Gentleness and Patience: The Keys to a Perfect Pastry and Pie Crust

Cranberries are not only a traditional accompaniment to the Thanksgiving turkey but can also be an ingredient for a luscious palate pleasing dessert to end your holiday meal.  There’s nothing better than a scrumptious slice of Cranberry Walnut Tart topped with a generous dollop of homemade whipped cream served while comfortably sitting in the living room, soaking up the warmth of a crackling fire with family and friends!  The filling for this magnificent dessert is one that Dayton created a number of years ago.  That, coupled with a pastry crust the recipe of which has been handed down through the years in my family, makes for a spectacular dessert destined to crown our upcoming Thanksgiving dinner!

The challenge of this lovely dessert is the pastry crust… the filling is a snap!  I’ve been making pastry crusts from scratch for years now and have worked with every imaginable combination of ingredients and techniques I think exist!  There are proponents of butter crusts.  There are those who swear that the perfect crust is made with vegetable shortening.  I’ve read recipes that use both shortening and butter.  Many bakers proclaim that the pastry dough must be refrigerated before being rolled… or put in the freezer for a short period of time.  Which pastry, however, is simple, easy… and non-frustrating to bake?  Doesn’t it just drive you mad when you’re working with a butter crust when the weather is warm or your kitchen is too hot and everything begins to unravel as you’re hard at work with your rolling pin.  Have you had your pastry begin that disheartening process of falling apart as you begin lifting it into the pan?  I have!  Well… no more!  I love butter crusts and have discovered a wonderful technique for rolling and placing the crust in the pie pan… essentially hands free.  Today, however, we are going to make a crust that is perfectly flaky and tender, perfect for this tart… and it’s made with lard.  Being very health conscious I appreciate the words of the naysayers regarding the use of animal fats in cooking.  There is, however, nothing more delicious that a crust that has been made with lard.  Dayton tells me that even James Beard concluded there was no other pastry crust that tasted as fine!  Regarding the issues of health my justification is that we eat pies and other pastries so infrequently here in our home that a special dessert for a special occasion fully deserves to be the best it can be!

The recipe for this crust comes from my mom who, in turn, had had it passed on to her from her mother.  When Grandma was a hired girl so many decades ago in rural Minnesota before she and Grandpa were married she did a lot of cooking and baking for families in that community.  Mom suspects that the recipe may have come from one of the homemakers with whom Grandma had worked during those years.  It is simple to make and is a wonderful pastry with which to work.  As the flour and lard are incorporated with your fingertips those of you who have worked with butter crusts will be able to appreciate the difference in feel.  Working with this pastry is like working with rich soft silk…  it’s truly incredible!  This recipe also has a teaspoon of cider vinegar in it.  I’m certainly no scientist or chemist but I suspect that the vinegar somehow contributes to the beautiful flakiness of the finished product.  Another wonderful thing about this dough is that it does not have to be chilled prior to rolling!  Mix it, roll it…  then bake.  It’s as simple as that!  Since this recipe was handed down to me by my mom, Phyllis, Dayton calls it Phyl’s Pie Crust.  I have made this pastry many times through the years… and it has yet to fail me! 

Phyl’s Pie Crust

Place in a large bowl:

  • 3 C flour
  • 1 C lard
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Mix together with your fingertips until crumbly.  Do not overwork… you’ll be hearing these words often!

Beat:

  • 1 egg (yolk and white)

To the beaten egg add:

  • 1 tsp cider vinegar

Stir to incorporate and drizzle over the flour and lard mixture, in addition to:

  • 5 1/2 T ice water

With your fingertips gently incorporate the ingredients until they begin to pull together:

Pull into a ball very gently… as reminded before, do not overwork:

Place dough on a generously floured work surface, shaping it into a flattened disk:

Roll out the pastry using bold sweeps of the rolling pin to prevent overworking, turning the pastry around on the floured surface to prevent sticking.

Using the rolling pin for support, gently lift the pastry from the work surface and center it over the tart pan.  At this point, should you choose to use this fine pastry as the platform for either a sweet or savory dish of your choosing, please do so… it’s wonderfully versatile!  If you’ve been captivated and out of curiosity are longing to have your sweet tooth satisfied at the thought of cranberries and walnuts together we invite you to proceed!

Baker’s Note:  The following technique is one we recently learned.  I’ve always had problems with shrinkage of a crust baked in a tart pan.  During blind baking is has always shrunk down, oftentimes preventing the use of all of the intending filling.  Here’s the step by step solution!

  • As the crust is gently tucked into the tart pan always lift the edge of the overhanging pastry as you work your way around the pan.  This will prevent both stretching and tension on the pastry itself as you get it tucked into the bottom of the tart pan.
  • With fingers in place in each of the scallops of the pan to keep it secure, roll approximately 1/2 inch of the pastry towards the inside of the pan to create a lip, gently working your way all around the pan, turning it as necessary:

  • Roll the rolling pin across the top of the tart pan to remove the excess crust:

  • Using the fingers of both hands gently push the pastry into the scallops and over the edge of the tart pan with two fingers of one hand while supporting the outside rim with two fingers of the other hand…  work gently and patiently:

  • The completed edge will prevent the crust from shrinking down inside the tart pan during baking:

 

 Cranberry Walnut Tart

 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  While the oven is heating prepare the pastry crust according to the above directions.  Prick the bottom of the pastry with the tines of a fork:

Line with foil and fill with pie weights or beans:

Place in the oven and blind bake for 15 minutes.  Remove foil and weights and bake an additional 5 – 10 minutes, or until pastry is pale gold in color:

Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.  While the pastry is cooling prepare the filling.  In a mixing bowl whisk together:

  • 3 large eggs (room temp)
  • 2/3 C dark brown sugar, firmly packed

Baker’s Note:  It is important to use dark brown sugar as opposed to golden as it is essential to the rich flavor of this tart.

  • 2/3 C light corn syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Whisk all of above ingredients until mixture is well blended and frothy.  Add:

  • 4 oz (1 stick) unsalted sweet butter, melted and cooled

Continue whisking until mixture is well incorporated, an additional 2 –  3 minutes.  Fold in:

  • 1 C chopped fresh cranberries
  • 1 C craisins
  • 1 C chopped walnuts

Fill the tart shell with the mixture and place on the middle shelf of the oven.  Bake for 40 – 45 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the filling is set.  Place on a rack to cool:

If made ahead and refrigerated allow the tart to come to room temperature before serving.  We have found, however, that this delicious tart keeps well for several days sitting at room temp… if it lasts that long!  The pastry remains light and flaky… Bon Appetit!

Copyright 2009 Via Aurea Designs, Inc., All Rights Reserved

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Categories: Desserts, Pastry

Author:Steve Meyer & Dayton Azevedo

Food and fine cooking have been our passion for many years, fueled by the year-around abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables, poultry and meats, as well as aromatic spices and herbs readily available to us here in the San Francisco Bay Area, making adventuresome, creative and delicious 5-star cooking a reality in our kitchen. Our aim is to make it yours as well by utilizing our step by step instructions and serial photographs. Bon Appetit from our kitchen to yours...!

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One Comment on “Gentleness and Patience: The Keys to a Perfect Pastry and Pie Crust”

  1. Beth (Zeller) Goodman
    November 20, 2009 at 7:56 AM #

    Steve & Dayton, thank you so much for your “blog”. I have been enjoying the recipes, words and pictures so much. I have always had issues with pie crusts and know my grandmothers would be disappointed by my inability to make a good pie crust. I will certainly give this a try, perhaps lard will be the key. If you could share a thought or two on a seafood chowder I would most appreciate it! Salute to the chefs.

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