Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Sweet & Savory

French pastry…just the words alone conjure up buttery croissants, crisp palmiers, savory tarts and rich desserts. As part of my culinary education, we are learning the basics in pastry – techniques all chefs should know and master.

Tart dough (pâte) is defined as a flour-based preparation used as a container to hold fillings. Fillings can be both sweet and savory and pâte brisée, pâte sucrée and pâte sablée and most frequently used as the dough for these types of tarts. Almost all pastry dough is composed of flour, fat (butter, oil, lard), salt and a liquid (eggs, sour cream, milk).

We began by making a pâte brisée for our two recipes for the evening – a savory Tarte à l’ Oignon (onion tart) and a classic Quiche Lorraine. I’ll be honest I was completely dough-phobic going into the class. I’ve tried my hand at baking and making dough and it is just not my thing. I enjoy cooking – baking is a completely different mindset.

So with hesitation, I started making my dough and learned what I was doing wrong. There are a few things to remember when making tart dough. The ration of flour to butter is 2 to 1 (for example 200 grams flour to 100 grams butter). Mix the salt (5 grams) with flour and sift the mixture right on your bench. Use very cold butter, cut into small pieces and form a well in the flour and cut the butter into it with a pastry cutter. Work the flour and butter until it resembles a course mixture with pea sized pieces. Create another well and add your liquid (in this case we added 1 egg with a teaspoon of ice cold water). Work the liquid into the mixture just until the dough comes together. Never over work the dough or you will develop too much gluten in the flour and the dough will be tough and hard to work with and always allow the dough to rest shaped into a disk and wrapped in plastic then into the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Resting the dough is very important, it allows the gluten to relax, moisture to become distributed throughout and allows the fat to chill.

We then prepared a pâte sucrée for two recipes: Tarte aux Pommes (apple tart) and Tarte aux Poires à la Frangipane (pear tart with almond pastry cream). The same dough making procedure applies – here we sift the flour, salt and sugar together.

Our savory tarts for the evening were off to a good start, our dough was resting and we began by making the fillings. The onion tart (one of my favorite savory treats) consisted of bacon, carefully caramelized onions and custard made with egg, milk, cream and seasonings. Our quiche filling consisted of bacon and custard as well as the addition of gruyère cheese.

Our tarts came out of the oven (which needed to be calibrated since it was not baking at the proper temperature) and the fillings were golden and beautiful. The tart dough was undercooked and inedible – Marcella and I were disappointed but proceeded to spoon out the amazing quiche filling leaving the crust in the dust.

On the flip side, our sweet tarts would have won blue ribbons at the state fair had we entered them. Chef came around to inspect our final two tarts and smiled and was happily pleased with our baked result. He took our pastry brush and (almost bordering on) lovingly applied the apricot glaze to our Tarte aux Pommes. He called around to the class and asked them to check out our tarts for their beautiful color and presentation.

Marcella and I were thrilled to take the spoils of victory home with us. I packed up with one half of each dessert tart and headed to my bunker to rest my weary head and have sweet dreams.

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