Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Desserts R Us
What’s cooking? Rustic Pear Galette

A friend and I drove down to San Antonio this weekend, to the Culinary Institute’s Texas campus for a one-day seminar on baking desserts. I got less from it than I had hoped – after the fab two-day courses this summer in basics and hors d’oeuvres (see August 28 and September 3 postings), I had some idea that this one would transform the way I think about desserts.

But no, except for one special piece, the day was mildly disappointing, like when the cutest guy asks you to the dance, and he turns out not to have much personality after all. The lecture was brief and uninformative, until the Q&A, when the chef fielded a couple of questions on baking philosophy (OK – I confess – I was the one who asked), and actually got into the science of some of it. The recipes for the day included a pound cake/coffee cake with chocolate chips in it, which even the chef described as “a great item to take to a church reception because it’s the last thing to get eaten, so it always looks like there’s still food on the table.” Not a glowing recommendation, if you ask me. Also on the list to make were chocolate cake with chocolate icing (for this I need a course?) and candy turtles (boring).

One recipe stood out: a Rustic Pear Galette. It was easier than it looks and completely delicious, and forced us to conquer pie dough. Not actually worth the price of the course, but what the heck – it was a fun day.

So – pie crust. Before this course, I approached pie dough with fear and loathing. Dodging and weaving, I covered the landscape in variety and creativity, as I reached for alternatives: from crumb crusts to all kinds of refrigerated or frozen crusts, and finally, to redesigning my menus around no-crust desserts. So I was thrilled to face this challenge in a venue with a real professional watching over me. With only nine students in the class, we had room for each person to manage the full list of recipes, and the chef had time to instruct us individually on our dough-making.

It turns out that dough-making is as simple as, um, pie.

Kitchen Goddess tip #1: Butter makes a better flavor, but shortening makes a flakier crust. So in choosing your fat, try a mixture of butter and shortening. (Or, as chef suggested, run your own taste test, making pie crust with all butter, then all shortening, then whatever proportion. If you have that kind of time, which I do not.) I used half each.

KG tip #2: You also want to leave small bits of butter unincorporated – unlike the creaming process for cakes, where the mixture should be smooth – to produce little pockets of air in your crust, for flakiness.

KG tip #3: To keep the dough from sticking (a major problem for me in disasters past), chill it well (at least 20 minutes) before rolling it out, and throw down plenty of flour on the counter. I was always hesitant over the flour, but chef was mighty generous when she demonstrated the technique. And she rotated the dough a quarter turn after each couple of swipes with the rolling pin. Roll with even, steady strokes all across the dough circle until you get it down to a one-eighth inch thickness.

KG tip #4: An egg wash (equal parts egg and milk) brushed over the exposed part of the crust will help it brown. An egg/milk mixture is better than egg/water, because of the natural sugar in the milk; and in fact, you can use milk or cream alone to get the effect.

Rustic Pear Galette
Adapted from the Culinary Institute of America.

1 recipe single-crust pie dough (See recipe below. Take heart and jump in. Have a glass of wine, if it helps, which it almost always does.)

2 medium pears (also works well with apples, apricots, peaches, or sour cherries)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
½ cup crumbled ladyfingers (Optional – I forgot to put them in and wasn’t sorry. But I was dealing with pears, and if you had juicier fruit like peaches, you might want them to absorb the juice.)
Egg wash (1 egg whisked with 2 tablespoons cold milk)
2 tablespoons coarse sugar

Roll the pie dough to a thickness of ⅛ inch and cut into a 10-inch round. Chill.

Preheat the oven to 400º. Core the pears and cut into ¼-inch slices and toss with the lemon juice, granulated sugar, and spices.

Transfer the dough round to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle the dough with the ladyfinger crumbs, if using, leaving a 2-inch border free of crumbs. Pile the pear slices on top of the crumbs. Fold the dough edges toward the center, pinching and folding to create a pleated border. Brush the pleated border with egg wash and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Bake until the pastry is golden brown, about 25 minutes. Cool the tart on the pan set on a wire rack for at least 20 minutes before slicing.

Pie Dough

1⅓ cup all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup cold unsalted butter or shortening, or a combination
¼ cup ice water, or as needed

Sift together the flour and salt, and stir to blend. Cut the fat into the mixture using a food processor, pastry blender or two knives, leaving some bits of fat the size of small peas. Drizzle a few tablespoons of the water over the mixture and rub it into the flour. Continue to add water a tablespoon at a time, just until it holds together when you squeeze a handful of it. Gather and press the dough into a ball, wrap well, and chill 20 minutes.

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