Week 6: Pastry Doughs

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On Friday afternoon, I walked out of SFCS carrying three cake boxes, the bottom one loaded with a still piping hot pie, a binder, and two bags, trying so hard to not push my luck too far and have it all come crashing down. It was the longest block to walk ever. And it was a very fitting end to the week, as I felt like those precariously stacked boxes was me all week: carefully loading up more and more just to the point of nearly falling over.

We just finished up Week 6, the first of two weeks focused on Pastry Doughs. For whatever reason, this week was not only another intense week at school, but also loaded with personal appointments after class throughout the week and I TA’d one of the Pastry Fundamental classes as well. More about that later in the post.

Pastry Dough 101

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Above: Pop Tarts filled with Raspberry Jam

We started this week with a lesson on many of the different types of pastry doughs: Pâte Sucrée, Pâte Brisée, Pie Dough, Breton Dough, rough Puff Pastry and Sablés. We talked about the difference in technique between them (mostly the use of crumbing vs. creaming methods) and when you might choose to use one or the other.

On Monday, we made all the doughs that we’d be working with throughout the week. One of the main things to note about all of these doughs is that they must be well rested and chilled, so a bit of planning ahead is needed if you want a solid finished product. The rest of the week is below in pictures:

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We made a lot of different shortbreads during the week – some savory, some sweet. This was dangerous to me, especially since they are bite sized and savory. The ones closest in the picture are plain shortbread, then whole grain, the square ones are coconut (SO GOOD) and the other ones on that tray are toasted buckwheat (would be delicious with cheese) and went on and on. We used the dough sheeter for most of these so they’d be consistent in thickness, and baked most of them on a perforated sheet pan/silpain to encourage consistent browning on the bottom and top.

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This is a pastry made from Breton dough, filled with a passionfruit and apricot puree, and topped with a vanilla bean pastry cream. A couple of lessons here: 1. Always make sure to disperse pectin with a bit of sugar, otherwise it’ll clump. 2. Pastry cream needs to be brought to a full boil before you take it off heat to stir and let thicken. I took mine off way too soon, so it never thickened up enough and tasted starchy. Fortunately there was extra pastry cream for me to use for these. Finally, 3. Piping pastry cream is tough. You have to keep it nice and cold, and when piping onto a puree, there isn’t a hard surface for it to stick to. Phew, need to work on these concepts more.

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We made BISCUITS! I love biscuits, and love that we got to get creative with our flavors/fats/flours/etc. For mine, I chose to make a classic buttermilk biscuit with parmesan cheese, green onion, garlic confit and black pepper. Once they came out of the oven, I brushed them with garlic confit oil and topped with maldon. They were so yummy.

In terms of technique, I used the fraisage method on the dough. This is where you use the heal of your palm to basically create streaks of butter in the dough. That, along with a semi-turn, on the dough created yummy, flaky biscuits that I’d make again in a heartbeat.

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We had a butter tasting to go with our biscuits. Oh, and Pimento Cheese and Deviled Ham. It was an indulgent lunch to say the least.

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I made this really fun birds-nest looking spinach pie on Friday for lunch in class. The nest is actually a dough. It comes already made (we didn’t make it ourselves), and you prebake it with some butter to toast it. I then filled the pie pan with a spinach and cheese mixture and baked until golden brown. This was really cool to use and creates a pretty look for your pie. New go-to for spinach pies during the holidays!

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Here’s a bunch of our final products on Friday. There’s a Macadamia Caramel tart, Lemon tart and chocolate caramel tart, as well as a Greek Semolina pie with Phyllo Dough. On Friday, we finally made pies too. Each of us worked on different ones, and mine is below. I made a Pear Juniper pie with a fun lattice top (note: Juniper is such an interesting flavor to add – it made the pie really complex). I went for a plaid look with the lattice by doing different sized ribbons, as well as using a fluted cutter, plus a small braid. I’m so proud of how this turned out. The pre-baked version is at the top of the page.

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Knife Sharpening

Midway through the week we got to join the culinary class for a 2-hour knife sharpening workshop with Town Cutler. I finally got to learn how to use a wet stone to properly sharpen a knife, something I’ve wanted to learn for some time now. I won’t try to explain it here, but will say that Town Cutler folks really seem to know their ‘ish and are passionate about what they do. If you are around their shop in the city, check them out!

TA/Elective Hours

Part of the requirements for the #propastry program at SFCS is to complete 30 elective hours, which can be done a couple ways. Mainly, you can TA the recreational classes that the school offers on nights and weekends. You can also volunteer and take the recreational classes yourself.

This week, I TA’d the second week of the Pastry Fundamentals class, which was great timing because they too were covering doughs that week. The class had about 14 people in it and they made apple pies, tarts and turnovers. This was a really great class to TA because everyone there was passionate and excited about baking, and I could somewhat help people in the class if they were getting stuck with their doughs.

TAing is a lot of fun – you not only get to watch and learn whatever they are learning that night, but you also get to check out the food they make – but it makes for a very long day. Since I’m commuting in and out of the city, I end up with an incredibly long day (class from 8am-2pm and then TA from 5pm-11pm). Days like this are probably the best way to get ready for a job in the industry though, as I imagine there are many like it.

Protips from Week 6

  • If you’ve made pie dough before, you probably know to take the butter to pea-sized chunks in order to get a nice flaky dough. However, the texture that you should take the butter to (either pea-sized or corn meal sized) depends on the type of pie filling you’re using. If you are making something that is very liquid-y (custards, curds, berry fillings with a lot of water), you should use a dough with corn meal texture. This will prevent the dough from getting soggy and leaking through. If you’re doing other fruit pies, pea-sized is best.
  • Bake your pies on a pizza stone to ensure the bottom crust cooks through and doesn’t get soggy.
  • Many pies benefit from staged-baking (ie. starting at a higher temperature for a short time to set the crust and then lowering the temp to bake the rest).
  • Whenever you’re working with pastry doughs, when in doubt, rest and chill. The dough needs to be fully rested and chilled before it gets in the oven, otherwise it will lose its shape and melt. That means, roll it out and put it in the pie pan/cut your lattice, and then put it back in the refrigerator or freezer while you’re making the filling.
  • Color = flavor when it comes to crust. If you’re doing a full blind-bake, the darker the color, the more flavor your crust will have.
  • When blind baking, you can line your crust with plastic wrap and then pour in beans. Make sure to pour in beans high enough that it’s almost flush with the top of the pan. This will help keep the best shape on the sides of your crust until it sets.
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