Tag Archives: Pastry Methods

Identity Crisis: Back to the Basics

8 Jul

identity crisisFriends, I have lost my way a little bit.  I have been getting away from my Original Purpose, and I apologize.  Every once in awhile, I get all caught up in the whole “food blogging” thing.  But, I don’t really consider myself a food blogger.  Don’t get me wrong, I read lots of food blogs, and I really enjoy most of them.  The photography is exquisite, the original dishes presented are quite sophisticated, or, if simple and straightforward, at least executed with sophistication.  But I try to be more of a teacher.  I hope that doesn’t sound all Conceited or Big-headed or anything, but my goal is to help other folks understand their ingredients and how they function, to demystify ingredients and techniques.  When I do post a recipe, as for Sunday Suppers, I try to impress upon everyone that the recipe is just a snapshot–just a version of a dish that I chose to make on a particular night.  A recipe, especially for savory food, should serve as more of an inspiration than a blueprint.  And even in the case of pastries, just because a recipe calls for 1/4 tsp cinnamon, there is really no good reason not to use more if you love cinnamon, or to leave it out if you’re not a fan.  Just because someone’s recipe calls for a fruit filling to be thickened with tapioca is no reason to run out to the store to pick up some.  Just use some cornstarch or even some flour.  Yes, the filling might not be as crystal clear as it would be with tapioca, but unless you’re planning on photographing the food instead of eating it, it really shouldn’t matter.

And then, I was reading on twitter the other day about how there are folks who are lifting other folks’ photos from their blogs and using them as if they were their own.  They’re stealing them.  Here’s the post from My New 30.   So then, I got to thinking that I need to come out and make it perfectly clear where my photos come from.  Since I don’t consider myself a food blogger, I don’t always feel the need to make the dish I’m writing about (or a dish that illustrates a technique I’m writing about).  Just as teachers don’t use 100% original materials–they are working from a curriculum–I try to find pictures that best illustrate my posts.  I think I’ve been pretty up front in letting everyone know that I often don’t use my own photos.  If you ever have a question about whether or not a photo is mine, just click on it.  If it’s from flickr and under a Creative Commons license, the click will take you to the photographer’s photostream.  If it’s my picture, it will just take you to where that photo lives on the WordPress.com server.

I feel like I have gotten more than a little Caught Up in the whole Food Blogging craze–wanting to offer recipes with every post.  And I offer them, because as sure as I don’t offer one, someone wants to know the recipe.  My goal with this wee blog is not to feed folks recipes; my goal is to teach people how to cook and bake so they don’t need to rely so heavily on recipes.  It is time to get back to my roots, back to the Business of Teaching.  I’m not saying that I will never offer recipes again, after all, recipes inspire people.  I do want to focus more time on methods and techniques and, as the blog title says, focus on the whys behind the hows.  And even the hows behind the whats.  Like the Chinese proverb says, “Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish, and he eats for the rest of his life.”  Friends, I don’t want to just hand you fish.  You can find all sorts of Fabulous Fish out there on the Hinternet.  I often go out and find fabulous fish myself.  But here, at PMAT, I really want to teach you to fish.  So, get your poles and your nets ready.  You prolly won’t need any worms…

Yes, I’ll still do Sunday Suppers, because Man cannot live by dessert alone, and I’ll still have the occasional Tantrum and post my round up of search terms (because they make me Laugh and Laugh), but I shall be focusing on the Teaching.  You guys up for it?  I’d love to know what you’re really interested in learning.  Please leave a comment and let me know your Burning Pastry Questions–about ingredients, about techniques, about mixing methods–anything, really, and I’ll do my best to answer as completely as I know how.   I’ll start on the Newly Focused PMAT tomorrow.  Thanks for all the amazing support so far.  I really love my corner of the Hinternet, and I hope to be around for a long, long time.

The Muffin Method

27 Jan
Now, that's a muffin!

Now, that's a muffin!

