I said in our last lesson that the idea in puff paste is to have the butter and paste separate, so that the paste shall be made up of a number of layers, divided from each other by layers of butter. In short-paste, on the other hand, the idea is for the butter to be mixed with the flour by kneading, not rolling. Indeed, one great secret in making good short-crust is to roll it as little as possible. After the butter and flour have been moistened with water, the paste would be rolled once only to make it smooth and of a good shape.
Short paste is much more wholesome than puff paste. It is used chiefly for fruit pies and tartlets. It is made more easily, and is much more commonly met with than puff paste, which is usually regarded as a luxury.
In short paste, as in puff paste, the addition of an egg and of a few drops of lemon-juice enriches the paste, and helps to make it workable. These ingredients are not, however, absolutely necessary, and very good pastry may be made without them.
Short paste is "superior," or "good," or "plain," according to the quality and quantity of the materials used in making it. In very rich pastry equal quantities of butter and flour would be used. Superior crust might, however, be made with less than half the weight of butter than of flour, and good economical pastry may be made with a smaller proportion of butter and a little baking-powder. Good plain pastry may be made with sweet soft beef dripping, such as is obtained from joints, or produced by rendering down ox flare or other kinds of soft beef fat.
A great many people have a strong objection to pastry made with dripping. I cannot quite understand the delicacy of appetite which refuses good beef dripping and accepts cheap common butter. If butter is wanted, let good butter be used; but if it is a question between dripping that is fresh, soft and sweet, and questionable or cooking butter, I should say by all means choose the dripping. A large proportion of the composition sold under the name is not butter at all - it is coloured animal fat. Why should we not use the animal fat, i.e., dripping, and omit the colouring? The difference in price between the adulterated article and the real one is worth consideration. And I hope the girls who attend our class will be too sensible to scorn economy in cookery. A really good cook is never a wasteful one, and it is wasteful to purchase cheap butter for every-day pastry when there is in the larder sweet dripping that could be employed instead. IN making pastry a light cool hand is worth more than a pennyworth of colouring matter.
It must not be supposed, however, that I recommend the use of all kinds of dripping in making pastry. Fresh soft beef dripping is excellent for the purpose, but mutton dripping is to so. It has a way of making pastry taste like tallow-candles, and as Europeans have not the same tastes as the Esquimaux, this flavour is not popular. Though mutton dripping is not to be made into pies, however, good hard mutton fat, finely-shred, is almost as good as beef suet for making paste for boiled puddings. Lard is much liked by some cooks for making pastry. It is, however, better when mixed with butter or dripping than when used alone. Bacon fat also, if not too much smoked, may be employed to make pastry for meat pies.
The water used in mixing pastry should be added gradually and mixed thoroughly. If a large quantity is poured in at once the pastry may be made over moist, and then an undue proportion of flour will have to be added before the pastry can be rolled. It should be remembered that it is scarcely possible to give the exact measure of water that will be needed in making pastry because some flours absorb more moisture than others. An experienced cook could tell in a moment by touching the pastry whether or not it was of the right consistency. All one can say to the inexperienced is that pastry should be smooth and stiff, but not too stiff. If over moist it will stick to the rolling-pin or the pastry-board, if too stiff it will not be light when baked.
We will suppose, therefore, that we wish to make superior short crust; how shall we proceed? We must put six ounces of flour on a board, and mix with it a very small pinch of salt. We then rub into it with the fingers four ounces of sweet butter, and keep rubbing until the butter is quite lost to sight and the flour looks like fine oatmeal. If the pastry is intended for a fruit-pie or tartlet, an ounce of finely powdered white sugar may now be added. We then make a well in the centre of the flour, and break into it the yolk of an egg. We put on this two drops of lemon-juice and a very little (about a tablespoonful) of cold water; mix all flour, egg, and water together with two fingers (or if the cook has not a cool hand she may mix the paste with the blade of a clean knife), and add more water gradually till there is a smooth stiff paste; knead this lightly, roll out once, and the pastry is ready. Of course, if the egg is not considered necessary it must be omitted.
If plain short crust is wanted, we put one pound of flour into a bowl with a pinch of salt and a heaped teaspoonful of baking powder. Rub into this six ounces of clarified dripping; add cold water to make a smooth stiff paste, knead lightly, roll out once and use.
The excellence of pastry depends very much upon its being properly baked. The best pastry that ever was mixed would be spoilt if the oven was not exactly right. If an oven is not hot enough the pastry will sink away from the edges of the dish and will be heavy. If the oven is too hot the pastry will be burnt or will stiffen without rising. The surest way of testing the heat of the oven is to bake a small piece of pastry before putting the pie or tart into it. Another way is to sprinkle a little flour upon the oven shelf. If it turn a bright brown in a few seconds the oven is hot enough. If it turn black the oven is too hot; if it remains pale in colour the oven is too slow.
Pastry should be put in the hot part of the oven for the first five minutes, after which is should be removed to a cooler part that it may be cooked through. Large pies containing fruit or meat, which must be thoroughly cooked, should have a sheet of paper placed over them as soon as the pastry has risen, to prevent their acquiring a dark brown colour before the contents of the pie are done.
