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The Principles of Pâte Brisée
by Elizabeth Norcross

A couple of weeks ago while making pastry for a quiche I ran out of butter. “Quelle horreur!”
The only thing in the fridge was an unopened can of Crisco that had been there since moving   in. Everything was ready, cheese grated, onion chopped, everything cold and ready for the pastry – so what to do? I opened that can of Crisco – it was one of the best pie crusts ever. Cooked perfectly and flaky.  I was flabbergasted.

Usually I use all butter. The most critical key to making successful pastry is COLD. The ingredients, flour, butter, vegetable shortening and water must be cold. While shopping the other day I noticed a new (at least to me) vegetable shortening – Spectrum, organic and non-gluten.  Assuming it should be refrigerated, I popped it in the fridge, but upon opening it up, it was frozen solid. Seriously, it took twelve hours to thaw out. That goes against the tenets of good pastry making – room temp - now I have a huge tub and nowhere to go with it. It was a huge fail at pastry-making.

Since I was making Cornish pasties this go-around I used a single crust. Pasties, blueberry turnovers and Asparagus Tips in Pastry & Lemon Butter Sauce. The latter is an adapted
Julia Child recipe that was originally done with Fast French Pastry. This is truly a fabulous tasty hors d'oeuvres. I was making a few of each so didn't need a double batch.

When making a small amount of pastry dough I don't bother with all the equipment. I use a bowl and pastry cutter. Eventually doing the bad thing which is getting my hands in the mix,
working it into breadcrumbs consistency.

Working fast it's then rolled into a ball, wrapped in waxed paper or plastic wrap and put back in the fridge for at least 45 minutes and up to two days. If you have extra left over it can be triple-wrapped and put in the freezer for up to a month in a freezer bag. Pâte brisée is a versatile pastry used for tarts, pie crusts and galettes – be creative, make up your own recipes.

Pâte brisée

1 ½ cups all purpose flour
¼ - ½ cup ice water
1 tsp. salt
1 tbls. sugar
1 ½ sticks unsalted Kate's butter or 1 stick butter & 2 heaping tbls. Crisco
1 egg plus 1 tbls. water for egg wash

It feels like sacrilege to recommend vegetable shortening, but if you don't eat lots of pies or pie dough, no harm no foul.

Put the water in freezer before starting.

My recommendation for the very best butter is Kate's, 100% natural, no artificial growth hormones and batch-churned from the Patry Farm in Maine.

Cut your dough into pieces so they will break up quickly.  Working with pastry cutter or fingers, work the flour, salt & sugar and butter/crisco together so the dough is the consistency of breadcrumbs. Take the water out of freezer and dribble over the dough mixture. As it happens I made a hole in the middle of the dough and worked it into the flour mixture from there. All of the dough should be incorporated into a smooth ball, if need be, add more water.

If for any reason the mixture has gotten too warm, slip it back in the fridge until it's ready to work again. Everything needs to be as cold as it was to begin with.

The best way to roll out dough is on a marble slab. Nothing beats it.

Be sure not to add too much water – it will make the pastry dough sticky and unmalleable. Gather up all the little pieces of 'crumbs' until you have a large smooth ball. Wrap in wax paper or plastic wrap. Place in the fridge for 45 minutes or up to two days. It must be cold as a stick of butter to roll out.

Flour your marble or working surface and rolling pin.  Cut the ball in half and place the other half in the fridge.

I used chicken, ham and fresh spinach and a bit of shaved Provolone in the Cornish pasties. In the blueberry turnovers I experimented using cream cheese on the bottom and fresh blueberries. The blueberries were flavored in lemon juice and raw brown sugar. Drain and dry on cloth so they don't go onto pastry wet.

After placing on top of cream cheese I added freshly grated cinnamon. To be honest, maybe the cream cheese wasn't the best idea, although it did taste delicious, or maybe it was that the dough wasn't cold enough so the edges didn't crimp together tightly – I'm pretty sure it wasn't cold enough.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll one half of dough into a large rectangle, about 1/8-inch-thick. Using a 5-inch cookie cutter, cut out 6 rounds. Transfer rounds to prepared baking sheet.  Place about two tablespoons of mixture onto one-half of each round. Lightly brush egg around the edge of the covered half of each round. Fold remaining dough over to enclose, forming a half moon. Gently press edges together to seal. Brush the tops of each pie with egg. