Wednesday, 7 September 2016

15 January 1881 - 'Pies and Tarts' by Phillis Browne - Chapter One

All girls, I imagine, like making pastry. Indeed in a girl's mind a cook is usually a person who can make a pie. If we try to persuade a girl to practise cookery, and she is inclined to yield to our persuasion, the first thing she will do to show her willingness will be to offer to make some pies.

On the whole I think she would act very sensibly in doing this. Making pastry is very pleasant work, and when pies are well made and well baked they are very satisfactory things to look at as well as to eat, and they exist as tangible proofs of the skill of the maker. Somehow a pie is not such a fleeting evanescent object as a stew or a soup. These are generally demolished as soon as they are accomplished facts, and in the course of a couple of hours their glory is a thing of the past; but pies remain (for a short time only). They are carried off into the larder, and are allowed to go cold, and the cook can if she likes pay them a visit and look at them and feast her eyes on the work of her hands.

We will therefore spend a little time in talking over the methods to be adopted in making pastry; and first we have to consider our utensils and materials.

A good cook always collects together everything that she is likely to want before she begins to work. By this means she saves time. If she were to put her hands into the flour and then leave it and clear them while she fetched a rolling-pin or a dish, she would be half as long again over her business as she needed to be. She is wise when she "lets her head save her heels" - as the saying is - by first thinking over and then collecting her utensils and ingredients and putting them in one place, so that they will be at hand when wanted.

In order to make pastry it is necessary to have a pastry board, a rolling pin, a flour dredger, a knife, some flour, salt, butter, or sweet dripping, water, an egg or two, a little sugar, and, if approved, some baking powder. There must be also a clean basin, some pie dishes, tartlet tins, baking sheets, and either meat, fruit, jam, or whatever else is intended to constitute the contents of the pies or tarts. With these contents, however, I have at present nothing to do. I shall confine myself entirely to the pastry.

It is, I suppose, scarcely necessary to say to young ladies that every one of the utensils used in making pastry must be scrupulously clean; that goes without any saying.

Pastry boards are usually made of common wood; although superior boards are made of box-wood. Marble slabs are, however, much better than board to roll pastry upon, because they are cold; and in order to make pastry light and puffy it is very desirable that the paste should be kept cool. It is on this account t a cool light hand is wanted, and that pastry should be made in a cool place. When a marble slab is not to be had, a large slate, or even a smooth tile, is sometimes made to fill its place. Girls will find that their hands will be cooler if washed in hot water a few minutes before setting to work. The best biscuit flour is usually taken for making pastry. When superior pies are wanted, however, it is worth while to use what is called Vienna flour, which is flour that has been passed through silken sieves in order to make it very fine. This flour is a good deal more expensive than biscuit flour, and it makes finer, lighter pastry. For ordinary purposes, however, the biscuit flour will be quite good enough.

There is a great deal of difference of opinion about the use of baking-powder in making cakes and pastry. For my own part, I am in favour of baking-powder for ordinary purposes. For one thing, its use is to be recommended on economical grounds, because less butter or shortening is needed when baking-powder is used. Also, baking-powder makes pastry lighter, and consequently more digestible. It must be remembered, however, that when baking-powder is used the pastry should be mixed quickly and baked as soon as possible after it is mixed.

There are four kinds of pastry in constant use amongst us; puff paste, short paste, suet crust for boiled puddings, and what is called hot-water paste for raised pies. Puff paste is considered the best of these; it is the richest and lightest, most difficult to make, and very indigestible. A good course of puff paste would, I should think, be enough to give an elephant dyspepsia. Nevertheless, it is very much liked, and I expect the girls would be disappointed if I did not describe how it should be made. There is one consideration that may encourage us in trying it, and that is that if we can make good puff paste we can make all other kinds of pastry. It will not do, however, for us to be discouraged if our first attempt is not successful. Nothing but practice will give skill in this direction.

It is always a great help to understand the idea of a thing as well as the method. The idea in puff pastry is to have the butter and the paste separate, so that the pastry shall form a kind of sandwich, in which very thin light layers of paste shall be separated from each other by layers of butter, and the lighter and thinner these layers can be made the better the puff paste is. A very clever cook, once said that puff paste to be perfect must consist of eighty-four thin films of paste, alternated with eighty-three of butter. I do not think there are many cooks who could achieve these conditions. But at any rate girls will understand that is the ideal, and the nearer they can approach to it the more successful they will be.

