Is there anything better than pâte brisée? Cubed butter, an avalanche of flour and a pinch of sugar or salt and sometimes both pulsed in the food processor until it has been divided again and again into pea-sized bits and then glued together with a trickle of ice cold water. I’m convinced that there’s nothing that can’t be done with it, from pie… and really, we could stop right here: Pie. Pie after a movie. Rhymes with sigh. But there are also tarts and quiche very tiny, decorative cookies. Really, the possibilities are endless.
And yet, because without “and yet”-s, there really is no discourse, twice in the past month, pate brisee has not come through for me. It was too stiff and pretty unyielding, cracking when it should have bent and tearing when it should have twisted, kind of like the guy in the back of yoga class that always gets dragged there by his girlfriend. And while they both still deserve mad props–the boyfriend for making a room full of mostly women wish their boys would ever embarrass themselves publicly for the sake of love and imbuing them bragging-to-girlfriends rights, and the pate brisee for remaining delicious even when springing leaks aplenty–I can’t help but have a nagging feeling that there must be a better option.
On the 4th of July, in the first instance of pate brisee dismay, I only wanted to make pie, strawberry pie, as it could possibly be the only thing more American and wholly unloathable than apple. But, it being a barbeque, and a well-attended and eating-while-standing one at that, I got it in my head that I would make “hand pies” or wee fruit-enclosed turnovers rather than regular round pie. Could there be a better finger food? But turnovers, as the name may imply, require folding and a little stretching and turning and crimping and this crust, it wasn’t having it. The dozen or so that I got into the oven with no cracks or tears left it 20 minutes later looking as if they had starred in a slasher flick.
This past weekend, I had my second instance of pate brisae disappointment, when I made two nectarine and blackberry galettes. They did not wish to bend, they did not want to be folded into a round accordion and they sure as heck didn’t wish to contain overflowing berry juices. (Excuse me while I pause for a moment… nyum, berry juices…)
Should it be any consolation–and who are we kidding, it is–the busted hand pies look a heck of a lot like those on MarthaStewart.com. They were also insanely delicious, as were the galettes, and each were gone in 2.5 minutes flat, but my complaint isn’t with any of these things. My complaint is that I have known great doughs; wonderful, pliably, bendy and forgiving doughs and this ain’t them.
Take, for instance, the one that I used to make empanadas in April. Was that a delight! Imagine swapping the salt for the sugar, and leaving leaky turnovers behind forever! How about that mushroom galette I made in November? This, too, was a dough deserving high praise. It bent and folded and baked as pretty as a picture. Why not use this one instead next time?
I hope to, and will give a detailed report, as soon as I can find some hapless types to be my next guinea pigs. I’m a tough girl to be friends with, as you can guess.
In the meanwhile, the recipes I used are below. They were delicious, indeed, and will not disappoint. But do expect some cracks and fissures, and if anyone asks you about them, be sure to flip your hair back a little and look them dead-on when you said “Oh, I meant to do that.”
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Adapted from Martha Stewart
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water
In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour and salt; pulse to combine. Add butter, and pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs with some larger pieces remaining, about 10 seconds. (To mix by hand, combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl, then cut in butter with a pastry blender.)
With machine running, add ice water through feed tube in a slow, steady stream, just until dough holds together without being wet or sticky. Do not process more than 30 seconds. Test by squeezing a small amount of dough together; if it is still too crumbly, add a bit more water, 1 tablespoon at a time.
Turn out dough onto a clean work surface. Divide in half, and place each half on a piece of plastic wrap. Shape into flattened disks. Wrap in plastic, and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight. The dough can be frozen for up to 1 month; thaw overnight in the refrigerator before using.
Strawberry Hand Pies
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Makes 12 large
3 cups strawberries, hulled and cut in half or quarters, depending on size
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
All-purpose flour, for work surface
1 recipe pâte brisée (above)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Sanding or demara sugar, for sprinkling
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line two baking sheets with Silpats (a French nonstick baking mat) or parchment paper. In a medium bowl, add strawberries, sugar, and cornstarch; stir to combine, set aside.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll one half of dough into a large rectangle, about 1/8-inch-thick. Using a 5-inch cookie cutter, cut out 6 rounds. Transfer rounds to prepared baking sheet.
Place about two tablespoons of the strawberry mixture onto one-half of each round. Lightly brush egg around the edge of the covered half of each round. Fold remaining dough over to enclose, forming a half moon. Gently press edges together to seal. Brush the tops of each pie with egg. Using a paring knife, slash the top of each pie. Sprinkle generously with sanding sugar.
Repeat this process with second half of dough and remaining filling on second baking sheet.
Bake until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer pies to a wire rack to cool slightly before serving. Or let cool completely, and store in an airtight container at room temperature up to 4 days.
Nectarine and Blackberry Galette
Adapted from Bon Appetit, July 2002
Makes one smallish galette, good for 4 to 6 people
1/2 recipe pâte brisée (above)
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
3 medium nectarines, each pitted and cut into 16 slices
1/2 -pint basket blackberries
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional, still not sure if I liked it in there)
1 egg, beaten to blend (for glaze)
Raw or coarse sugar crystals
Peach preserves, heated
Roll out dough on lightly floured sheet of parchment paper to 12-inch round, turning dough occasionally to prevent sticking. Slide rimless baking sheet under parchment. Transfer dough on parchment to refrigerator. Chill until dough firms slightly, about 30 minutes.
Make filling: Stir sugar and cornstarch in medium bowl to blend. Mix in fruit and vanilla. Let stand until juices are released, stirring fruit occasionally, about 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375°F. Transfer baking sheet with dough to work surface. Let stand 8 minutes to allow dough to soften slightly if too firm to fold. Spoon fruit and juices into center of dough.
Arrange fruit in even 9-inch-diameter layer in center. Brush 2-inch border of dough with egg glaze. Lift about 2 inches of dough border and pinch to form vertical seam. Continue around tart, pinching seam every 2 inches to form standing border. Fold border down over fruit (center 6 inches of fruit remain uncovered). Brush folded border with egg glaze; sprinkle with raw sugar.
Place baking sheet with tart in oven. Bake until crust is golden brown and fruit filling is bubbling at edges, about 55 minutes. Remove from oven; slide large metal spatula under tart to loosen from parchment. Brush fruit with preserves. Slide tart onto rack. Cool 45 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with ice cream.