Just Roll With It - Necessary Pastry Tools
Illustration Many people are intimidated by making their own pastry, whether it be for a sumptuous pie, savory quiche, or buttery croissant. Really, the biggest secret to success is keeping your cool...and keeping the dough cool too. Flakiness comes...
Many people are intimidated by making their own pastry, whether it be for a sumptuous pie, savory quiche, or buttery croissant. Really, the biggest secret to success is keeping your cool...and keeping the dough cool too.
Flakiness comes from the pockets of air left behind when bits of butter melt away during the cooking process. This is why you "cut" globs of butter into a pastry or fold endless layers of butter into puff pastry. This is also why all pastry recipes caution against over-handling the pastry. The heat from your incredibly hot bod, 98.6 degrees to be exact, can quickly melt those oh so necessary bits of butter resulting in dense, disappointing dough. The problem is, if you are using subpar pastry tools, then it can be hard to work quickly enough to prevent a pastry meltdown.
When working with pastry, there are two essential tools upon which you'll come to rely-the dough scraper and the rolling pin. The dough scraper, sometimes also known as a bench scraper, is a rather unappreciated little gizmo. Utterly simple, as most of the best gadgets are, it helps you handle the dough without touching it. There are many varieties out there, normally with a plastic or metal blade, of which metal is the most durable and effective for dividing dough. Outside of that, there are wooden, metal, and plastic handled varieties, of which the metal is the easiest to clean. Invaluable for measuring and dividing the dough and scraping it off the bench when it starts to stick (immediately throw the dough back in the fridge. Sticking is an indication of melting!), the bench scraper will also be come your best friend when cleaning up the left over flour and bits of dough glazed onto your counter top.
When it comes to rolling pins, the variety is far more vast and the differences between them more important. There are two broad categories-the French rolling pin and a handled rolling pin. The difference being that the French rolling pin has no handles and is constructed of a single piece of material, typically wood, and generally tapered at the ends. The handled rolling pin is probably what most of us are accustomed to, having two wooden handles attached to a cylindrical block of wood employing ball bearings to keep everything rolling. The problem with the latter of these is that you have less control and are more prone to placing uneven pressure on your pastry. Of these two designs, the French rolling pin allows for more freedom of movement which helps when trying to roll out an actual round of dough rather than a squarish blob. It also helps in making sure that the dough is more evenly rolled so you don't end up with holes or under-baked crust.
Whether purchasing the French or handled variety, there are many options outside of wood, these days. The four main materials are wood, marble, silicone, and metal. Wood is the classic, and easily found, but caution should be taken when purchasing. Wood is by nature extremely porous. High quality rolling pins of wood will have been cut and milled to prevent exposure of the grain and treated to seal the wood. Otherwise, you'll find your dough sticking more than not, your pin absorbing moisture, flavors, and smells, and often the pin will crack on you. High-quality wooden pins won't have these issues, but care should be taken never to submerge them in water and to oil them regularly, just the same.
Marble has been touted as the pastry chef's friend for centuries, largely due to its ability to remain cool and help prevent melting. It is rather pricey, however, and if you drop it, can either crack a toe or itself. Should you have a home-invader though, it is by far the most effective pin for self-defense.
Silicone seems to pop up in more and more places in the culinary world, including rolling pins. In muffin pans and silicone mats, its ability to revert back to room temperature quickly is quite the benefit, but it does very little to prevent melting, making it less fabulous for pastry handling.
Finally, there's the less common metal variety, and it has my vote by far. The metal versions are generally a French style rolling pin, allowing for excellent maneuverability. The pin can be kept in the fridge, thus helping to keep the dough chilled even as you are working with it. It's exceptionally easy to clean, very hygienic, and durable. And, metal pins are very reasonably priced.
Although pastry can seem daunting, it's really quite simple with a few hard fast rules. Don't over-mix and don't over-heat. The tools associated with it are equally simple, but make a world of difference in achieving crisp, flaky, fluffy pastry delights. A wee investment now into those that work best for you can result in decades of pastry praise and satisfaction.
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