We are prepping ourselves for the last three weeks of our school year. I say prepping, as though we have to fortify ourselves, because these will be busy weeks with extra work in addition to many, many, many goodbye parties. Some of these, I am hosting, and for some, I have offered to bring a dish. We consider ourselves fortunate that we live in an active community that cares for each other, and we are happy to be part these ending rituals.
Today, my husband went golfing and then to beer-brewing lessons with a friend from school, so I essentially had the house and the day to myself. Being an introvert to the core, a day like this gives me the time I need to think, plan, and process, so when I go out into the world, I have a together me to offer. With the collapse of the Skagit River bridge last week and the Ski to Sea race I know will be taking place this weekend, Memorial Weekend, my mind is roaming all over Whatcom and Skagit counties, ruminating on the spectacular natural features of that area and also contemplating my place in that place for the past three decades. I have especially taken Whatcom County into my blood. I can mentally and emotionally touch all of the seasons and so many beautiful places and events in my memory. I decided that since I had some time to myself, I really wanted to listen to the audio book of The Living, by Annie Dillard. This book is a historical fiction about founding settlers on Bellingham Bay. I have long said that this is my favorite book, but I clearly remember nursing a baby while I read it the last time. That was 20 some years ago and it is time for another listen. I listen to a lot of audio books so I can cook at the same time. It is my absolute favorite way to spend a quiet afternoon; it recharges me.
I worked on a batch of puff-pastry this afternoon. This recipe could not be more simple, but there is a little bit, only a little, of technique to remember. I sort of chuckle to repeat this advice because I am pretty sure you have read it before. I know I had read for years that you must maintain sizable chunks of butter in the pastry and that everything must be kept cold throughout the process. I thought this was a suggestion that wouldn’t make much difference one way or another until I finally understood the reason why. We keep pea-sized and sometimes a little larger chunks of butter in the pastry because when we pop it in a hot oven, the butter will melt, leaving air-filled pockets throughout the dough: voila flaky pastry. Once I finally committed to this practice, I considerably improved my batting average with making flaky pastry.
This pastry works beautifully for both savory and sweet tarts, which I will be using it for at some upcoming dinners. I’ve got two bundles of dough now, soft as a baby’s bottom, in my freezer and it will be short work to fill them with fresh produce and bake them off at very short notice.
Makes 2 tarts, adapted from New Zealand Cuisine, No 157 Mar 2013
Before I even begin the ingredients, here is the protocol: Freeze everything and put it back in the fridge, or even better, the freezer, between steps in the production. In the photos below, keep your eye on the distinct hunks of butter that remain visible in the dough.
- 250 grams flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 150 grams unsalted butter, chilled (or frozen) cubed 1cm
Put the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor.
Add the butter to the flour, separating each cube, and pulse until the mixture is just becoming large crumbs.
You still need to see pea-sized chunks of butter in the flour. Tip on to a work surface and make a well in the center, then pour in about 100 ml ice-cold water, mixing and bringing together gently until you have a rough dough. Do not knead. Add a little extra water if needed. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
Turn the pastry on to a lightly floured board and gently knead together to form a rectangle. Roll the dough out, in one direction only, until about 20cm x 50 cm. Keep edges as straight and as even as possible.
Fold the top third of the pastry down to the center, then fold the bottom third up and over the top third.
Give the dough a quarter turn and roll out again to three times its length. Fold as before, then wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 20 minutes before use. This pastry freezes well.