Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Puff Paste


The other day I went to my Irish Pub Cookbook for an idea for dinner. I happened to have some ham in the fridge, and some chicken in the freezer, so I ended up making a pot pie. The recipe called for pre-prepared crust, but I didn't have any (I've never had any). I went to Alice Waters' book for a recipe. Usually my wife makes the pie crusts but she was away.

Actually that one of the things I remember most about my courtship with her. We started dating in October, and then one thing and another, she came to Thanksgiving dinner and she brought pie. I was with her when she made the pie, and she whipped the pie crust out from scratch without a recipe and without measurements. And it was divine. I was in love.

But now being on my own for the crust, I went to Alice Waters. Basically she said two cups flour, one cup butter, a pinch of salt and just enough cold water to hold it together. Refrigerate one hour after mixing before rolling. So I got to thinking... I had seen plenty of pioneer recipes for pie, but never any for a crust or puff paste.

My wife learned to make her pie crust from her mother, and she's made hundreds and hundreds of pies. From everything I've seen, this rote style of learning was how the pioneers did it also-- never a written recipe or set measurements. Fortunately, some people did write things down. Mostly, they were enterprizing publishers, not pioneers.

Here's Anna Maria Collins' recipe for puff paste, from The Great Western Cookbook, 1857:

"To a pound and a quarter of sifted flour, rub gently in with the hand, half a pound of fresh butter; mix it up with half a pound of fresh butter; mix it up with half a pint of spring-water. Knead it well, and set it by for a quarter of an hour; then roll it out thin, lay on it, in small pieces, three-quarters of a pound more of butter, throw on it a little flour, double it up in folds, and roll it out thin three times, and set it by an hour in a cold place."

This seems a little excessive. Here's something more simple, from Warne's Model Cookery, 1869:

"One pound of flour; six ounces of beef suet; a cupful of cold water. Strip the skin from the suet, chop it as fine as possible, rub it well into the flour, mix it with a knife, work it to a very smooth paste with a cupful of water, and roll it out for use."

So we see that there are lots of different ways to make a pie crust. No doubt our Mormon pioneers each had their own method.

What's your pie crust? Where did you learn to make it?

8 comments:

nali said...

Our pie crust is more similar to Alice Waters': flour, shortening, salt and water. Most important is how it is handled. It must not be over mixed lest it become tough, so when it forms into small clumps, but still looks somewhat dry, we dump it into a baking cloth and sort of press the pieces together rather than adding excess water and over mixing. This is the way my grandmother (b. 1895) made her crusts. She said a good pie crust should be flaky, tender, and relatively thin. My mother, as an insult, used to say, "That man has more crust than a lunchwagon pie!" She also claimed the best pie crust was made with lard rather than butter or Crisco.

Brock said...

Thanks for sharing that fabulous comment, Nali!

Cafe Johnsonia said...

Pie crust was my nemesis until I started making my husband's aunt's recipe. You make a paste out of 1 cup of shortening and 1 cup flour. Then you add 1 tsp. salt and another cup of flour and kind of chop it up with a rubber spatula. When it looks sufficiently scraggly, you add ice water until it holds together. The dough is indestructible. You can add more flour if you get it too wet, more water if it's too dry. It rolls out like cookie dough. BUT, it doesn't taste as good as the recipes I use from Martha Stewart or Dorie Greenspan.

Hands down my very favorite recipe is one from Cooks' Illustrated that uses vodka to help make the crust more flaky.

I have yet to master pie crust, but I have high hopes of being as good as your wife at making crust.

p.s. I do think lard makes a great crust, too.

Melissa J. Cunningham said...

Great post! You know, I used to watch my Grandma make pie crust. She was a natural too and never used a recipe. No one could make crust like her. I should have made her teach me. Instead I just watched with my mouth watering.

Bakes said...

Hi Brock. Love the website. I do have a request though.
My name is Colin and I'm a BYU student majoring in broadcast journalism, and right now I'm putting together a documentary about how culture and circumstances affect the food people eat. I came across your blog and found it to be an excellent source about pioneer food. I was hoping to see if you'd be willing to help me with my project, perhaps by giving an interview and maybe showing some examples of pioneer food. Let me know what you think by e-mailing me at callmebakes@gmail.com. I think your thoughts would add a lot to the documentary. Thanks for your time.

Jana said...

Hey-o, Brock, just started a new blog at http://timetravelkitchen.blogspot.com.

Shaleice said...

My Grandma makes her pie crusts not with butter, but with lard mixed with egg, flour, And salt. As far as I know, that's how it's been made in my family since the 1800s, I don't see many recipes using lard, so i can't say why my grandmothers used it instead of butter.

Shaleice said...

My Grandma makes her pie crusts not with butter, but with lard mixed with egg, flour, And salt. As far as I know, that's how it's been made in my family since the 1800s, I don't see many recipes using lard, so i can't say why my grandmothers used it instead of butter.