Friday, 2 September 2011

The long and the short of it

I made pastry at the course on Tuesday. With my hands. Using bread flour. It was delicious.

I think it's pretty unlikely that you're reading the above with the same sense of amazement with which I wrote it. I've always found it next to impossible to make decent pastry - the closest I've come is doing the rubbing in in the food processor, but this makes it so hard to get the water right. And even if I did get the water right, I'd then have to handle it and it would transform from pastry into a lump of closely-knit grey stuff.

So the fact that I made pastry with my hands, using strong flour, and that it was delicious is still a source of absolute astonishment to me. Clive demonstrated the method of emulsifying the butter and the water, which we then followed. When I added the emulsion to the flour it produced a pliable, yellow and smooth paste which I handled as if it were Play-Doh and which remained supple and beautifully pale. Clive pinned his out and used it to make jamless jam tarts - just to demonstrate to us the texture and shortness of the finished pastry shells. They were incredible, lovely to eat plain just as they were, short as you like, crisp, wonderful. We took our pastry paste home in our boxes and I stashed mine in the fridge for a couple of days.

I decided that I was going to make biscuits with mine, so I took it out of the fridge and let it come up to ambient temperature. When it was ready to be worked, I zested a lemon onto the worktop then started working the paste on top of it so that the zest was incorporated fully into it. I rolled it out and cut out little circle and star shapes and transferred to a parchment lined tray. I rerolled the trimmings time after time without the paste degrading, and at no point did I need any flour on the worktop. A quick flash in the oven and a sprinkling of sugar and I had the loveliest, lightest, crispest, shortest little biscuits. Which I placed next to Tallboy on the sofa, and which inexplicably disappeared within a very few minutes.

The advantage of paste made with this method is that it is less likely to shrink back or puff up when being baked, which is a relief because in the past, if I did manage to make rollable pastry, I always managed to have it fall in on itself when baking the quiche case blind, with the distressing consequences of quiche filling escaping and pooling in unsuitable places.

This, then, is why I am most excited by this new discovery that I can make pastry, with my hands, even using strong bread flour, which is fantastic and delicious and manipulable and rollable and rerollable and everything. It's magic!

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