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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Which flaky, buttery crust ignites the most fervour among pie lovers?

Posted: 02/19/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

Last Modified: 02/19/2014 6:38 AM | Updates

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Labor Day, the recent drama starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin, is getting a lot of attention for its sexy pastry scene, which many romance fans see as the flour-covered descendent of the erotic pottery sequence from Ghost.

It's similarly hot and handsy and campy. Plus, you get a pie at the end.

Based on the novel by Joyce Maynard, Labor Day centres on an escaped convict who takes hostage a depressed single mom and her lonely son. The convict turns out to be a dream houseguest. Not only does he fix the sink, tune up the car and teach the kid how to play baseball, he's also a dab hand at making peach pie.

Now, whatever you think about the storyline, the pie-making in Labor Day is the real thing. Brolin made dozens of pies to prepare for his complex hot convict/pastry chef role, cleaning out the peach supply for miles around the town where the film was shooting.

The results were reportedly so tasty that the film's food stylist now uses his recipe, which is adapted from the novel. Like all pastry, it's made from three basics -- fat, flour and liquid -- though admittedly they are brought together with lots of smouldering technique.

Brolin uses a combo of butter and shortening. He cuts it in with the two-knife method, and then moves to the hands-on approach for enhanced romance.

While Brolin's character has a light hand with the pastry, he's a little heavy-handed with the metaphors: "This is all about instinct. Don't over-handle, keep it loose... Can't hesitate, can't go too fast. Calls for a steady hand and a steady heart."

The Labor Day pie-making scene started me thinking about pastry, and I soon discovered that bakers can get very passionate about their preferred pastry methods.

Like Brolin's dangerous-looking dreamboat, I often rely on a combo of shortening for texture and butter for taste, with consistent results.

I am sometimes tempted to go the all-butter side by all that lovely flavour. While my successes are delicious, my all-butter crusts are also more apt to go wrong and end up tough.

Many bakers, including Ina Garten, stand by using a hit of shortening for flaky results. Others mistrust shortening, the prejudice being that it's somehow down-market or old-fashioned.

Even the full-butter camp has its conflicts. Some pastry aficionados advocate the food processor; others believe you need the human touch.

Maybe the coolest method involves using grated frozen butter, a trick that has been gaining traction on the Internet. Canadian chef Michael Smith is a fan.

Whatever the method, there are a few basics to any successful pastry. Brolin's steady hands and hearts are all well and good, but even more important is keeping the butter and water cold, really cold. You should actually put in ice cubes (just take them out at the last minute) and place the container in the freezer while prepping.

And don't overwork the dough. Don't be afraid of visible bits of butter. Smoothness is over-rated.

Here are three pastry recipes. I made them all into apple turnovers, just to keep things simple and consistent. And I rated each recipe for taste, texture, level of difficulty, and of course, sexiness.

Old-School Labor Day Pastry

750 ml (3 cups) all-purpose flour

3 ml (3/4 tsp) salt

15 ml (1 tbsp) granulated sugar (optional)

125 ml (1/2 cup) cold vegetable shortening

125 ml (1/2 cup or 113 g) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces

75-125 ml (1/3-1/2 cup) ice water

 

In large bowl, whisk together flour, salt and sugar (if using). Using a pastry blender or two knives, work in the shortening and butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle 60 ml (4 tbsp) ice water over the flour mixture, stirring gently with a fork. Continue adding water, 15 ml (1 tbsp) at a time, just until the dough starts to hold together. Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface, and gently shape the dough into two discs, one slightly larger than the other. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes before rolling out. Makes enough for a large two-crust pie.

Taste and texture: The shortening-butter combo yields a very tender, slightly sandy texture that is little more dense than the all-butter versions. The taste doesn't have that really buttery finish, but the more neutral flavour could work well with certain recipes, such as savoury pies. (Just omit the sugar.)

Level of difficulty: Probably the easiest to make, roll out and work with, and it holds its shape well if you're doing fancy decorations or edging. Also handy if you're in a hurry. Some bakers proceed immediately to rolling out, though 30 minutes in the fridge is best.

Cinematic sexiness: High. Definitely the pastry to make if Josh Brolin drops by.

 

Food Processor Pastry

500 ml (2 cups) all-purpose flour

15 ml (1 tbsp) granulated sugar (optional)

5 ml (1 tsp) salt

125 ml (1/2 cup or 113 g) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and then frozen for about 30 minutes

90 ml (6 tbsp) ice water

 

In a food processor, whir together flour, sugar and salt. Add frozen butter cubes and mix, using brief pulses, until mixture starts to resemble coarse crumbs. (Don't overmix. There should still be some pea-sized bits of butter.) Sprinkle with water, and pulse, using slightly longer bursts. Mixture will still look like buttery crumbs, but should hold together when you pinch some lightly with your fingers. (Again, be careful not to overmix. Do NOT process until mixture comes together.) Turn out onto a floured work surface, and gently bring dough together, turning a few times to draw in crumbly bits and distribute the fat. Pat into a disc, cover with plastic wrap and chill for 3 hours. Makes enough for a single-crust pie with some pastry topping.

Taste and texture: A nice buttery taste and a flaky, crisp-tender texture.

Level of difficulty: Once you've really got down the way your machine works, the food processor does simplify things. But you need to be careful to get to that sweet spot where the pastry comes together enough to be handled but still isn't overmixed. My pastry was a bit fiddly to work with, and my rolled-out dough looked not like a round disc but more like a map of Great Britain. Also, ugh, that food processor isn't cleaning itself.

Cinematic sexiness: Not sexy. It's hard to hear erotic pastry metaphors above the noise of the machine.

 

Grated Butter Pastry

425 ml (1 3/4 cups) cake and pastry flour (not self-rising)

15 ml (1 tbsp) granulated sugar (optional)

2 ml (1/2 tsp) salt

175 ml (3/4 cup or 171 g) unsalted butter, frozen

90-120 ml (6 to 8 tbsp) ice water

 

In chilled large metal bowl, sift flour, sugar and salt. Set box-grater in flour bowl and coarsely grate frozen butter into flour mixture. (Use foil to protect the butter from the heat of your hands.) Stop occasionally to very gently fluff and coat butter with flour. Chill flour mixture about 20 minutes. Drizzle 90 ml (6 tbsp) ice water evenly over flour mixture and gently stir with fork until just incorporated. The dough should resemble slightly lumpy crumb mixture but should come together when pinched lightly between your fingers. If necessary, add enough remaining ice water, 1 tbsp at a time, stirring very gently until just incorporated, and test mixture again. (Do not overmix.) Turn mixture out onto a lightly floured surface and bring dough together, turning a few times and pressing with the heel of your hand to bring in crumbly bits and distribute fat. Form into a disc and then cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 2 hours. Makes enough for a single crust pie with some pastry topping.

Taste and texture: This recipe absolutely has the most buttery taste, and the texture is layered, light, flaky and terrific.

Level of difficulty: Yes, it is a bit of a fuss. But it's worth it.

Cinematic sexiness: Grating is not super-sexy, though I did notice my dog staring at me longingly, mostly because I was using a handheld grater and pieces of butter occasionally flew into the air and landed on the floor.

alison.gillmor@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 19, 2014 D1

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Updated on Wednesday, February 19, 2014 at 6:38 AM CST: Changes headline, adds photo

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