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The rough stuff

June 14, 2010


How I finally made friends with my rolling pin

This was the week I decided I have been afraid of pastry for too long.

I have always found pastry-making a stressful, lengthy process whereby the entire kitchen is covered in flour, I never have it rolled thinly enough, it always breaks and my pie ends up like some road-accident patchwork, and very often it doesn’t cook through on the bottom. The idea that anyone would want to be a pastry-chef is completely mystifying to me.

My pastry problem was brought home to me once again this week following an attempt during the week to make Maggie Beer’s famous and supposedly foolproof sour cream pastry for a chicken pie – I made it, and it tasted great, but seemed to take me all day, I did hundreds of things wrong and my measurements were out. I think I handled it too much, processed it too much, didn’t have things cold enough, and just generally stuffed it up. So the result, while lovely in flavour, was too crumbly and looked like crap, because of my almost running out of pastry for the pie lids so rolling it way too thin for the tops. Hopeless.

There and then I determined to master at least one basic pastry recipe – this has been a big hole in my repertoire (and my pie crusts) all my cooking life and I’ve relied entirely on frozen pastry forever. Which is fine, but I hate being scared of cooking. Happily, this realisation coincided with a long weekend visit from my sisters, one of whom is the Paragon of Pastry, so I demanded a lesson in her gold standard easy pastry.

The Paragon – whose Christmas mince pies each year provoke the kind of unseemly, grasping scramblefest among her siblings akin to the behaviour of those ghastly bargain-shoppers with faces pressed to the department store sliding doors on Boxing Day – reckons the only pastry she ever makes is the Rough Puff she learned decades ago from Delia Smith, and uses it for everything.

When the Paragon makes it, this pastry is fabulously sturdy, flaky and crisp. She seems to make it in about forty-five seconds flat, and it always works.

I am determined to master it.

So today we had a lesson, and made two batches – one for a quiche and the other for freezing, ready for next time we want some.

Couldn’t find Delia Smith’s particular rough puff recipe, but the web is full of versions which are identical and very simple. The tricky part is not the measurements but the technique.

Rough puff pastry

  • 250g butter, at room temperature but not soft; cut into chunks
  • 250g plain flour
  • 150ml iced water
  • salt
  • squeeze lemon juice

Method

This is the  complicated part, which I’m told improves only with practice. The Paragon’s visit also happened to coincide with my discovery of the video function on my mini camera, so here for your edification is the start of the process. If I’d known it would work so adequately I’d have video’d the whole thing step-by-step, but this start will have to suffice. At least you can see from this bit just how rough is rough – what you’re after, apparently, is great lumps of unmixed butter which when rolled & folded, form the layers of flaky goodness in the pastry. Big no-nos are letting it get too warm, rolling it too much and handling it too much. So there.

Step 1:

Here, then, is the Paragon’s step one: chuck the lumps of butter in with the flour & salt, make a well in the middle and pour in the icy water & lemon juice, and then do this! At the end she’s gathering it up ready to turn out on to the bench. Just like that – big loose, lumpy mess.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Step 2:

Form into a rough rectangle.

Roll the dough in one direction only, pulling in the pastry to keep edges straightish.

Don’t overwork the pastry! Whatever that means!

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Step 3:

Give the pastry a quarter turn to the right or left and make two dints with your hand across its length. Push the pastry together from the ends, sort of trapping the air in pockets made by the dints, and roll out again.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Step 4:

Fold the length of pastry into thirds, as shown.

Give the dough another quarter turn and roll out again to three times the length.

Then fold as before, cover with cling film and chill for at least 20 mins before rolling to use. We put it into the pie dish and chilled again.

The filling should go into cold pastry.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

The result:

We used the pastry for a quiche base and it turned out rather beautifully, despite my 
Idiot’s mistake #4587: I wrapped the lovely soft pastry around the rolling pin as I’ve seen cool pastry people do, then unrolled it over the quiche tin, then enthusiastically used the roller to slice the pastry off at the fluted edges. Beautiful. Except  I hadn’t actually let the pastry reach the greased bottom of the tin first, so when it did drop, it was way too shallow all around the sides. So, hello patching at which I am now quite accomplished, and goodbye beautifully fluted edges. Hrmph.

But cest la vie – when the quiche (leek & rainbow chard, mmm) was cooked, it looked like this. And the pastry was buttery, crisp and flaky and quite simply Very Good.

Hooray!

9 comments

  1. Mince pie recipe PLEASE. Complete with mince pies to sample.

    And, amazingly, the Paragon didn’t even use TONGS.


  2. Am deeply impressed. I am HOPELESS with pastry and I’m not proud to admit it. But I am inspired. I too will master this pastry. I will. I hope.


  3. Shuckin’ quiche looks tops, well done you! And I really want those famed mince pies – year round, but particularly Right Now.

    Aside from very judicious handling, I’ve found using cold ingredients helps too – I even chill my flour pre-pastry making.


  4. Will try to prise the mince pie recipe from the Paragon’s fingertips some time. And thank you Di for the chilly advice. Seems this is THE key to pastry. And good luck to you, life in a pink fibro! let me know how your attempts pan out.


  5. Pastry is the work of the devil! Are you mad woman?


    • I’m just a devil woman,
      with pastry on my mi-ind…


  6. I have never cooked decent pastry in my life – until yesterday when I attempted this. I even got an 8 out of 10 from the chief pastry maker.

    Years and years ago before he became the CPM he suggested after a series of pastry failures I should ask his mother for her recipe. Stung with humiliation it took me six months to pluck up the courage. But when I did ask she was delighted to impart the secret to her success… packeted Bakeo Pastry Mix from the supermarket – just add water.


  7. Yay, Eileen! Fantastic! I am so thrilled it worked for you too. Hilarious about your mother-in-law’s secret recipe. Take that, CPM.

    I made another batch of this rough puff all by myself on the weekend and once again it was fab. And with the leftover frozen stuff from last week I made a pear & frangpiane tart. Oh, my. The trouble is, once you know how to make pastry, you want to make it all the time. All that butter …. mmmmmm.


  8. Hi have just had a beautiful almond pastry made by my fearless god daughter …absolutely delicious ..no pastry fear in this neck of the woods



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