Pie Dough

 

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Look at those layers of flaky goodness

After that post the other day, I realized I need to be doing this blogging thing more often. Mind you, I come to that realization once or twice a week, and you can see how well that’s been working. Anyway enough about me, let’s talk about you for a change.
How quickly did you shudder when you saw the title of this post? “Pie crust?? But isn’t that super hard? Its an unattainable food item, that will forever be relegated to super chefs, like Nossi Fogel, the likes of which will never be reached by me, a mere mortal.” Well my friend I’m here to tell you that I too once felt that way, but with a little tenacity and only 5 payments of $9.99, pie crusts can be yours too.
So where to begin…first thing first after all the many attempts to get you to purchase a scale, I can only assume you haven’t yet…well here’s your chance to right this ship. This pie dough is really very easy, provided you have a scale. Then again so is practically everything else in the kitchen, such as making custard, which is how you would make a quiche, which spoiler alert: is going to be the next post…sometime in the distant future.
Ok so now that a scale had been procured, the ratio that Michael Ruhlman uses is the 3:2:1 pie dough. 3 parts flour, to 2 parts fat, to 1 part water. So for all you Rhode scholars out there, if say you were using 100 grams of butter, you would need 150 grams of flour, and 50 grams of water. I think you can appreciate how easy and customizable that is if you have a scale, right? So I don’t have to convince you to buy a scale again correct? Moving right along.
The real tricky part of pie dough is accomplishing a sturdy and crispy crust that is not too tough and chewy, and it turns out we have tricks to accomplish this also, so worry not my friend.
Lets review what a pie dough really is. It falls into the category of laminated doughs, which mean there are layers of fat between layers of dough (as I’m sure you’ll no doubt remember from our scallion pancake recipe). The way to accomplish this in pie dough is to disperse small pockets of fat throughout the dough, that will essentially melt into separate layers that will separate the other  areas of dough. Now those “other areas of dough” is essentially the part of the dough where the flour and water mixed together. (If you look at the top picture of the post, you’ll see a few distinct layers of dough, and that’s what we’re trying to accomplish..)

If we were to separate these two elements, the fat dispersal and the flour and water mixing, we can really get an understanding why people think it’s difficult to make pie dough, and come up with some solutions.

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For the fat dispersal mission – the key is to get smallish pieces of fat, that will melt while the flour-water mixture is setting up. If it melts too soon, then it won’t disperse throughout the whole thingamabob, and it won’t make those distinct layers we talked about. The key to making sure you don’t do this is keeping the fat as cold as possible. The colder it is, the longer it takes for the fat to melt. So what I like to do, is cut the fat into cubes, and then place it in the freezer for at least 15 minutes. If my inner boy scout is calling, and I really want to do everything k’fi halacha, then I will place everything in the freezer…the food processor and all components, the flour, and even the whole kitchen. It all just goes into the freezer.

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Notice the chunks of fat dispersed among the flour

Then, when ready to mix the fat into the flour, you basically measure out your flour (pop quiz hot shot – what are we using to measure?? A scale! riiiiiighhhht???), if you want it to be a sweet dough, add some sugar, and before adding the fat, I like to aerate the flour (and pulverize the sugar if it’s in there) by pulsing a few times. Oh and salt, always add salt, because salt isn’t just a spice, it’s a flavor enhancer… (right mommy ;) ???). Anyway, once the flour is aerated, plop the really cold fat on top of the flour, and pulse a few times until there are “pea sized” chunks of fat.

We are now ready to commence phase #2 – Operation liquefaction. Here really the main goal is to prevent too much gluten from forming. The classical way of doing this is with ice cold water. The cold water will eventually form gluten, but like anything that’s freezing, will do so at a slower rate, plus the ice cold water has the added advantage of not bringing down the temperature. However, water + flour will inevitably make gluten, but guess what, alcohol + flour, does not make gluten, so imagine if instead of using water, we could use vodka, and since you have a bottle sitting in your freezer right now, it’ll be ice cold also!  This little trick is thanks to America’s Test Kitchen, and I’ve done this multiple times, with excellent results.

after adding vodka/water
after adding vodka/water

So after you have your pea sized chunks of fat dispersed through the flour, add the vodka/water and pulse until it’s mostly combined. I like to plop it down on a work surface, and finish putting it all together by hand.

bring it all together on your work surface
bring it all together on your work surface

Once it’s all together into a disk-like blob, I like to put it back in the fridge (or freezer if not baking that day…it freezes very well) to cool it off again.

