Kitchen Shrink: The Upper Crust; Pre-Holiday Baking Primer
As pies and tarts are the quintessential desserts of fall, here’s a lesson on crusts of all manners to suit assorted palates, dietary restrictions, skill levels and entertaining needs.
There are four ways to go with pie crusts: 1) divine, scratch-made ones with choice ingredients have a somewhat complex and time consuming methodology, but well worth the effort; 2) crust mixes need the addition of a fat and liquid; 3) dough balls or pre-made pastry sheets only require rolling into the desired shape, or molding into a pan; and 4) pie crusts a-go-go come ready-made either refrigerated or frozen in pie plates.
Follow these cardinal tips for flaky, tender scratch crusts:
1. Use super-chilled butter or plant-based fats, and cut into pea-sized pieces;
2. Be spartan with water or other liquids, as overly wet, gummy dough will encourage the development of gluten and create a cardboard-like crust. Some intrepid bakers use vodka as a water substitute to stem gluten development. I’ll drink to that!
3. Keep hands, rolling pins and surfaces well-floured;
4. Form dough into a smooth, round, symmetrical disk;
5. Chill dough for several hours to ensure easy handling;
6. Roll the dough to a smooth, even circle with uniform thickness throughout, constantly rotating the dough as you roll;
7. Gently drop the rolled-out dough into a pie plate and limit manhandling;
8. Bake the pie crust like Baby Bear’s porridge — just right until it is brown and flaky, not underdone or burned.
Most traditionalists use all-purpose, or fine, low-protein pastry flour for a more delicate texture. The higher the protein content (like whole-wheat) the heartier and tougher the crust. To dial up flavor — and give a gluten-free oomph of fiber, heart-healthy dose of plant-based fatty acids, and protein (without the collateral damage of cardboard crust) — use a variety of nut flours. These can either be blended with wheat flours, or used solo.
Almond flour has a sweet flavor, soft chew and can be substituted one for one with white all-purpose flour. It complements stone-fruit fillings as well as berries. As an added boon, almonds have a rich store of Vitamins B, E and zinc, bone-boosting calcium and magnesium, the same anti-inflammatory resveratrol found in red wine, and cancer-preventive alpha-tocopherols.
Or try hazelnut flour for a more aromatic flavor and indulgent richness; macadamia nut flour for an exotic taste and texture for cream pies like coconut and chocolate; pecan meal for a buttery richness that pairs perfectly with pumpkin filling; gorgeous green pistachio flour with a load of nerve calming B6s, and prebiotics to dial up digestion; walnut flour for a heart-healthy twist on apple pie; or mellow-flavored chestnut flour to ring in the holiday spirit.
Those sensitive to nuts can try sweet, tropical tasting coconut or banana flour, or sustainable (and caffeine-free) coffee flour from the delicate coffee fruit with floral and citrus notes that surprisingly resembles the flavor of tea more than coffee. Or use hearty grain flours for a nuttiness without the fat like quinoa, brown rice, teff, or mineral-dense buckwheat.
For a modern update on a nostalgic crust, blend Graham cracker crumbs or crushed chocolate-wafer cookies with melted goat butter and Ceylon cinnamon — making a wonderful base for cheesecakes or mud pies.
Creative chefs do bold add-ins to crusts like smoky cardamom, sassy ginger, Meyer lemon zest, or shred in sharp cheddar cheese for memorable apple pies; peppercorns, fresh-chopped rosemary, sage, basil, Italian parsley, garlic, or turmeric for savory quiche, and pot pie crusts. Or swap out water for Greek yogurt for a probiotic zing and flaky texture.
If you want something scrumptious in a jiff, use a sheet of decadent puff pastry (in grocer’s freezer) with oodles of butter folded into layers of dough that “puffs” up into eye-catching dishes — both sweet and savory from assorted fruit tarts to mushroom strudels, and wild-caught Salmon Wellingtons.
Recipe: Buttered Almond Crust
• Ingredients: 2 1/2 cups almond flour (blanched); 1/3 cup brown, date or coconut sugar; 6 tablespoons butter (goat, ghee or sweet cream), melted; few drops of almond or vanilla extract; dash of pink sea salt
• Method: Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In a glass bowl, whisk melted butter with extract. In a food processor, combine almond flour, sugar and salt. Blend well. Add butter and process until a ball forms. Grease pie pan with butter and press dough into pan. Pierce with fork throughout. Bake until golden, about 12 minutes. Crust is ready for the filling of your choice.
— Catharine Kaufman can be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and see more recipes at freerangeclub.com