure out our dough so that the top and bottom crusts would be the same size.  The filling we used was the brown sugar and cinnamon filling that is listed on the recipe I linked to above.

For the empenadas, we cut the crust with a fluted round cookie cutter, filled with about a tablespoon of filling, folded over, and pinched shut.  These were treated with egg wash.

Finished toaster tarts

Finished empenadas

That's a nice flaky crust.

Now that we knew how to make pie crust, our next class brought it a step further, and we learned how to make what King Arthur calls "Blitz Puff." 

This is not traditional puff pastry, but is similar in applications.  It does not have as many layers as traditional puff pastry.

Our instructor for the Blitz Puff course was Susan Miller.  She was lovely, and you can tell that she has real passion for what she does.  I always like that in a person.

The main things that set this dough apart from regular pie crust are that you use more butter in relation to flour, and  that you add (full fat) sour cream.  The butter should all be in larger pieces.  She also liked using a pastry cutter for this crust (where we'd been getting our hands very dirty up to now, it was weird to use utensils not attached to our bodies!)

Lookie, it came together!
When kneading in the sour cream, Susan said that there is always that moment of terror that this time, the dough won't come together, but will stay a pebbly mess.  But, low and behold, it comes together after a bit of kneading, and it is beautiful.

So, the next thing to do is to make the layers.  Roll the dough out thin, to about the size of a sheet of standard paper, then fold it into thirds like a business letter, dusting off any flour on the surfaces.  This is then rotated 90 degrees, and rolled out again into another rectangle, and rolled again.  There you have your layers.  (For traditional puff pastry, this step is repeated something like 7 times).  The folded dough should be wrapped and chilled.

If you wanted to store this in your freezer, you could do so at this point.  You can also roll and freeze it into your final desired shapes.  When you defrost it, you want to do so in the refrigerator, not at room temperature.
Susan's galette, pre-baking
My galette, pre-baking.
We then used half the dough to make beautiful galettes (ours were topped with lovely fresh nectarines and strawberries).

After baking, they got a nice apricot glaze (courtesy Matt, from Thyme in Our Kitchen)
I was so proud of mine!!

With the other half of the dough, we made palmiers

I filled mine with a thin layer of pesto.  Some other bloggers used coarse sugar.  I don't have any finished pictures of the palmiers, but take my word for it that they turned out beautifully flaky and yummy.
Occupational hazard - flour was all up in my shoes.
So now, I have conquered my pie crust anxiety, thanks to the wonderful help of King Arthur Flour!   I have one more post to make about the fabulous Blog & Bake experience, where I will show you a bit of our tour of the test kitchen and the warehouse facility.  I'll also share some more photos of things that didn't quite fit into the other posts, including a wonderful local foods lunch that we had, and ... I may or may not have a giveaway coming your way, so stay tuned!

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  1. Great post! Very informative - but my favourite part was the not short & flaky joke :)

  2. oh dearest Astrid...what an adventure and how delightfully you share with us all...I am so happy for you getting this wonderful experience ....and I hope it leads to you having your own show one day on the cooking would be fantastic!!! love you and again your blogs have been a wonderful education...thank you so much!!!