Here’s another one of those basic mixing methods that can really mess us up.  Sure, it sounds like a day at the beach:  Dry in one bowl.  Wet in another.  Wet on dry.  Stir, stir, stir.  Bake and hope for the best.  But then, you pull out some sad old flat-topped muffins that look like moles have been burrowing their way through them.  And then, your day at the beach turns into I-left-my-sunscreen-at-home-I-lost-my-sunglasses-in-the-surf-and-there-is-sand-in-places-it-shouldn’t-be nightmare.  How hard can it be to make a muffin, anyway?  Slather on some cooling aloe and let me see if I can help.

You’ve got two basic options when it comes to making muffins:  you can use The Creaming Method, or you can use The Muffin Method.  As far as I’m concerned, the creaming method is for cakes.  What you end up with when you use the creaming method to make a muffin is a cupcake.  Tasty and all, but just not the same thing.  So, let’s forget the creaming method for muffins and focus on the eponymous Muffin Method.

Here’s how it works.  This is a method you do not want to use the mixer for.  Trust me, as much as you love your stand mixer, your muffins will be better if you mix them gently by hand.  More on this in a bit.

1. Whisk the dry ingredients–low-protein flour (White Lily is a nice one if you’re in the southern US, or use cake flour) together with salt, sugar, leavenings and any spices–together in a large bowl.

Whisk your dry ingredients together very well.  You are looking for even dispersal of the salt and leaveners.  Sifting doesn’t necessarily do a great job of this, so whisk all the dry together thoroughly, for at least 20 seconds.  More would be good.

2. In another bowl or a large liquid measure, combine all the wet ingredients–dairy (milk, cream, 1/2 and 1/2, sour cream, creme fraiche), eggs, liquid fat, liquid flavorings.

Notice I said “liquid fat.”  This is one of the points where the muffin method differs from the creaming method.  When you add the fat to the liquid, you want to make sure that all of the liquid ingredients are at room temperature.  You want the fat to be evenly dispersed throughout the batter.  For this to happen, you’re going to have to have the rest of the wet ingredients warm enough that the butter won’t turn hard on you the moment you pour it in the measuring cup.

3. Pour the wet on top of the dry and fold them gently together.

Let’s take a moment to really look at what’s going on here.  You’re trying to mix a lot of water-type ingredients together with flour that hasn’t been coated with fat.  Remember, in the two-stage mixing method, we coated our flour with a good amount of fat to inhibit gluten formation.  Here, we don’t have that luxury.  In the muffin method, we are pouring a ton of wet ingredients on poor, defenseless flour.  How do we keep from having dense, chewy muffins, then?  First, we’re using a low protein flour, so that’s a good thing–low protein equals less gluten formation.  Second, and maybe more vital is the way that you mix these ingredients together.  When mixing wet into naked flour with the intention of producing a tender muffin, easy does it.  You really just want to fold the ingredients together, making sure that you limit agitation as much as possible.   Old AB says to stir for a count of ten, but your ten and my ten might be different.  I say, fold the ingredients together until all the flour is off the bottom of the bowl and you don’t have any big pockets of flour floating around in your batter.  The batter will be somewhat lumpy, and it will be much thinner than a batter made with the creaming method, but you’ll just have to trust that it’ll be okay.

4. Scoop your batter into well greased (or paper-lined) muffin tins.  Fill the cavities about 3/4 full.

At this point, if you are leavening with baking powder, you can let the batter sit for 15-20 minutes.  This gives the flour time to properly hydrate.  It will sort of magically finish mixing itself.  Double acting baking powder gives some rise when it gets wet and then some more when it gets hot, so your muffins will still rise in the oven, even after sitting out for a bit.  If the recipe only calls for baking soda, skip this step, as the bubbles are all given up when the soda gets wet.  With recipes that only call for baking soda, you want to get those little guys in the oven as quickly as possible before the chemical reaction stops.

5. Bake at a relatively high temperature–400 or even 425 degrees, F.

So, why this high temperature?  To me, and to lots of folks, muffins are defined by their crowns–their majestic peaks.  In order to get this to happen, you have to bake at a high enough temperature that the edges of the muffin set pretty quickly.  The batter will set in concentric circles, from the outside, in, and as each “band” of batter sets up, the remaining batter will continue to rise.  The last to set is the very peak.  If you bake at a lower temperature, you will end up with a domed, rather than peaked, muffin.  If you like them domed, go for it, and bake at a lower temperature.  Just wanted you to know the “why” behind the peak.

6. Remove from oven.  Cool in pans for about ten minutes, and then turn out to cool completely–or not.  You could just go ahead and eat one.

After you’ve baked your muffins, you can test yourself to see if you’ve done an Excellent Job with the muffin method.  Cut or break a muffin in half, right down the middle, from peak to bottom.  Look at the crumb.  It should be fairly coarse but moist.  It should also be very uniform.  If you have little tunnels running up through the muffins, you know that you were a little too exuberant in your mixing.  The tunnels show the path of air bubbles as they passed through the batter and were caught by sheets of gluten.  The gluten then sets in that bubble-path shape, a silent reminder of your enthusiastic mixing.

So, to recap:

  • Whisk dry ingredients together thoroughly.
  • Have all wet ingredients at room temp.  Not the creaming method’s magical 68 degrees, F, because you’re not worried about the butter’s remaining plastic–it’s already melted.  By room temperature, I’m talking probably 70-72 degrees, F.
  • Fold gently.  Stop before you think you’re finished.
  • Let the batter sit (baking powder only).
  • Bake at a relatively high temperature.

Here’s a basic recipe to practice with.  By basic, I mean:  add any fruit, nuts, spices, zests that you want.  Add chocolate chips.  Change up the fat–use oil.  Experiment with changing up the dairy. Top with streusel if you want.  Make it your own.

  • 8 oz. low-protein flour
  • 3.5 oz. sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 6 oz. whole milk
  • 2 1/2 oz. melted butter

Now, go make some tender muffins.  No tunnels.  Oh, and I found your sunglasses for you…

For an in-depth look at other mixing methods, check out The Two-Stage Mixing Method, The Creaming Method, The Egg Foam Method and The Biscuit Method.  And for some great pictures of all the steps in the mixing method, go check out Joe Pastry’s Muffin Method Post.  It is awesome.

Oooh, Your Pie Crust! It’s So….Wee!

9 Jan
You won't ever need to buy crust again.

You won't ever need to buy crust again.

Brave Will, from Recipe Play boldly asked a question yesterday.  Here it is:  “Why does my pastry always, ALWAYS shrink so much when I’m pre-baking it? It always shrinks down below the sides. Drive me nuts!”

Can you feel the frustration?  I can, and I’m with you, Will.  Spending time and sweat on making a crust only to see it make like a Shrinky-Dink in the oven is most disheartening, to say the least.  This whole shrinkage phenomenon needs to be addressed.  And let me just say to you, Will–it’s not just you.  The shrinkage problem plagues many folks.  Let’s all take the first step towards healing and full-sized crusts together.

Pie crust.  I wish I could make reverb happen when I write that.  :: PpIeEe CcRrUuSsTt:: There!  Pie crust strikes fear into the heart of even the most intrepid bakers.  Let me tell you a story.  At one of the restaurants I worked in, it fell to the pastry department to make the pate brisee for the savory tarts.  Four ingredients.  How hard could it possibly be?  Let me tell you: I struggled with that dough and even sheepishly asked for a Brisee In-service so I could figure out what I was doing wrong.  More than once, my what-I-thought-was-lovely-brisee ended up as not much more than a disc of cracker in the bottom of the small tart pans.  It took me longer to master this stupid dough than it did to master fudge, toffee, burnt caramel buttercream and lemon sabayon.

I confess this to you so you will know that I’ve been there.

Do you guys remember gluten and what activates it?  Flour+water+agitation=gluten And how do we make a standard pie crust?  Flour+some fat+water+mixing.  This is just a recipe for tough, shrinking pie crust.  If you end up activating the gluten in your flour, and then you stretch your dough into your pie pan, the dough will shrink.  Simple as that.   If you don’t want to activate the gluten, there are two ways you can go:  Way 1–Coat all the flour particles with fat.  The fat will form a barrier between the flour and the water and keep gluten from forming.  There is a condom joke in there somewhere.  Please, tell it to yourselves.  Okay.  Way 2–Limit agitation of the flour and water.

