Dessert Components: Pastry Dough, Part I

I wrote a post a long time ago called Edible Legos.  No, it’s not about recreating those little plastic blocks in fondant or marzipan for Home Consumption (although I suppose you could, as long as it doesn’t confuse Junior).  I was trying (and maybe failing) to come up with an Apt Metaphor for the idea that Keen Desserts are basically just a particular combination of basic component parts.  Perhaps I should have gone with Erector Set or maybe Patchwork Quilt, but I went with Legos.  Oddly, many people find my blog by searching Edible Legos.  I’m not sure exactly what they have in mind.  Whatever.

Anyway, this post is the first in an Occasional Series on dessert components that will cover everything from doughs to fillings to garnishes so that you can modify them and combine them in new and interesting ways.  Yay.

Thanks to everyone who voted in the poll to help choose this first topic. For a minute, I was a little concerned that chocolate was going to win.  Not that I don’t like chocolate, mind you. It’s just that the post is supposed to be about versatile dessert components, and while chocolate is Lovely, I don’t think it fits the Versatility Bill nearly as well as pastry dough.  So, yay you guys for choosing the component I wanted to win.  Ain’t democracy grand?

For those of you Looking Ahead to Post Dos, it looks like the topic will be eggs.  And I’m hoping by then that our chicken girls will have provided us with some fresh eggs.  Hooray for chickens!

Right, then.  Pastry Dough.

This is actually a Very Huge Category.  In my mind, pastry doughs comprise:

  • pie crusts/tart crusts
  • laminated doughs such as croissants and puff pastry
  • yeasted doughs, such as brioche and other enriched bread dough
  • pate a choux, for cream puffs, eclairs and What Not

Wow–that’s a lot of dough.  But for this series, I want to make sure all the information is in front of you in one, um…two places, and give you some ideas for varying the base recipes so that you can create your own flavor profiles.  So, onward we go.  In Part I, we’ll address pie crust and laminated dough.  Part II will be all about yeast doughs and pate a choux.  I have already written fairly extensively about all these doughs.  See?

Pie Crust, another Pie Crust post

puff pastry and rough puff pastry and Another Puff Pastry Post

sweet dough and another sweet dough

pate a choux and another pate a choux post

First, look to the Cliffs Notes I’ve kindly written for you below, complete with ideas for variations.  If you need more in-depth information, go and read the older post/s that pertain to whatever dough you’re interested in.  So not a cop out.  It’s good stuff.  Promise.

Not to make things too confusing, but at the end of Part II, there will be a section about creative ways to use all four of these doughs–either alone or in combination–to make some Cool Food.

Pie Crust

  • main ingredients are flour, fat and liquid
  • less  is more when it comes to mixing to minimize gluten formation
  • If your dough looks like dough at the end of mixing, you’ve probably added too much liquid.
  • If you are a little heavy handed with the liquid, mix it 50:50 with vodka.  The alcohol will evaporate in the oven and does not contribute to gluten formation.  Nice!
  • Pie doughs need to rest, either before or after rolling, so the flour has a chance to completely hydrate.
  • Roll pie crust between two sheets of parchment.  You can even store them in the freezer that way and pull one or two out when you need them.
  • You can bake pie dough straight from the freezer.  This can also minimize any pesky shrinkage issues.
  • Blind baking, or baking the crust empty for a period of time, even if the recipe doesn’t call for it is never a bad thing.
  • Apply a little egg wash to the bottom of the crust before blind baking.  This will form a barrier that can help your pie crust stay crisp, even with gooey filling.

Types of pie crust include flaky and sandy, or short.  Flaky crusts contain large pieces of fat.  In a sandy crust, the fat has been more or less completely worked into the flour.  This keeps the gluten strands short.  Hence short crust.

Especially when making a flaky crust, keep all your ingredients very cold.  Even frozen butter would not be a bad thing, because colder fat is less likely to melt into the flour.  If the fat melts into the flour, you’ll end up with a short crust.

Frozen grated butter can just be tossed together with the flour/salt/sugar without any “rubbing in.”

If you are going to rub in or cut in your fat, don’t bother with a pastry cutter or forks.  Use your fingertips.  It goes more quickly, and you’ll get a better feel for the dough.

Aside from flour, fat and liquid, many pie crusts contain salt (all of them should), and maybe a little sugar and/or egg.

Sugar aids in browning.  If you have an issue with pie crusts not browning, add a little sugar.

Whole eggs add some richness as well as some structure in the form of the proteins in the whites.  Of course, a whole egg will also add water, so little if any additional water will be called for.

Variations
Just because pie crust is generally Barbara Hershey to a Bette Midler filling, there’s no reason that you can’t jazz it up a bit to enhance that filling, beaches.

