the clueless
cook's handbook:

pastry dough

the hands of a duchess: how do i make pastry dough
Here are a few tried-and-proven methods of making pastry dough and a few things that help your dough come out the way itís supposed to.

The first key is to make sure that everything is chilly. Sometimes I even put the flour and mixing bowl in the freezer for a little while before mixing. The reason this matters is that you donít want the fat (butter or margarine or, heaven forbid, Crisco) to melt into the flour. As soon as your butter melts, you activate the gluten in the flour and you end up with gooey or hard dough. Yuck.

If you manage it right, the way my aunt explains it, you cut the butter into small pieces, which you coat with flour. Then you add something to make it all stick together. You want the butter to be relatively intact Ė in, say, couscous- to pea-sized lumps. When it melts in the oven, the butter "collapses" and leaves a lovely little flake where it was. Thatís how good pastry gets its texture.

The other key is to go lightly. Donít touch the dough if you can help it until youíre pressing it together at the very end. I use a rubber spatula to mix my water or egg into the dough. The old saying goes, "It takes the hands of a duchess to make good pie crust." Or something like that. Just remember, duchesses donít like dirty hands. The heat of your hands will melt the butter = activation of gluten = Bad.

The knife method:
Requiring only two table knives and your hands, this is the least tool-intensive way to make good pastry dough. Take a knife in each hand, and cut the butter in to the flour mixture with parallel strokes about Ĺ inch apart. It sometimes helps (with all of these methods) to cut the butter up first.

The pastry blender method: A pastry blender is a D-shaped tool with multiple blades in the curve of the D and a handle for the vertical straight part of the D. You press down on the blender, again cutting the butter into the flour mixture. Rotate the bowl as you go, and clean the buildup off of the pastry blender. Stir the flour up from the bottom of the bowl, too.

The food processor method: If youíre the proud owner of a food processor, you can skip the manual labor. Pulse the dry ingredients a few times to combine, then add the cold butter (which should be cut up into small chunks first). Process the mixture Ė it shouldnít take more than 10 seconds or so Ė until you have a crumbly cornmeal-like texture. The only trick here is to make sure not to over-process.

-- by Erika Molnar

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