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I would say the last hard part about baking the dough is rolling it out, and honestly this just takes time, but guess what? No one cares if it looks like your 2 year old did it, and bonus idea – when your pie does look like your 2 year old rolled it out, just lie and tell them she did! I lie all the time, and look where it’s gotten me!

We’re going to blind-bake the crust (which is fancy talk for baking the pie crust without any filling in it). First take the disc, and start rolling. The easiest way to do this, is by rolling out, and rotating the dough a 1/4 turn, and rolling out. Maybe one of these days, when I get around to posting videos, I’ll post one on rolling pie dough, but until then just …umm, roll it, ok?

this was rolled out by my 2 year old daughter....and this is what it looks like after blind-baking
this was rolled out by my 2 year old daughter….and this is what it looks like after removing the weighted foil (before browning a little)

Once your dough is in the receptacle of your choosing, I like to “dock” the dough (fancy talk for poking holes in it [like with a fork] to allow gases to escape, and not get trapped underneath the dough, and potentially cause an air bubble), and then place aluminum foil on top, with weights on top of the foil. This also prevents any air bubbles from forming (for the weights – you can actually buy “pie weights” or you can use household items, like dried beans, or better yet – pennies). Then you bake it for about 10-15 minutes, remove the foil, and bake another 5-10 minutes, until just beginning to brown.

And that my friend is how we do.

Tune in next time when we take this seemingly innocent pie crust, and transform it into a quiche, using nothing more than a scale…Magic!!

 

Lasagna – Kosher Connection LinkUp

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Hey person, remember when I was a functioning member of the blogging world?? Yeah, neither do I…harrumph, either way, me thinks it’s time to get back on track, so enough chit-chat, let’s go make some lasagna.

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For this month’s kosher connection linkup, the theme is “The one food you would want if stranded on an island.” Considering my gluttonous ways, I’d probably be ok, with just about anything. As long as I can shovel it into my mouth we’d be good, but I’ve been meaning to write a post on lasagna, so (Russian accent:) “two birds, one stone!” Onward comrade!

Lasagna, like ogres, is all about layers. You got your cheese, your sauce, and your noodles. The easiest layer is the lasagna layer (that is until one of you very grateful and generous and lucky people would love to sponsor a pasta maker lz”n a loved one). Now, I used to scoff at the idea at using no-boil noodles, but after doing some research, it’s actually a lot easier, and better in my opinion (which is all you’ll get here! Mwahahaha …yeah, so…didn’t you miss this weird blog???). so putting the noodles aside, let’s talk about the cheese and sauce.

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I like to really cheese it up, because I’m just that type of guy. First thing first – a cheese sauce; aka – mornay sauce. Mornay sauce = béchamel + cheese. Béchamel = roux + milk. Roux = fat + flour. So really Mornay= Cheese + (milk + [fat+ flour]). It’s actually pretty simple math. So let’s start by melting some butter, and toasting the flour. As with most rouxs, we go until it turns light blonde, and it’s smelling a little nutty, not very much unlike you (aw snap…). In this case, I also added some shallots to sautee in the butter.

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Just so we’re clear on what we’re doing, the whole idea of a roux is to add a starch to a liquid so it thickens it, but we’re also toasting it, which adds additional flavor. Technically, the more you cook the starch, the less it can thicken a given liquid, but that’s really only a concern, when you make a dark red type of roux, which is common in such dishes like gumbo…but I digress. After adding the milk, you need to cook it until the starch is “activated” and thickens the milk, and once that’s done, you now have your bechamel sauce. In order to complete the mornay experience, we add cheese.

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About the cheese, which I guess is really part 2a of this little layer party. Here’s the thing about cheese, its so diverse and multifaceted, that I don’t even know what to say about it. First thing first, I get it that shredded cheese is convenient and hassle free. I get it..in fact I use it from time to time. But here’s the thing – first of all so much of what makes cheese awesome is its moisture. Except for Parmesan, you want your cheese to be runny and gooey right? And that’s all thanks to moisture content, and by preshredding it, you’re basically removing a lot of the moisture (the second reason why preshredded cheeses are inferior is because they add starches to the cheese to prevent it from clumping [take a look at the ingredients next time], now technically speaking, that’s not as big a deal in this case because it will help thicken the sauce, but it does prevent from achieving maximum gooeyness, which is always a bad call).

So now that you remembered exactly how crazy I am, let’s add some grrrrated cheese to the bechamel. Take your shredded cheese, and add it to the hot bechamel, but off the flame and mix until its all melted and uniform. Now we can set that aside and focus on our sauce.
Tomato sauce is another one of those things where sure you can open a can of marinara sauce and kerplop it down, and that’s what I do many a time, however this isn’t a blog post about how to open a can of marinara sauce! Nay, this is a blog post how to open a can of whoop-ass on some lasagna, and show all of ‘Mrrrrrca what freedom tastes like!