  • Use compound, or flavored, butter as your fat.  Just make sure that there aren’t any wet ingredients in the butter (like lemon juice–use zest instead)
  • Toss in any type of ground spices or dried herbs into the flour.  As long as it complements your filling, you’re good to go.
  • Citrus zest sounds like a good idea.
  • Very finely minced crystallized ginger
  • Consider using a smoked salt in a savory crust, like for quiche.  Any specialty salt, finely ground, could add a nice extra dimension to your crust.
  • Also for a savory crust, finely grated hard cheese–just a tablespoon or two–can be blended in with the dry ingredients.

Laminated Dough
First, a video in Dos Parts for your Enjoyment and Edification:

  • comes in yeasted (croissant, Danish) and unyeasted (puff pastry, blitz puff pastry) varieties. The question of whether yeasted and unyeasted are words doesn’t even enter into it.
  • Made by rolling and folding 1 layer of butter between two layers of dough to make tons of thin layers that are stuck together, or laminated
  • works best when you can keep the texture of the dough and the butter similar.  This means having to refrigerate the dough periodically to keep the butter from melting.
  • The most critical part is keeping loose flour off the dough when rolling and folding.  Loose flour impedes lamination.  Always brush excess flour off of dough before folding.
  • Classic puff pastry is made with 6 business letter, or three-folds.
  • A perfectly made puff pastry will rise 8x its original height.  That’s right, 1/4″ magically puffs 2 inches.  Amazing.
  • It’s easier to roll and fold puff pastry than it is croissant or Danish dough.  Know this going in.  The yeast complicates matters as fermentation is occurring while you’re trying to roll.  Lots of forces are acting on the dough, both external (you and your rolling pin) and internal (fermentation).
  • When you roll and fold (turn), keep the sides of the dough as square as possible.  Match up corners as perfectly as you can, just like when you fold sheets or towels.  Failure to match up the corners will result in way fewer layers at the edges of your dough, and that means much less/uneven puffing.
  • After a roll and fold, turn the dough 90 degrees for the next roll and fold.  This keeps you from folding the same edges together too many times and increases your chance of making perfect puff with perfect layers over the entire surface of the dough.
  • When you do a turn, you can either fold in thirds like a business letter or fold the two ends towards the center and then fold the whole thing in half.  That’s called a book fold.  Some people consider it cheating.  It really isn’t (unless you’re French, I guess), but I find trying to roll out a book fold pretty awkward as it’s thicker than a standard fold and harder to keep all the edges lined up.
  • Make sure to let the dough hang out in the fridge for at least two hours between each two turns.  This gives the gluten in the dough a chance to rest so it won’t resist rolling during later turns.  An overnight rest is always welcome, too, if you have the time.
  • Roll the dough/butter package to 1/4″ thickness.  For each turn (roll/fold/rotate), roll to 1/4″ again.  1/4″ is the magical thickness when making puff pastry or croissants.
  • Use low moisture butter when making laminated dough.  Plugra is widely available in the US and works very well. If you don’t have access to Plugra, look for a European-style butter or search for “low-moisture butter” online.  The less water in your butter layer, the less likely it will be to start bleeding into the dough layers. And the less that happens, the higher your dough will puff when baked.

Variations
Puff pastry and croissant dough are ridiculously versatile.  Couple that with ways to vary the flavor of the dough, and the World is your Oyster.

  • Use a simple compound butter for the butter layer (mix Plugra together with some dried ground spices.  Don’t try to put anything chunky into the compound butter or it’ll mess up your lamination.
  • After you’ve finished all your turns, you can roll out the dough in sugar, finely grated cheese, herbs–almost anything you can think of that makes sense.
  • Did I say sugar?  How about cinnamon sugar, lemon sugar, or ginger sugar.  You get the idea.

I just looked up at the list of variations for the pie crust, and they’re almost identical.  So, I’m going to stop, now.  Just remember, until you are completely finished with the laminating process, don’t add any ingredients or flavoring agents that are the least bit chunky.  You don’t want to do anything to mess up those layers.  Seriously.

Alrighty then.  I think that does it for today.  Leave a comment, okay? If you’re in this for the long haul–over all the posts that will be in this series, you’ll get a Certificate of Completion.  Just comment on every post, and I’ll send you one.  By the way, if you think I’ve left anything out, or if you have a question that I didn’t cover (I guess that amounts to the same thing, huh?), let me know that, too.  Thanks.

This concludes Pastry Dough, Part I.

Have a lovely day.

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Comments

  1. says

    Thank you for these tips. I have gotten over my fear of pie dough, but laminated dough has always frightened me. Now I think I’ll have to give it a try!

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