The Magic Pastry

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Holidays in Jackson Hole January 1, Show all. Directions: Open the box of frozen puff pastry. Remove one sheet and thaw it according to package directions about one hour.

Puff: the magic pastry

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured counter, just enough to even out the surface and remove the creases from being folded up inside the package. Place a round of brie on top of the dough. You can take the sweet or savory route here. Now sprinkle a little water at a time onto the surface and mix with a knife, then your hands, until a ball of dough forms with the texture of slightly dry playdough.

Keep handling to a minimum as it is not cold hands or a warm heart that are key to quality shortcrust pastry, but minimising the formation of the stringy, elastic protein gluten. By rubbing fat into flour before adding any liquid, small cells of flour coated in fat are formed, giving shortcrust pastry its fragmentary, discontinuous, particulate texture. This layer of fat makes it difficult for water to hydrate the flour, so structure-giving gluten proteins cannot form.

The more coated the flour cells, therefore, the less well they will bind with their neighbours and the weaker shorter the pastry will be. However, if the flour is too well coated the pastry will not hold together and will become difficult to work with. This can happen if you use oil or if the solid fat is too warm.

The science and magic of pastry

The type of fat also has a significant impact. For me, flavour is the most important consideration and so I always use melt-in-the-mouth butter. However, it has its disadvantages. Between 15 and 20C butter has a solids content ideal for handling; outside this range it is either too fluid or too hard. This handling range is particularly important for laminated pastries, such as filo, which require layers of solid fat.

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For shortcrust pastry, a lower solids content is useful as it helps coat the flour. Manufacturers have spent a lot of time and money developing oil-based "shortenings" that have specific textures over large temperature ranges. These can produce great-looking pastry but the higher melting temperatures mean that the fat doesn't melt in the mouth, resulting in a waxy "mouthfeel". Wrap the dough in greaseproof paper or cling film to prevent it becoming dry and the fat absorbing any unwanted flavours from the fridge.

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Pastry of all kinds needs to be left to rest in a cool place for at least 15 minutes. This allows the fat to resolidify after handling, making the pastry easier to work with and ensuring that it will hold its shape during the early stages of cooking. Resting also allows two other processes to occur: the diffusion of water through the dough and the relaxation of gluten strands.

When making pastry, flakiness and tenderness are at odds.

Good Eats - Season 4, Episode Puff the Magic Pastry -

Tenderness is favoured by conditions that discourage the development of gluten. Since hydration encourages gluten formation we add as little water as possible and then let it diffuse and become well distributed. By contrast, laminated pastries require layers of pastry with sufficient gluten to hold their shape, so a little more water is often required. The ultimate form of this glutinous type of pastry is filo, which in its raw form consists of one thin glutinous layer. Filo pastry contains very little fat itself but relies on fat being added later in between incredibly fine sheets, allowing them to separate during cooking, and so shatter in the mouth into fine delicate shards.

Water content is also affected by the type of fat used.

For this reason many people mix butter and lard to combine the flavoursome properties of butter and the better texture that lard provides. Gluten strands will form in your dough while you are working it; they will stretch and twist, giving elasticity to your dough, known as "bounce back". The more you work with your dough, the more gluten will develop, leading to an elastic dough that will shrink in the oven and lack tenderness.

This is why a light touch is so important and why the dough is left to relax in the fridge.

Here the strands become more settled in their new form and so the dough becomes easier to shape, roll and fold, and will not shrink in the oven. A little lemon juice can also aid gluten relaxation and help stop discolouration of pastry during handling. Sprinkle the work surface lightly with flour and rub the rolling pin with flour. Take your pastry out of the fridge and roll it about mm thick. Roll using even pressure and gentle strokes away from you, giving the pastry a quarter turn after each roll. Pastries are very much like wrapped presents. Puff… the second the heat of the oven touched the dough, the magic happened.

I will admit it upfront. While it is certainly possible to make the puff pastry from scratch yourself, it is a whole lot of hazzle and time-consuming. Moreover, you can get really good readymade ones, so I prefer to stick to that. Therefore the recipe focuses on the filling and not on the dough. Cook the ground beef in a pan on medium heat, then add the basil, thyme and paprika, salt and pepper. Mix the tomato paste with the cream in a little cup and then add it to the beef as well. Let everything simmer for minutes while stiring.