Category Archives: Pastry

What’s the difference between “spoiled” cream and “cultured” cream?

…asks reader Adam. Great question. The difference is that one term sounds more appealing than the other. In practical terms, they mean pretty much the same thing. However I’d hasten to add that if you’re planning to make your own cultured butter it’s always better to “spoil” your own milk or cream with a culture you know is safe rather than to take a chance on a dairy product that’s inhabited by God-only-knows what. For there are quite a few types of microbes capable of growing in milk or cream and not all of them are harmless.

Truthfully I’ve been known to make cultured butter out of cream that’s soured on its own in my refrigerator, but in general I strongly advise that when you set out to ferment dairy, you inoculate it with a heavy dose of a known commodity, like store-bought buttermilk, sour cream or yogurt. A tablespoon or so per cup is usually enough to crowd out anything else that might consider making a go of it in the fermentation bowl. I should also add that once you’ve achieved your fermenting goal, you refrigerate the finished product, again, to discourage any adventurism by bugs from the wrong side of the tracks.

And of course, should anything you ever ferment give off a funky odor or exhibit a strange color (blue, green, pink), take no chances. Throw it out.

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Making Murcian Meat Pies

It’s been three years since I happened upon pictures of these pies online, and it’s taken me that long to work up the courage to make them. Now that they’re here I wish I hadn’t waited so long, as it turns out they’re one of the few savory pies my young daughters will eat! I can understand the appeal. They’re rich and crispy on the outside, satisfyingly meaty on the inside, and on top of it all are just plain fun to have on your plate. As you’ve no doubt surmised, it’s the laminated tops that are the tricky bit. Everything below that pretty much follows standard meat pie rules. Here’s how they go:

Start by preheating your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and set a rack in the upper half of the oven. I used these little 4-inch quiche pans for the pies. Just about any small form will work here, but I liked these because they’re not only shallow they have removable bottoms.

I rolled the dough out quite thin, about 1/8-inch since these are small. I’m using a 6-inch cutter to cut my circles, which is just about perfect (remember the dough has to come up the sides as well!). If you don’t have one of these don’t worry about it, just use a pizza cutter to cut some rough circles about 6 inches across.

Gently tuck the dough into the forms…I didn’t press terribly hard since the fluted sides will be obscured by the tops.

You can trim them up a bit if you have too much overhang. You want a little there, however, to glue to your top crust.

Now I mix up my meat filling. Note that you don’t have to use one of those expensive — and salty — hams here if you don’t want to do that. If you’re using conventional ham, however, add about 1/4 teaspoons salt to the mix to ensure the mix has enough seasoning.

Place the filling into the molds. Just drop it in, don’t press it in, you don’t want it packed too tightly. Just fill them a little bit over the rim of the mold.

Add on your hard boiled egg slices. Since I want the the tops to peak a little in the center (the top crust dough will tend to settle around the filling) I’m putting the egg “ends” there.

Now for the tops. Cut roughly 1/2-inch slices off your roll of laminated dough. Use a long serrated knife that’s been lubricated with oil or melted butter. Try to cut the pieces off in two long strokes: inward-outward. Why not more? Because lots of sawing will tend to cause the dough layers in the interior of the roll to stick to one another, and that will effect your finish. You’ll have some dough left over. Save it for sfogliatelle or lobster tails!

Apply warm melted butter amply on both sides…

…and then start fanning out the layers. Massage the slice with your thumbs, pressing outward from the center.

You’ll see the outside edge will start to lean outward as the individual layers start to lay down.

You want the dough piece to be a little more than 4 inches across. Pinch the dough at the very outside of the rim to fan out the layers there. Check for any thick spots and, again, pinch.

Once the piece is big enough, apply some egg wash to the rim of the pan…

…and apply the top. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect. These are rustic pies. Make that rather fussy rustic pies.

Let them rest for 10-15 minutes to relax the gluten on the tops. Bake them for about 35 minutes at 400. If after that time the top hasn’t fully browned, crank up the heat to 425 for another 5 minutes or so until they’re golden brown.

Let the finished pies cool for at least an hour to let the bottom crust firm. De-pan and serve warm with salad and some inky red Spanish wine. Nice!

Reader Jey wanted to see the inside of one. Here it is the next day after it’s been in the fridge. My top crust is a little thick…but then I’m new at this sort of lamination. I’ll get better with practice. Still an extremely tasty lunch!

Filed under:  Murcian Meat Pie, Pastry | 10 Comments

How long can this last?

This rolling-style lamination really has my attention these days — what a ball! However I heard even my 8-year old whispering to my wife yesterday: “Mama, daddy is using an awful lot of butter”. Mrs. Pastry has also threatened to make me do my own laundry from now on if I smear any more melted lard on the bedsheets. Well I’m having fun. Isn’t that what really matters?

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Well THAT Was Interesting

11.9 inches of snow yesterday at Louisville airport, something we northerners like to call “a foot of it”. Back in my Chicago and Minneapolis days something like this would only be a small-to-medium deal. Here it’s literally a disaster. Roads closed, schools closed, even grocery stores and gas stations are closed. Some parts of the state got a full 20 inches, which is just about unprecedented. Being one of the only families on the block with multiple snow shovels and a jumper kit, we Pastrys have been busy. Hope to return to baking shortly.

Filed under:  Pastry | 12 Comments

Bi-Cultural Pie

Murcian meat pie is a piece of bakery that’s literally split between two cultures. The top is made from roll-laminated dough, which as I discussed last week was invented by Arab pastry makers sometime before the Renaissance (exactly when isn’t well established). The bottom crust is more like a traditional European pie, made of short crust.

The filling in between is, as you might expect, an amalgam. On the one hand you have a good deal of meat — including and especially pork — which became popular in Spain, as you might expect, only after the Arabs were driven out. That being said a touch of the Arabic influence remains in the spicing: cinnamon, which arrived in Spain by way of the Arab Moors when they conquered the Iberian Peninsula in 720 A.D..

If you wonder why this style of pie endures in Murcia and nowhere else in Spain, the map above might give a clue. It shows the steady shrinking of “Al Andalus”, the Muslim-dominated portion of Spain, over a period of several hundred years. Murcia is down there in the southeast corner, which as you can see was one of the last regions of the peninsula to be retaken during the “Reconquista” or “reconquering” of Spain by northern Christians. Murcia didn’t fall until 1243 and remained heavily Muslim for many decades thereafter, which means the locals had about 600 years to develop a taste for this style of pie. Even after the very last of the Moors were driven out of Spain in 1492 they kept it. It was that good.

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A Short History of Pie

Murcian meat pies are relics from time when pie wasn’t a food so much as it was a strategy: a way to preserve edible odds and ends that you might otherwise lose as a result of spoilage. They were the original Tupperware in other words: handy, portable containers you could eat from. Notice here that I said eat from. For early pies weren’t meant to be eaten crust-and-all. That’s newfangled modern thinking…but more on that in a moment.

Food historians make the case that pie-eating dates to Greece and Rome. Here it really depends on what you mean by a pie. Pies of the ancient world were more akin to modern tarts: open-faced, made for immediate consumption. The Arabs also made pie-like pastries with top and bottom crusts yet they were not, at least to my way of thinking, true pies (though Murcian meat pies are definitely Arab influenced). For pie is as much a lifestyle — dare I say an attitude – as it is is type of baked good, one that evolved in the Middle Ages in Europe.

Everyone who’s ever prepared food has confronted the same problem: what to do with leftovers. The dilemma was especially vexing in the days before refrigeration, when fresh food degraded in an eye-blink. Cooking (which deactivates enzymes and kills harmful microbes) was one way to prevent such degradation. And if you could find a way to keep air away from your food, so much the better. Pies accomplished all these tasks at a single go, extending the shelf life of whatever was put into them for up to a week. More functional than delectable, they could be up to several feet across.