Way 1 Analysis

If you coat the flour really well with fat, you will have a very short crust.  I don’t mean that in terms of height.  When folks talk about “shortening” and shortened doughs, cakes, etc, what they are talking about is the state of the gluten.  Coating flour with fat inhibits gluten formation.  It “shortens” the gluten strands.  Short gluten=tender.  Short gluten also=less structure.  This is why shortbread–made with sugar, butter and flour, is so crumbly.

While crumbly-ness can be desirable in a cookie–it even spawned a saying “That’s how the cookie crumbles”–it is less desirable for a crust that needs to be strong enough to hold a filling.  What you can do is work the fat into the flour so it resembles coarse corn meal with a few peas thrown in (in texture, not in color).  This will coat enough of the flour to allow tenderness but also allow enough gluten formation that the crust will be sturdy.  There are oil-based pie crust recipes out there.  Oil coats the flour very effectively, so that kind of crust will treat you right and stay the correct size for you.  I prefer some flakes, so I go the solid fat (butter) route.

Way 2 Analysis

This is all about the mixing method.  Actually, don’t think “mix,” think another, less mixy word. Combine, maybe.  Or commingle or unite.  It’s basically using The Biscuit Method with a lot less liquid.  Here’s what you do–I do it by hand so I can feel the dough.  You can use a food processor if you want:

  • Rub together fat and flour until it resembles the above-mentioned cornmeal and pea mixture.
  • Sprinkle in a tablespoon or so of ice water.  Here’s where it gets interesting.  Sprinkle the water evenly over the flour mixture, and then toss the flour and the water together.  Kind of like when you mixed water with sand to get the perfect sand castle consistency.  You guys did that, right?
  • Continue doing the sprinkle/toss method.  After each incorporation, squeeze a wee handful of the flour.  If it sticks together and doesn’t crumble apart when you open your hand, it’s ready.  When the dough is ready, it will still mostly look like crumbly flour.  If you add enough water that it looks like your idea of “dough” it will be too much.
  • Once your dough is ready, sort of compact it into a disc in the bottom of the big bowl in which you’ve been working.  I do this by just pushing down and pulling any flour crumbles that might have migrated up the sides of the bowl into the center.
  • Here’s where my method differs from others.  Most recipes tell you to refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes-2 hours before rolling.  I immediately roll the compacted puck of dough between two pieces of parchment paper, and then put the sheet of dough, parchment and all, into the fridge.  While the dough is in the fridge, the flour will c0ntinue to hydrate, and your dough will be beautiful when you’re ready to bake.  (If you’re going to bake on some other day, go ahead and freeze your sheet o’ dough).

Basic Pate Brisee

  • 10 oz. all purpose flour
  • 8 oz. cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • heavy pinch of salt
  • heavy pinch of sugar (optional–assists browning and will absorb some water)
  • ice water–2-4 tablespoons

Here’s what you do:  Whisk together flour, salt and sugar (if using).

Rub in the butter by hand.   Do this by pinching the cubes of butter together with the flour.  Continue pinching and making smaller pieces of butter while smearing a little of the butter into the flour.  The smearing part will add to tenderness by coating the flour really well.  The pinching part makes sure you have some larger pieces of butter for flakiness.  Do this kind of quickly so the butter doesn’t warm up and start melting into the flour.  If things start getting warm, throw the whole deal into the fridge or even the freezer for a few minutes to cool things back down.

Once you’ve got your flour mixture to a nice consistency, do the sprinkle/toss method from above.  Resist the urge to add extra water.  Once the dough (which will still look like flour crumbles) holds together when you squeeze it, you’re there.  The whole “stop the processor when the dough comes together in a ball” makes us want to add too much water.  If the dough is coming together in a ball, it’s too wet.  Remember, the flour hasn’t even had a chance to fully hydrate yet.  Also, there’ s water in that thar butter.  It takes a strong person to walk away, but I know you can do it.

Putting the dough in the pan can be a bit of a struggle, too.  When you’re ready to bake, take your dough disc out of the refrigerator, peel off the parchment from one side, and put that side down over your pie pan.  Peel off the other piece of parchment.  Your dough will likely be a bit stiff.  Let it sit there until it starts to slump down into the pan a little.  Now, from the edges of the dough, shift the dough down into the pan.  Try not to stretch it, just sort of push from the edges until the dough is mostly laying flat in the pan.  If you stretch it, your dough will punish you by snapping back and shrinking.  So, be gentle and place it.  No stretching.  Now you can press it into the corners and up the sides.  Use a piece of excess dough to help you do this–that way, if you have long nails, you won’t poke holes in the corners of your crust.

At this point, you can cut the dough off level with the top of the pie plate, or you can cut it with a half inch-inch to spare so you can make some sort of decorative edge.  With a wee knife, poke little slits all over the bottom of the dough to let steam escape.  In case you were wondering, a fork will make big holes, and your filling could leak out.  Bummer.  Put your poked-crust-filled pie pan in the freezer.

When it’s time to bake, take the pie pan out of the freezer.  Line the pan with Saran Wrap or other heavy duty plastic wrap.  You can also use magical Release foil, crumpled-then-uncrumpled parchment paper, or a really big coffee filter.  Fill to the top with dried beans.  If you have pie weights, go for it, but there’s no need to run out and buy new.

Throw your poked-bean-filled crust into the oven and bake at 350 degrees until the edges and sides look dull and set, about 10-15 minutes.  Remove from the oven, carefully remove your vessel of beans, brush the bottom of the crust with some egg wash (1 egg whisked together with 1-2 teaspoons of water), carefully press down any bubbles on the bottom of the crust (you shouldn’t have any, but just in case) and put the pie shell back in the oven until the bottom is set and lightish gold.  Take into consideration whether your crust will go back in the oven with some filling in it.  If so, underbake it some.  If not, make sure it’s fully baked.

And there you have it.  I hope this has helped Will and all you other folks out there who have felt bested by :: PpIiEe CcRrUuSsTt:: Let there be pie!

PS  Make a ton of dough, roll it in pie or tart sized circles between parchment and freeze the lot.  Now you’ll have pie crust at hand whenever you need it.

PPS You can reuse your pie weight beans almost indefinitely.  I like to use dried chickpeas, because they are small and don’t smell funny in the oven.

Miss Patsy’s “Van Halen” Pound Cake

2 Jan


Van Halen Pound Cake

Best. Pound-Cake. Ever.


I told you guys I would be reporting on the making/baking/de-panning/eating of Miss Patsy’s famous pound cake recipe, sent to me by friend and reader Cindy.  I have been sworn to secrecy about the exact recipe, so I can’t print that, but I can print my modifications.   And where does Van Halen come in?  I was invited to Mary Lou’s house for New Years Day.  She told me to bring something sweet.  I told her, via facebook, that I would bring this pound cake.  She posted, “Is that like Van Halen pound cake?”  I was confused, and I had to ask her what that meant.  She told me that Van Halen has a song called Pound Cake.  I don’t think it’s about a baked good, but that’s neither here nor there.  So, for my purposes, my few tweaks to Miss Patsy’s famous pound cake will be known from this point onward as Van Halen pound cake.

First, a bit about pound cake.  The original recipe is a perfect balance of structural elements and tenderizing elements.  1 pound each of flour and eggs for Team Structure balanced against 1 pound each of sugar and butter for Team Tender.  A perfectly balanced but fairly dense and fairly flavorless cake.  The recipe has been tweaked over the years and now usually includes extra sugar, some flavorings, a little extra liquid and some leavening.  Here’s the ingredient roll call for Van Halen Pound Cake:

  • 13 oz. cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt (fine sea salt–it blends in much better than kosher salt)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 8 oz. unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 oz. butter flavored shortening
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • zest of 1 1/2 lemons
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup half and half

First, you really need to use a stand mixer for this.  Generally, you need 1 teaspoon of baking powder per cup of flour (which I usually measure at 4-ish ounces), and I used just 1 teaspoon to leaven three cups of flour.  The baking powder will give off some carbon dioxide and keep the crumb from being really tight, but the main leavening comes from adequate creaming of the fat and sugar.  A stand mixer makes pretty short work of this.  I put this cake together using The Creaming Method.  You can read about it on this very blog.  This is exactly what I did:

