Thursday, April 14, 2005

Cooking School: Fruit Desserts, Pies and Tarts

A crisp is a fruit base topped with a crumb topping that includes oats, but not nuts.
A crumble is a fruit base topped with a crumb topping that includes nuts, but not oats.
A cobbler is a fruit base topped with spoonfuls of sweet biscuit or scone dough.
The names and ingredients of fruit desserts vary regionally and widely. The types of fruit you might use in any of these desserts will vary with where you are from and what is in season. Your favorites will depend on your personal taste preferences. You might call your dish a crisp, crumble, cobbler, grunt, slump, betty or a pandowdy.
We made a pear crumble - with walnuts, vanilla and lots of butter. Use firm pears, they'll soften as they cook. We also made a mixed berry cobbler with blueberries and blackberries, both of which shot wonderful spurts of hot, red juice into our mouths as we at it piping hot from the oven. I'm not going to be picky about what you call the dessert - as long as it tastes good. And since fruit desserts are definately some of my favorites, so I had been looking forward to class today.
The main emphasis of class today was to practice making pie and tart crusts. I also learned that it is difficult to explain precisely how to make it. A concert pianist will not say, when asked how to play piano, "just sit down and move your fingers!" You have to practice.
The tart crust is more forgiving because it is meant to be more crumbley and less flakey than a pie crust. It has a much higher sugar-to-flour ratio and only uses butter. Because we were not looking to develop gluten in the tart crust, the dough used an egg as a binder, not water. We made a blackberry studded almond tart, which you can see above. The crust was blind baked for 10 minutes with weights, baked again for 10 minutes without weights and filled with almond cream and blackberries before going into the oven for a final 30 minutes. The recipe is here.
Pie crust is a much more sensitive beast, though once you've mastered it you'll wonder why you thought it was so difficult in the first place.
Here are some tips to make a great pie crust:
  • Use a combination of butter (for flavor and leavening) and shortening/lard (for texture and flakiness).
  • Chill butter and shortening and work them in quickly.
  • Do not make a uniform mixture; you should have peanut sized bits as well as ones that resemble grains of sand.
  • Only use enough water to just bind the dough. A little extra water will make it easier to roll out, but will diminish the flakiness of the final product.
  • Refrigerate the dough before rolling.
  • Only roll the dough once. If it tears, patch it later. If you have to reroll the dough, just throw it out and start again. It will have the texture of leather if you use it.
  • Once the pie is together, bake at a high temperature for 10 minutes to set the crust then turn the oven down. Do not worry about over browning. Brown is a very attractive color in a baked item.
And look at what a beautiful, flakey crust is produced when you follow those instructions! If you want the top to be darker, brush it with a bit of cream or butter before baking. I went for the natural look.

If you don't think apple pies are worth eating, you're wrong. Make this one and if you still don't like apple pies, we'll talk.

Apple Pie

For the crust:
2 1/2 cups ap flour (it is important to use all purpose)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
3/4 cup butter, cut into 1 inch cubes and chilled
1/4 cup shortening (or lard), chilled
6-8 tbsp ice water

Combine dry ingredients in large bowl.
Cut in butter and shortening with your finger tips until mixture is coarse and no very large chunks remain.
Add water and press dough into a ball with the palms of your hands.
Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour and up to two days.

For the filling
6 cups apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1/2 cup sugar, white or brown
1 1/2 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp butter (reserve for assembly)

Mix apples, sugar, flour, spices and salt together in large mixing bowl. Set aside until dough is rolled out.

Cut refrigerated dough in half. Using your palms, press each half of the dough into a disk. On a large, flat surface, roll each disk into a large circle. Turn it frequently and use lots of flour as you roll. Keep rolling until the dough will fill the pie dish. Gently lay the bottom crust into the dish. Fill pie dish with filling.
Dot filling with reserved butter.
Lay top crust on top of filling and pinch edges to seal. Throw away excess dough and do not try to crimp the edges - this will only toughen them. Cut steam vents in top crust.

Bake pie at 425F for 10 minutes. Turn oven down to 375F and bake for 1 hour, or until juices are oozing from the pie.
Let pie cool for at least 1 1/2 hours before slicing to allow juices to thicken.