Pastry which is to be boiled is lighter when made with suet than it is when butter, lard, or dripping is used. Beef suet is generally used for this purpose, but mutton suet is more wholesome and can be chopped the more easily of the two. With one pound of flour, four, six, eight or ten ounces of suet may be taken, according to the degree of richness required. Very good suet crust may be made with six ounces of suet, one teaspoonful of baking powder, a pinch of salt, and a pound of flour. The suet should be skimmed, and the fibres and sinews should be removed, and it should then be chopped till it is far as fine as oatmeal, and rubbed into the flour; water should be added gradually. To make a very stiff paste, the pastry should be rolled out once and it is ready for use.
Making raised pies, that is pies baked without either dishes or pattypans, is very interesting work, and like a good man other things it is very mysterious until we know how to do it, and very easy when we do. I will try to describe the method of making these pies very clearly. If there are any girls who feel inclined to follow the instructions given, and make the attempt, I would advise them to begin by making small pies, and when they have become quite proficient in the art, they may try their hand on large ones.
Raises pies may be made with every kind of meat, game, or poultry, provided only that whatever is used is free from bone. It must be remembered, therefore, that all meat must be boned before it is used for this purpose. The meat also must be pleasantly seasoned, and the gravy must be reduced until it will form a stiff jelly when cold. This strong gravy is put in after the pie has been taken from the oven, and it should, if possible, be made the day before it is wanted.
We will suppose, therefore, that we wish to make either one moderate sized pork pie, or two small ones. Take one pound of lean pork, one pound of flour, a quarter of a pound of lard, half a pint of cold water, six dried sage leaves, one egg, and a little pepper and salt. Weigh the flour and put it into a bowl with a little salt; put the lard and cold water into a saucepan, and set it on the fire until it is boiling hot. Pour the boiling liquor into the flour, and mix it with a wooden spoon till it is a firm smooth paste. It cannot, of course, be mixed with the fingers in the first instance, because it will be too hot.
Mix the sage leaves with a little pepper and salt on a plate. While the water and lard are heating, cut the meat into small neat pieces and set them aside till wanted.
As soon as the paste is made we must be as expeditious as possible, because the pie is to be moulded while the paste is warm and soft. As it gets cold it will become hard, and then we cannot shape it as we wish. First we cut off one-fourth of the quantity of paste (that is if we are going to make one moderate sized pie), put it on a plate, and set it over a saucepan of hot water to keep it soft; it is intended for the lid of the pie. We then take the remainder of the paste, form it with both hands to an oval lump, and lay it on the table. We keep pressing the centre of the lump with the knuckles of the right hand to make a hollow; we put the thumb of the right hand inside the hole thus formed, whilst keeping the four fingers outside it, and with the help of the left hand we work the shape round and round till we have a firm thin wall to the pie with a solid foundation. We shall find that the walls will show a tendency to grow wider than the bottom, and incline outwards. This cannot be allowed, they must inline inwards, and so if they get wide they must be doubled over and then pressed smooth, just as children double over part of a seam when they are in danger of "puckering" it. When we acquire skill in our work there will be no fear of our thus "puckering" our pork pie, and so we shall not need to fold it over, but while we are learners we must do our best, and leave the rest.
Another mistake into which we shall be likely to fall will be that of making our walls or sides thinner in some places than in others. This also must not be allowed. When the pie is filled and is in the oven, these thin places will, if left, burst through, and the pie will be spoilt. Care must be taken, therefore, to make the walls of an even thickness all round, and if any portion should inadvertently become thin and weak we must either double it over and make it thick again, as in the former case, or lay a little patch of pastry inside it to strengthen it.
Girls will see now how necessary it is to be quick in this business. The paste is soft when we begin to work upon it, but every minute it is getting harder. If it were to get quite hard we should have to put it on a plate over hot water to soften it again, and then it would not be so good as when freshly made.
When the pie is shaped we fill it to within half an inch of the top with the pieces of meat, first dipping each one into cold water and afterwards rolling it in the seasoning which was mixed ready for us a little while ago on the plate. We then roll out the piece of paste which was set apart for the cover to the proper shape and size, and lay it over the meat; egg the edges, and press them securely together, and make a hole in the centre of the pie through which the gravy can be poured when the pie is baked. All that now remains to be done is to ornament our work, brush it all over with beaten egg, and bake it in a moderate oven, then pour the gravy into it. The ornamentation must be left to taste. The pie will look very pretty if leaves of pastry are laid all round the outside, and if the rim at the top is notched finely and evenly with scissors. I once saw a pie made to look very pretty by placing what the artist called "wheatsheaves" (that is, strips of pastry rolled up, then cut finely at one end to make them look something like wheatsheaves) at regular intervals, with leaves of pastry between. Of course these ornaments had to be fastened firmly to the pie with white of egg.
Raised pies must be baked in a moderate oven, because they are solid, and have to be cooked throughout. A pie such as I have described would need to bake from two to three hours; a large pie would require from four to five hours. Sometimes these raised pies are made in a mould, then the bottom is rolled and laid in the tin; the sides are put on separately, the edges being fastened together with white of egg, and the lid is laid on and fastened in the same way. These moulds are not, however, to be found in every kitchen, and it is a very good thing when we are able to dispense with them.
Girls who wish to become adepts in the art of making pastry must always remember that the most perfect theories are of little use without practice. Practice alone will enable us to make good pastry. We may measure quantities and observe rules with the utmost precision, but until we have had practice we shall creep painfully along instead of marching bravely forward with our pies in our hands.