  1. I measured all of my ingredients and let them sit until everything was no cooler than about 68 degrees, F.
  2. I whisked the flour and baking powder together really well.
  3. I creamed the butter and shortening together for about a minute.
  4. I added the flavorings and the salt and creamed for another minute.  (Fat carries flavor really well, so adding them at this point makes sense).
  5. In went the sugar, and I creamed everything on medium until the shortening was lighter in color and fluffy–about 3-4 more minutes.  Much bowl scraping occurred too, to ensure even creaming.
  6. In went 1 egg at a time.  I beat on medium for about 30 seconds with each addition, scraping the bowl every time.
  7. I dumped in about half the flour/baking powder and beat until combined.
  8. In went half the dairy.  I beat until just combined.
  9. Then, I put in 1/2 of the remaining flour/baking powder and mixed on low until combined.
  10. I drizzled in the last half of the milk, then added the rest of the flour and the zest.  (If you add the zest earlier, it will just get all snarled around your paddle attachment like seaweed around a boat motor, and none of it will end up in the cake).
  11. I turned the speed up for literally just 2-3 seconds to make sure everything was well combined.

How to prepare the pan:  I used a Bundt pan, and I knew that Cindy has had issues with the cake sticking.  I really like a Wilton product for this.  It’s their Cake Release.  It’s not the spray kind; it comes in a bottle with a flip-top lid, like the old Bactine bottles, if you remember.  I just squirted some in and then painted it all over the inside of the pan with a pastry brush.  I am truly convinced that the Cake Release is the Best Product Ever for making a cake come bounding out of a pan, and using a pastry brush really helps to get it in all the nooks and crannies in a Bundt pan.  If you don’t have any of this magical product, other options include pan sprays with oil and flour in them, fat and then flour or fat and then sugar.

I preheated the oven to 350 degrees, F, and baked the cake in the lower third of the oven for a total of about 1 hour and 10 minutes.  I knew he was done when he was just starting to pull away from the sides of the pan and when I toothpick I stuck in the center came out clean.  I let him cool in the pan for about an hour, then I turned him out onto a rack to finish cooling.  Fortunately my Cake Release did me proud and the cake sprang forth from the pan like the Little Gingerbread Man from the oven.

I made a glaze for the little guy, too.  I used some powdered sugar, a pinch of salt, the wee-est splash of my brand new Sonoma Syrup Co Special Blend Pure Vanilla Bean Extract “Crush” Madagascar Bourbon and Tahitian Vanilla with Vanilla Bean Seeds (that’s what the label says.  I just call it vanilla) and a little half and half.  Then, once the cake was cool, drizzle, drizzle, drizzle.  In case you were wondering, it’s called “Crush” because it has crushed up vanilla beans in it so there are wee vanilla specks.  It is, hands down, the best vanilla I’ve ever had.

This is a great recipe, folks.  It’s buttery, and the mixture of the extracts lends a subtle and can’t-put-your-finger-on-it quality to the cake.  I heard a lot of, “What exactly am I tasting?”  The folks at the party loved it, and I give full credit to Miss Patsy for the original recipe and to Cindy for sharing it with me.  Thanks, Cindy!

Here are some extra Van Halen pound cake pictures for your enjoyment.



You can see a bit of the lemon zest.  The crumb is tight, but not too tight.

You can see a bit of the lemon zest. The crumb is tight, but not too tight.



I hope everyone had a great celebration last evening and are enjoying a relaxing day.  By the way, I’m a bit peevish with Rita for believing that Dexter could possibly be addicted to heroin, but that’s a whole other story.

***For an updated, fiddled-about-with version, check this out.

The Biscuit Method

1 Nov
Lovely, high-risen biscuits!

Lovely, high-risen biscuits!

Sorry about that downer of a Halloween post.  Let’s get back to pastry, shall we?  Ah, yes…the biscuit method.  The biscuit method is a method for making quick breads such as scones and, well, biscuits.  That’s American biscuits, not cookie-biscuits, if you’re visiting from across the Big Blue Ocean.