It is  for the purpose of keeping these films perfect and separate that the pastry is cooled between the "turns." If the paste were to be sticky and the butter hot, the films could not be kept distinct; therefore, between the rollings or turns of puff paste is put away on ice or in a cool place, that the layers may become firm and not mix together in a mass. In winter time ice may be dispensed with, and the pastry can be put in a cool larder for half an hour. But in summer time it is very desirable that ice should be at hand.

Now as to the method to be adopted. Supposing we wished to make a quantity of puff paste sufficient for a small pie, we should take a quarter of a pound of flour which has been sifted and is thoroughly dry, a small pinch of salt, the yolk of one egg, a quarter of a pound of butter which has been squeezed in a cloth to free it from moisture, and six or eight drops of lemon-juice. We pile the flour on the pastry board or slab, and mix the salt with it, make a little well in the centre, and put into it the egg yolk, and add very gradually as much water as is required to mix the whole, till the paste is of the consistency of the butter. When this point is reached, the paste should be worked and kneaded on the slab till it feels smooth, soft and elastic, when it may be left untouched for a minute or two.

The next thing to be done is to flour the slab lightly, put the paste upon it, flour this also, and roll it gently till it is large enough to hold the squeezed butter. If too much flour is used the pastry will be spoilt. We then place the butter in the centre of the paste, and fold the four sides over to cover it completely. WE make the edges meet by pressing them together, and put the paste thus prepared upon ice or in a cool place for about ten minutes. We now roll it till it is about the third of an inch thick, and in doing this we must be careful that the butter does not break through the paste in any direction. Also we must remember to have the paste straight before us, and to roll it straight, otherwise the flakes will be one-sided. We then fold the paste into three equal parts, flatten it lightly with the rolling-pin again, then turn it round so that we leave the rough edges towards us, and roll it again, fold it, and put it away for a quarter of an hour, and repeat until it has had seven turns or rolls, and been put upon ice three times, or after every other turn. When the last turn has been given we again leave it in a cold place for a few minutes, roll it till it is a quarter of an inch thick, and it is ready for use.

Pastry thus made will rise to five times its original height.

When a girl has once learnt to make puff pastry well she may vary her method a little, without doing much harm; that is to say, she may use rather less butter, or rather more flour, or in cold weather she may shorten the time allowed for cooling; her experience will enable her to decide how far she may depart from the regulated routine. It will be obvious that the method I have described is rather a troublesome one. It need not be so, however, if other cooking is being done at the time, for nothing can be easier than to put the pastry away, proceed with other work, then at the right time fetch it out, give it a roll, put it away again, and repeat until it is finished.

I have known cooks make very good flaky pastry without putting it to cool at all. They simply made the paste, rolled it out, divided the butter into equal portions, spread one portion upon the paste as they would spread butter upon bread, floured it well, folded it over, and rolled it; then buttered, floured, and rolled it again until the requisite quantity of butter had been used. If there were time to let it lie they would seize the opportunity of doing so, but otherwise they would leave it.

It will be understood that puff paste is used for superior pastry of all kinds, meat pies, tarts, patties, and vol-au-vents. There is, however, an easier way of making superior pastry which answers excellently for pies and tarts. The following is the method adopted in making it. Take half a pound of flour, six ounces of butter, a pinch of salt, six drops of lemon-juice, and the yolk of an egg. Prepare the ingredients as for true puff paste; that is, squeeze the butter to free it from moisture, and be sure that the flour is dry and sifted. Chop the butter in the flour with a knife; then pile the flour on the board; make a well in the centre, and put into it the salt, egg yolk, and lemon-juice. Add the water gradually, and mix it in lightly with the fingers, to make a light not over stiff paste. Flour the rolling-pin and the board to prevent the pastry sticking, but do not put too much flour in, or the pastry will be spoilt. Roll it well three times, and after each roll fold it in two and turn it with the rough edges to the front. If it makes a crackling sound as it is being rolled it is a sign that it is good. If liked, this pastry may be made with half a pound of flour, four ounces of butter, half a teaspoonful of baking-powder, and dripping may be used instead of butter.

Short paste is used more than puff paste; it is suitable for fruit pies and tartlets. The idea with it is to rub the shortening into the flour before making the paste. Short paste is more wholesome and much more easily made than puff paste. It may be made to be most delicious if only pains, good ingredients, and a light cool hand are brought to the work. I am afraid, however, that space will not permit me to speak of it to-day; so I will reserve it, as well as suet paste, and hot-water paste  for the raised pies which are so popular at this time of the year, till our next lesson.

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