Last Wednesday evening i did one of the best extra-curricular activities i have ever done. I attended, with my foodie friend who blogs here, Lorraine Godmark's Hands on Pastry class at the Accoutrement Cooking School in Mosman.
Lorraine has built her background over 20 years in the kitchen giving her some killer skills when it comes to light, crisp and delicate pastry. And that's only the pastry, the fillings are heart throbbing too. She started in 1990 at Rockpool Bar & Grill under Australia's consummate chef Neil Perry. Lorraine spent 10 years mastering pastry and desserts, and later, began to pass on her expertise to her understudies. She then moved onto open her own Six Seven Ate, Yellow and now, Merivale's Lorraine's Patisserieand Palings Kitchen & Bar.
She is an excellent teacher - not only are you watching the best in the business in this class, she is also teaching her pupils in a fun, practical and observant manner. And as if it wasn't enjoyable enough, after making the three pastries she took us through, we got to try her very own creations using those particular pastries over a glass of wine. See the pics below.
So now to the tips for a flaky pastry -
Once you have gently pulsed your pastry ingredients together (we're talking 3 pulses each time you add flour, butter, egg if any, etc.) turn the dusty dough mixture onto your unfloured bench. I say dusty because you haven't processed it into a doughy ball in the processer - you don't want to over-develop the gluten as this leads to shrinkage.
Secret 1: Next is fraisage, a French pastry making technique used to create flakiness in a finished pie crust. This snippet shows you the technique where you smear the dough across the bench away from you using the heel of your palm - i do think watching Lorraine was a lot more elegant than this guy.
This step is carried out a number of times so as to 'streak' the butter through the dough which steams the water in the butter during cooking, creating flaky layers - Lorraine's tip was that the cheaper the butter the higher the water content, so don't feel pressed to buy pricey danish Lurpak!
Secret 2: You'll see in the video and in the photo below, a pastry card or cake scraper as you may know it. Pastry loves being cold, and the hands are just too warm to handle it. So use the pastry card to 'chop' the dough as you bring it back for another round of fraisage.
Once your dough is soft and together, very lightly dust your working space with a small amount of flour - note those italics please - then using the pastry card pick the dough up and put it on the floured bench. Pat the dough gently into a disc using more fingers than warm palms. For any cracks in the disc use the heel of your palm in a twist action to 'twist' them shut. Place the disc in gladwrap in the fridge to rest for at least 2 hours or overnight.
Once rested, roll out the pastry to 3-5mm thick, fit into a flan tin getting the pastry right into the corners and trim any excess. Rest in the fridge for another 2 hours. This firms the pastry up so you don't damage it when preparing for baking blind.
Secret 3: Now to the cooking part - and this is the bit that so often disappoints me. When i take my tart case out of the oven i very often get that shrinkage down the sides of the pastry case. Do you hear me? Well here's the solution; go and buy another packet of ceramic balls for baking blind - for bigger tins you may even need 3 packets (you can store them quite attractively in a Maxwell Williams or like jar on the bench). Gently press tinfoil or GLAD Go-between - not baking paper as i found out! - into the pastry case. Fill the entire cavity with ceramic balls, right up to the top. For baking blind mini tart cases you can use cupcake paper cases instead of tinfoil or gladwrap. Cook until lightly golden in colour (c20mins but depends on size).
a few other interesting tricks for a discerning pastry rookie -
1 Although it may look like an art (and i do believe the method of pastry making is an art), baking is a science - things need to be exact. If you are not successfully cooking from recipe books, you are not alone, like my description above, written recipes are never exact enough on measures, consistencies and time (how long is 'mix until combined' for example? and is your teaspoon the same size as mine?). Lorraine recommended Rose Levy Beranbaum's award winning food bibles as a way to get precise instructions from a recipe book. Rose is after all noted as being "the most meticulous cook who ever lived"
2When you see baking powder in a recipe that doesn't really need to rise, it's purpose is to tenderise the flour. Interesting huh. So when you add flour and baking powder into the processer for pastry, just give it a few pulses to fully combine before adding wet ingredients.
3Butter needs to be cold but not hard. Press a cube of butter between your fingers and it should be soft enough to give in. If you are making pastry in hot weather put everything in the fridge including the flour to chill it before you begin combining ingredients.
4 If you forget to take your butter out of the freezer, zap the whole un-chopped block in the microwave for 5 second stints. It is crucial to not let any of it turn to oil.
5If you are asked for a gram weight of egg use this as a rule of thumb; 1 egg weighs about 55g made up of 5g for the shell, 20g for the yolk and 30g for the white. So if you are asked for 60g of egg yolk that is the yolk of 3 eggs. If you're asked for 50g, i'd go with 2 yolks.
6 For pastry that is less forgiving when rolling out and lifting into your flan tin, roll it between GLAD Go-Between - another new and key find from Lorraine's class.
7 If you are using a very runny filling in your pastry base, make up an egg yolk (or whole egg) + milk wash to 'seal' it and brush it on the cooled pastry after you have baked it blind. Let dry then fill cavity with filling.
8 For a 23cm flan tin you'll need about 400g of pastry. If you are making a large batch of pastry you can weigh it out and freeze into separate discs (not balls of dough - see above).