The biscuit method is one of the only mixing methods that does not require you to have all of your ingredients at room temperature.  Your fats and liquids should be cold for the biscuit method.  The colder, the better.  Why?  Well, the whole point of the biscuit method is to keep discrete little pieces of fat dispersed throughout your dough.  That way, when they melt in the oven, the steam the little pieces creates assists in with the rise.  Also, you get all of these wee little buttery pockets.  I love me some biscuits.

So, here’s how it goes.  I’m not going to give a recipe–there are a billion recipes out there.  I will give a method though.

  1. Mix all your dry ingredients together with a whisk:  flour, baking powder and/or baking soda, salt, sugar, dry spices, etc.
  2. Cut your very cold fat into about 1/2 inch chunks (if you’re using shortening, or part shortening, put that stuff in the freezer.  I vote all butter, personally, for flavor and for no trans fats, but do what you want).
  3. Toss the butter/shortening with the dry ingredients.
  4. Using your fingers, break up the butter/shortening, rubbing it into the flour.  When you’re done, the pieces should be anywhere from the size of grits to the size of peas.  Nothing too much bigger than a pea.  If your hands are warm, throw everybody into the fridge to firm up.
  5. Pour in your liquid (milk/cream/half and half/buttermilk–whatever the recipe calls for).  Toss together with the dry.  Don’t mix viciously.
  6. Turn your dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat into a square about 1/2″ thick.
  7. Cut into squares (no waste) or circles.  (You can re-roll the scraps, but those biscuits will be tougher.  I vote squares).
  8. Brush with cream/butter/egg wash.  Bake at about 400 degrees, F, until risen and golden brown and lovely.

I will now take your questions.  Yes?  You in the back.  “Why can’t I mix viciously.  I need to get out my aggression.”

Me:  If you need to take out your aggression on something, make some bread or take a kick boxing class.  You want to handle your dough gently once the liquid is in there.  Biscuits are supposed to be tender, and a bunch of mixing will just activate the gluten in the flour and you’ll end up with chewy biscuits.

Yes, sir.  You there, in the brown sweater.  “Can I use my stand mixer or food processor?”

Me:  I would stay away from the food processor because it can generate a bunch of heat, and you don’t want your butter to melt.  You can use a mixer as long as you use the paddle attachment and stop and check the consistency and the size of your butter pieces every 30 seconds or so.  You don’t want to end up with paste.  Once you get the liquid in there, I would take the bowl off the mixer and fold the liquid in with a spatula.  You don’t want to develop that gluten.”

That’s enough for today.  Thank you all for coming.  On your way out, check out this and this.

The Case for Pastry Methods and Techniques

26 Oct
Limitless Possibilities

Limitless Possibilities

So, hello there, and welcome to my blog!  I also have a delightful and informative website all about baking and pastry:  Pastry Chef Online.  It needs a little love, and I am working on it, but in the meantime, here I am!  I just read on the lovely WordPress site that they alone host almost 4.5 million blogs! That only covers their corner of the blogosphere–there are TypePad folks, Live Journal folks, Blogger folks and on and on.  So, what makes this blog stand out from the crowd?

Here’s my angle:  I can’t tell you how many times people have asked for recipes for this, that or the other cake, bread or pie.  While I am happy to send someone a recipe, it brings to mind the old Chinese proverb:  “Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish, and he eats for the rest of his life.”  If I hand you a recipe, I might as well have handed you a fish.  If, on the other hand, I teach you a method, I have taught you to fish. In a manner of speaking, that is.

If I give you a recipe for peach pie filling, you might run off to the farmer’s market and rocket past all the beautiful blueberries, or blackberries, or snozzberries.  Shopping for ingredients for a recipe is like shopping with blinders on.  You’ll pass by all the possibilities in search of peaches.  Must. Find. Peaches.  Do not.  Deviate.  From Plan.  But if I can teach you an easy method for putting together a pie filling that is foolproof, will always taste good and is very easy to do, don’t you think you’d be excited to get in the kitchen and experiment with whatever fruit(s) looked good at the farmer’s market that day?  With sound methods and techniques and knowledge of ingredient function under our belts, the world is our oyster.  Um, dessert buffet.  Stay tuned for all the tips and tricks, methods and techniques you’ll need to help you feel confident in the kitchen.

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