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Oookkk, you still there? Well, for starters, I always keep a few cans of whole peeled tomatoes in the cupboard, because the easiest sauce you can make is to take a few tomatoes, drain the excess sauce, and grind up those tomatoes to the consistency you like, with whatever added spices you want. If you wanted to step it up a notch, sure you can sautee shallots in butter, add some anchovies and cook the tomatoes until reduced and thick, but come on! I know you, you’re still upset that I told you to shred your own gosh darn cheese, dagnabbit. (Maybe well do a post about tomato sauce in the future? Maybe…no promises..)
All right, so now that we have the cheese and sauce, let’s go crazy.

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I like to first put a little sauce in the bottom of the pan, so the noodles have something to stick to.

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On top of the noodles goes cheese sauce and tomato sauce, and guess what Mayor McCheese?? More cheese! Huzzah! Obviously you can use whatever cheese you deem fit. Mozzarella, gouda, colby, and jack are all good options.

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Then its just a matter of repeating layers. I always top the whole shebang with more grated cheese, and Parmesan on top.

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Now to cook it, I like to cook it covered at 350 for about 20-25 minutes, and then crank the oven up to 450 for another 10-15 minutes uncovered, so the top gets nice and crispitty crunchitty. (A nice little trick is to spray the side of aluminum that’s against the lasagna with some Pam so it doesn’t stick)
And that my friend is how you win the war on terrorism.

As always, click on the funny looking thing below to see what people who actually know what they’re doing are doing.

Spicy Pickled Okra

Well howdy pardner…now that you’ve ventured over these here Mason Dixon lines, you my friend are in the south, and down here in the south we like our okra, and by the south I mean good ole Mrrrrland, the entryway to the south, where we’re just slow enough to considered “southy” but still too brash and rude to know we really belong in the north. Anyway, okra, I hardly knew ya! See what happens when I don’t blog for months?? I just have a stockpile of jokes, and I’m just going to use them all up now…So yeah, Hi, didja miss me?? Good.

The first time I ever had okra was actually pickled okra, from a company called Wickles, and they make these awesome pickled okra, which are just the right amount of spicy and sweet, that it made me want to make them. Luckily I wasn’t inundated with okra beforehand, because if you ask most people they’ll tell you they hate okra because it’s too slimy, which they disgustingly are, but as we’ll soon see, they don’t have to be.

Okra for the uninitiated is this star looking pod, that when cut produces the infamous mucilage that is actually something valuable as a thickener when making gumbo, but otherwise it’s pretty gross. Now there are ways around it. First off, the mucilage only happens when you cut into it, and release some enzymes. So you can either keep them whole, or you can heat them over really really high heat, to denature the enzymes (like if you were to use them in a stir fry…). Here’s an interesting tidbit that I’m pretty sure I didn’t make up, the candy we know of today as marshmallow, was called the “marsh mallow” because when those kooky Frenchies developed it in the early 17th century, they used the mucilage from a specific mallow from a marsh, not very unlike what’s found in okra (in fact I think it was a relative of okra…). Chew on that disgusting fact the next time you eat marshmallows!

Anyway, let’s talk about pickling. When we speak of “pickling” something, we’re usually referring to preservation of said food, without any heat. The idea behind it is: there are some friendly bacteria present on said food that will, in the right conditions, produce anti-microbial stuff (ex – lactic acid, carbon dioxide..), and also metabolize the sugars in the food, so said food will now not only taste differently, but also not spoil. We can either accomplish this by traditional means, which is adding a lot of salt, which will then draw stuff (water, sugars…) out of the food you’re pickling to create an environment that is friendly for the good bacteria to flourish and do their things (ie – no oxygen). Or we can do the non traditional approach, and give those little stupid bacteria some help. The way we do this, is by adding vinegar that kills the bacteria that causes spoilage, and allows the good bacteria to do its thing of metabolizing sugars, yada yada yada….I lost you didn’t I?

Long story short (tl/dr) – pickles can either “ferment” by just adding salt, which will then kill off bad bacteria, or you can quickly “pickle” it by adding vinegar to kill the bad bacteria…..make sense??

For our little application we decided to go the quick route, because contrary to what my verbal diarrhea might imply, I like shortcuts.