Of course you couldn’t make a behemoth like than out of any old crust. Today’s flaky-tender pâtes brisées are absolute sissies compared to the workhorse crusts of old. These brutes — called “coffins” among English speakers — started out as thick pastes of flour and water, pressed into deep, straight-sided pans or bottomless iron or wooden hoops to a thickness of an inch or more. They’d bake for hours in a low-heat oven and emerge like clay pots: stone-like in their hardness, probably with a flavor to match. Eating a pie like that simply entailed cracking it open, scooping out the contents and discarding the exterior, which presumably made a loud, hollow thunking sound when it hit the ground.

What did Medieval pies contain? Like Tupperware, just about anything. Fruits yes, but far more often meats and vegetables. Custards could go in, as could sauces which, combined with “meat-and-potatoes” ingredients created what could be thought of as early casseroles. Oh yes my friends, pie history is both broad and deep. I could easily drown!

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Murcian Meat Pie Recipe

Like virtually all meat pies, these can contain just about any mixture of meat scraps or leftovers you have handy: ground or shredded meat, organ meats, sausages, ham, whatever’s around. The crust is a two-part affair. The top is made from roll-laminated dough, the bottom from short crust, puff pastry or puff pastry scraps. Short crust is the most common bottom crust, or so I understand, but do as you wish. Obsessing about ingredients is against the spirit of savory pies, which are all about making do with whatever’s available. Note that if you’re using pre-cooked shredded meat you’ll probably want some sort of a binder to hold the filling together, like a beaten egg.

Please be a little patient with the quantities here since I’m not sure how much filling my pies will require. This recipe is a working draft.

For the Top Crust

Follow the same procedure for a recipe of “roll” laminated dough except use these slightly increased proportions. Roll your dough out to 38″ x 38″ and cut your sheet into SIX 6″ x 36″ strips:

19.25 ounces (3 2/3 cups) all-purpose flour
3/4 + 1/8 teaspoons salt
10.75 ounces (1 and 1/3 cups) lukewarm water
3.5 ounces lard or butter, or a combination of both, soft
about another six ounces of butter and/or lard for spreading on the dough sheet

For the Bottom Crust

16 ounces savory tart crust, pie dough, puff pastry or puff pastry scraps
egg wash

For the Filling

12 ounces uncooked ground meat (veal, beef, pork or a mixture)
3 ounces shredded cooked meat (beef, chicken, pork, what-have-you)
3 ounces cooked sausage, preferably spicy, Spanish chorizo if you can get it
3 ounces chopped salty ham (Spanish serrano, Italian prosciutto or American Smithfield preferred)
3 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
fresh ground pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Lay out six 4-inch tart or mini quiche pans. Roll out the dough — whatever it may be — for the bottom crust and lay it into the pans and let it rest as you prepare the filling.

For the filling combine all the ingredients save for the sliced hardboiled eggs in a large bowl. Lightly mix it all together — don’t knead it into a paste — and portion it out among the pans. Lay the egg slices on top of the meat.

Brush egg wash around the rims of the bottom crust. Slice and shape the laminated dough and place the rounds on top of the filling. Let the pies rest for 10 minutes then bake for 35 minutes until deep golden brown.

Makes six 4-inch pies

Filed under:  Murcian Meat Pie, Pastry | 14 Comments

Let’s Press On to Murcia

Murcian meat pies were the whole reason I got interested in this dough to begin with, and I still have some left. So why not do this thing? We’re going to get another big snow here in Louisville today, so some dinner pies will go well with the weather. Hit it!

Filed under:  Pastry | 3 Comments

Making Sfogliatelle

Hey yo, howzitgoin’? It’s me your boy Paulie P again. Joey had another thing he had to go do, so he asked me over for the day, and just in time, too. Those sfwee-a-dells down there are pretty friggin’ sad if you ask me, pardon my French. Time for a pro to step in and take care of business, knowadimean?

Ya wanna get your oven preheated to 400 degrees, and that’s Fahrenheit, Einstein. Next go get yourself a roll of dough and some filling. Trim the end off since it’s gonna be a little uneven on the edge there. Pitch that piece out.

Now you wanna cut your slices. For a regular sfwee-a-dell you’re gonna cut about half an inch off, right? Maybe a little more than half, I dunno, do what you want.

So now — and this is the trick of this whole thing — you wanna get the slice all nice and slippery with melted butter, ’cause that’s gonna help you fan those layers out, which is gonna make the sfwee-a-dells look all nice. Do both sides, or are you some kinda moron?

Now start rubbing. Push with your thumb from the middle of the slice out to the edge. Do it with both hands and spin the slice round and round while you go. The slice is gonna start to stretch out.

The outside edge is also gonna start to lay down, which is what you want, right? The whole thing is gonna start going flat, then turn almost inside-out.

Hello. You’re with me, right?

As you go you’re gonna wanna push up a little in the middle so you start to get sort of a cone thing going. This one is looking a little cockeyed, but then so are you am I right? Ah, lighten up.

Anyway, pinch the edges hard to make sure that layers there spread out all nice too.

So now we got a nice disk of buttered dough with the layers all spread out.

Now you wanna flip that thing over to your other hand so it’s sorta like a fat ice cream cone. This one could be stretched out a little more. Eh, whaddya gonna do.

Now plop a nice big spoon full of filling in there. And I mean a big one. Fill this thing up as much as you can, ’cause everybody likes a nice fat sfwee-a-dell, am I right?

Lay those out on a sheet pan that’s got some paper down on it.

And bake ‘em about 25 minutes at 400 degrees. Put’em out all nice on a plate and sprinkle a little powdered sugar on top. When these are warm they are friggin’ to die for, knowadimsayin?

Now that I’m looking at these I could have filled ‘em up a little more. Eh, whaddya gonna do.

I should add, if you wanna go a little nuts with these, do like they do out on the Coast and fill’em up with choux paste.

They’ll bake up into something called a lobster tail. Repeat after me: lawb-sta. You can sorta see why they call it that, right? Mine could be a little longer at the back end but this is the general idea.

Fill that up with pastry cream and you’ll think you died and went to friggin’ heaven, pardon my French again.

Oh yeah, that’s it.

My job is done. See you jokers later, ahrite? Ahrite.

Filed under:  Pastry, Sfogliatelle | 28 Comments

“Roll” Laminating

Laminating via a roll — instead of a series of folds — is a very old technique. It likely predates folding lamination by several centuries. Introduced to Europe by the Arabs sometime around the high Middle Ages, it found favor in the more fashionable courts of Spain and Italy during the Renaissance. Over time it’s mostly faded from view, though it still hangs on in a few odd corners of the culinary world. I think it’s ready for a comeback.

Lamination by roll, just like lamination by folding, takes practice to truly master. I certainly haven’t mastered it, but now that I’ve more or less nailed down a formula and a process I think I’ll be doing it a lot more. I formulated and mixed the dough in such as way as to maximize gluten development. What results is an unusually soft yet elastic dough that can stretch even beyond what’s necessary for most roll-laminated projects. But that extra pliability makes it a lot more forgiving than other formulas I tried, and that’s always a nice feature.

Try this and I think you’ll quickly see the advantages of this method over pasta machines and store bought filo. Not only is this a lot closer to the original Arab technique (and that’s fun from a historical perspective) there’s a lot less fuss and fiddling with machinery. It’s both faster and cheaper than using store bought dough, and delivers a better end product. What’s not to love? To make this dough you’ll need:

16 ounces (3 cups) all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
9 ounces (1 cup 2 tablespoons) lukewarm water
3 ounces lard or butter, or a combination of both, soft
about another six ounces of butter and/or lard for spreading on the dough sheet

Combine 14 ounces of the flour — not all of it in other words — and the salt in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle. Add the water and stir until everything is moistened.

Switch to the dough hook and knead for five minutes…

…until the dough is smooth. At that point knead in the fat ounce by ounce until it’s all incorporated.

A spiral dough hook is really a poor tool for this. If you find that your dough hook is just smearing the dough around on a slippery film of fat, switch back to the paddle for about three minutes until the fat is incorporated and the dough is more or less smooth again.

