Saturday, September 15, 2012

Feel the pastry fear and do it anyway

My best-of-the-best session at the food bloggers' conference came courtesy of Sebastien Lambert, the Patisserie Head Tutor at Le Cordon Bleu NZ. We all lined up at the beautiful big pastry table (just  like Julia Child, only Le Cordon Bleu here is brand new and better equipped - we were the first people to use it!) and watched as he took us through making a sweet short almond pastry and lining a tart tin. Then he produced a chilled round of pastry for each of us so we could roll it out and line a tin ourselves. We couldn't take it away, of course, but we did get to keep the offcuts, enough to put in the freezer and repeat what we'd learnt at home. The tart tin at the front of this picture is mine.

Almond pastry 
(courtesy of Sebastien and Le Cordon Bleu)
This is the recipe they gave us, but the instructions are based on what I watched Sebastien do. I don't claim that this is exactly correct - any mistakes are mine!)

Combine together 150g soft butter and 90g sifted icing sugar.

Mix in 90g ground almonds and a small pinch of salt.
Beat in 1 egg and a dash of vanilla (the vanilla is optional).
Mix in 250g plain flour until the mixture just comes together.

Gather the dough lightly together and use the heel of your hand to smear portions of it out in front of you, lifting each one as you go with a scraper and piling the pieces together, then combine them again.

Shape into a thick flattish round, cover with plastic wrap and leave in the fridge overnight (or you can freeze it for later use). Next day, take it out and let it lose a little of its chill.

Dust the bench very lightly with flour and roll it out to the desired shape and thickness, keeping the dough close to you so that you can use your shoulder strength. Use enough flour so that the pastry can be moved around easily as you roll it.

To line the tart tin:
Brush the inside of the tin very lightly with melted butter.
Use a fork to prick the bottom, then turn the dough over so the pricked side will sit against the base of the tin. (This is because the fork makes tiny cone-shaped holes in the dough, and it's better to have the wider opening at the bottom of the cone on the underside of the pastry.)
Using the tin base as a guide, cut the dough into shape, leaving a border wide enough to leave a generous overhang.
Roll the dough very loosely over the rolling pin and unroll it neatly into the tin.

Gently but firmly press the dough into the edge of the base all around.
Use your fingers to trim off the dough all around the top edge of the tin, making sure to leave a neat little "rim" at the top, just slightly higher than the tin.

To blind bake the tart case: 
(These instructions are based both on what Sebastien told us and on what Dean Brettschneider says in his new and incredibly useful book, Pie.) 
Put the lined tin back into the fridge for 15-30 minutes.
Preheat oven (do not use the fan) to 200C.
Place dried beans or ceramic pie beads on a big square of baking paper in the lined tin - big enough to stick up all around and allow you to lift out the beans/beads easily).
Bake the case for about 15 minutes, until it has turned golden brown.
Take out the beans/beads and brush the bottom of the case with egg wash - 1 egg well beaten with 2 tablespoons of water.
Put the case back in the oven for 5 minutes to colour and seal the base.
You can then fill the case and put it back in the oven, or cool it ready for a cold dessert filling, or keep it in an airtight container overnight and use it next day.

I haven't used my leftover sweet pastry yet, but for the very first time I've made my own plain short pastry properly, not in the processor - by hand! And made savoury tarts with it. I'll write about that next week.

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