This post is to encourage folks to be brave and to try mastering pastry. Often people give it a try, have a negative experience and give up for life!
A nearly universal adolescent female experience is that decision to get a "home permanent". It happens around the time of that first pimple when the general awkwardness of puberty and an unfortunate eyeglass frame selection causes your mother to cast an appraising eye in your direction. There is a sort of maternal sadness behind her eyes. You are obviously not going to amount to much. Your piano lessons are showing no promise and your personality has hit that pubescent rough patch that only a mother could love, and even then...
Perhaps your hair? You know from her hearty expression when you emerge from the towel, that she knows she has created an even fluffier duckling, and not a swan at all.
Most of us manage to rally, eventually, from our mother's failed attempt to swan us up. Oh yes, it takes awhile to grow out, and you did spend that summer hiding in your bedroom, experimenting with scarves and writing gloomy poetry. But life did go on. Our body parts did form up into some semblance of order. And we gained something from that traumatic experience. Yes, certainly some learned that they never wanted a permanent again, but most of us learned that an initial bad experience is no reason to give up and never try again.
Which brings us to pastry.
Unless you were blessed with naturally cold hands, your first experience with pastry was probably a disaster. And so many people have said, "It's just one of those things I'm not good at". Like the trauma of the home permanent, they did not emerge from their first pastry experience with a determination to give it another whirl. Which is too bad. Pastry is delicious. It is also science. (From the Latin scientia meaning "knowledge, a knowing, expertness". So there!)
As with all scientific experiments, there are rules.
1. Everything must be cold. As cold as possible.
2. Measuring is important
3. You must show no fear
Mind you, there are lots of brilliant pastry recipes, but this is the one I tend to fall back on.
Pop your dry ingredients into your food processor if you have one. Or a bowl if you don't.
Pulse once or twice:
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons of sugar
Add: (All at once is fine)
2 sticks of unsalted butter frozen and cut into thinnish slices. Or pieces.
Pulse until the butter is broken into bits but don't overdo it.
Slowly add 1/4 - 1/2 cup ice water and pulse the food processor until the pastry just starts to come together.
Dump onto your counter and press the whole crumbly business together. Don't touch it too much. Cold! Keep it cold! Divide in two. Form each into a rough disk.
Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate. At this point you can freeze for use at a later date. I always like to have a disk or two on hand in case some fruit and guests arrive at roughly the same time.
The rolling. Ok. Allow the pastry dough to warm up slightly from refrigerated temperature. Sprinkle some flour on your counter. Put the dough disk on the flour, sprinkle the top with more flour.
Gently begin to roll out the dough, turning and flouring as necessary so the dough doesn't stick to either the counter or the rolling pin. (If you don't have a rolling pin, a wine bottle works just fine).
Once the pastry is quite thin and roughly circular, you can do whatever you like with it. I like to flop it onto parchment paper, mound some fruit mixed with jam and a teaspoon of cornstarch, in the middle, flop the sides up around the fruit, dot with butter, brush with bashed egg and slide it into a hot oven 425 for 45 minutes or so. It's called a galette. Sounds fancy, but it's just that there's no washing up!
Not entirely clear? The Internet is here! There is nothing to fear, now that we have Google video. There are people out there at the ready to show you demonstrations! Get up and out of your bedroom, abandon that gloomy poetry, freeze your butter and get rolling! Your mother would be proud!