At that point switch back to the hook and knead in the last of the flour. Why do it this way? Because if I put all 16 ounces of flour in at the beginning the dough would be too stiff to take up the fat easily. Adding it in stages makes the whole process easier.

After about two more minutes you’ll be done. Let that rest at room temperature for an hour. It can really rest all day if you feel like waiting.

When you’re ready to roll, lay a sheet out on a dining room or card table that’s at least 36″ x 36″. Sprinkle flour all around and rub it into the fabric. Yeah you’ll probably get butter on it. Make sure it’s an old sheet. Also, set the 6 ounces of butter and/or lard in a small pan on the stovetop, get it melting on the lowest possible heat. By the time the dough is stretched it’ll be ready.

Plop down the dough in the center, flour it, then get out your biggest pin and roll.

The shape isn’t terribly important, just get it to about 18″ x 18″ before you start stretching it. You’ll find this easy, I promise. In fact if you want to make a double batch of dough, just so you have one batch to play with and destroy first, I highly recommend it. There’s nothing like wrecking something to give you confidence…and this dough is cheap to make.

Reach your hand under, extend your fingers, and pull steadily and slowly from the center. Note that by going very, very slow you get a nice, even stretch. Do this two or three times just because it’s cool.

Pull from the flat sides…

…pull from the corners. As you pull you’ll notice the sheet getting bigger. You’ll also notices variations in color between the very thin regions (whitish) and the thicker regions (grey/brownish) which will give you clues about where to stretch next.

You want your finished sheet to be 36″ long by 32″ wide — or so.

When you’re more or less there, trim off an inch from all sides…which will be thick and doughy…we don’t want those. Don’t press too hard or you’ll put scratches on your dining room table and your wife (or husband) will kill you.

Now for the fun part: the fat. Pour it on about an ounce at a time, being methodical in the way you apply it: first a corner, the a side, then a far corner. The reason is because you want to get a fairly even coat on. If you pour it all in the middle at once and start to smoosh it around you’ll get an extra-thick layer in the center as the fat starts to firm — and the fat will firm unless you’re making this in an 85-degree kitchen. Get it right out to the very edges. You want a good smear of fat on everything, get me? You may not use all 6 ounces, but you’ll want to use at least 5.

Lard is traditional for this sort of laminating, but butter works every bit as well. Combine the two if you want to split the difference. I did and loved it.

Now for the rolling. If you’ve watched YouTube videos of burly Italian guys stretching their sfogliatelle dough while they roll AND smear fat all at the same time…don’t do it that way. That works for an industrial quantity of dough. For a small quantity like you and I will use at home, you don’t want to stretch — at all — after the fat is applied, as that will mess up your layers later. You just want to roll.

So…looking down the dough sheet from the narrow side — the (now) 30″ wide side — make little hash marks every six inches. Then using a long ruler and a pizza cutter, cut the dough into five equal strips. Again, look out not to press too hard lest you have to explain later that you made the mistake of listening to Joe Pastry one day and the result was a ruined table top.

Starting with the first strip, start rolling. It doesn’t have to be crazy tight, so don’t go nuts here. Just…roll.

When you finish with one strip, just pick up the roll and place it at the end of the next one. Don’t try any fancy joinery here, this is pastry, not master woodworking. Just plop it down and roll, damn you, ROLL!

The roll will keep getting fatter, obviously. Don’t stress if the very ends aren’t perfect, that’s normal.

When the dough is all rolled up your log should be 3″ thick, which is just about perfect for sfogliatelle or whatever else you want to make.

So what if you decide you want the layers thinner? Easy, just stretch your sheet out to 38″ instead of 32″. Trimmed, you’ll be able to cut six 6″ strips. For thicker layers, do the reverse. But this dough can get ridiculously thin, just pull slowly and steadily. I got it this thin with very little effort and not a single rip.

I may substitute this for my brik pastry and strudel dough!

Filed under:  Pastry, Rolling | 27 Comments