Generally you want at least half of the brine to be vinegar, so equal parts water:vinegar works, but I find that upping the ratio of vinegar helps. So I like to go with about 60% vinegar. You can use any type of vinegar you want, and I’ll usually use half regular vinegar and half apple cider (I’ve never tried any of the heavier types of vinegar like balsamic or even red wine, but I’m intrigued…if anyone’s every tried that, I’m curious how it’s come out).

The next step is deciding what other components/flavors you want.

For this spicy pickle, I added about 1 tablespoon salt, 1 tablespoon of sugar, a bunch of dried thai chili peppers, coriander seeds, mustard seeds, and some dried rosemary.

I poured a ½ cup of hot water over top to dissolve the salt and sugar, and re-hydrate the peppers. Added my vinegar mixture (I think it was apple cider and regular vinegar), covered the okra with the liquid, and placed it in the fridge for a day.

So yeah, that’s it for today…It kind of sucks that I’m not the blogger I claim I am. I mean just this summer alone, I’ve already made 4 batches of okra pickles, 1 batch of classically lacto-fermented cucumber pickles. Pickled beets. Pickled red onions…and none of it presented itself on these here interwebs. And I blame you! I still haven’t worked out why or how I blame you, but suffice it to say that I do.

I kid!! I miss you…this was fun, and not at all weird right?? Let’s try to do this more often, ok?

French Toast

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How is is possible that I’ve never written a post on french toast?? We’ve done waffles, we’ve done pancakes, but I’ve neglected my true breakfast love. French toast, if you can hear this, please accept this humblest of apologies.

Anyway, so french toast, why aren’t we making this more often? And even better question, why would you ever buy the pre-made frozen crap? I don’t get it. Listen, as much as I don’t agree, I can understand you saying making waffles and pancakes from scratch is a hassle, but there’s no excuse for french toast. The point of what i’m saying is to make you feel bad about yourself, and  for you to reflect on how poor your decisions are…that’s all…I joke! You’re the best, and that’s why you deserve some french toast, so let’s get some stale bread shall we?

It’s actually a pretty amazing thing.. french toast that is…(are you not following??) I mean you take some old bread which has gone stale (more on that in a second), you add some eggs and milk, and fry. If you really delve into it, there are two things going on, first is the bread staling, which the actual technical term is retrogradation, and the other thing that’s happening is we’re cooking a custard.

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Let’s start with retrogradation. Bread is made up of starch, which is a long molecule made up of smaller glucose molecules, and how those glucose molecules are stacked makes the starch either amylose or amylopectin, which are the two main starches found in bread. When starch and water meet, they gelatinize, which basically means the starch absorbs water, and once that happens the starch starts to undergo retrogradation, which means the starch starts to gel, and slowly start to expel moisture. Once a bread is done baking the staling process starts, and given enough time, it will expel enough water to make it feel dry. This is essential for french toast, because what we then do, is replace that lost moisture with the custard (ie – the milk and eggs). Now we’re not really going to get into the custard part, because frankly it’s not that important here, and we’ve done it before.

So just to recap – we need to expel the moisture from the starch network, and then replace it with awesomeness. One way to do that is allow the bread to stale by drying it out on the counter, which will allow the moisture to leave naturally. However, America’s Test Kitchen did a study and found that if you allow the bread to dry out in the oven, it actually will release a lot more moisture, because the process of retrogradation isn’t really that great, so we end up with a lot of moisture actually trapped inside. Basically, the best way to dry out bread is in a very low oven. That being said, this batch of french toast I made by allowing to dry out on the counter over night. By the way, if you’re wondering, don’t use the bread you buy in the supermarkets that mysteriously take weeks to go stale. There are so many preservatives that it won’t stale properly.

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Once the bread is good and dried, it’s a matter of allowing it to soak up the eggs and milk, and then frying in some butter. So allow the bread to sit in the egg mixture for a minute or two, to make sure it’s sopped up enough liquid, and then fry, over medium heat.

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That’s it. Easy as pie.

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By the way, after I wrote all this I realized that I kind of did cover this, in my stuffing post. Bread pudding, which stuffing is a form of, is like french toast’s step brother. Also while we’re on the topic, can I air out one grievance? You know that dish that people make called: “french toast souffle?” That drives me crazy. First of all a souffle is a specific type of dish (you’re still reading, and want to know what defines a souffle??? Well since some people want to go back to their real lives, I’ll leave it for the comments, just ask away…as usual, I don’t bite)…and it’s a freaking bread pudding, so let’s call it that! Whodathunk I’m such a stickler.

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Anyway, you’re free to go back to real life.

Good Shabbos, Y’all.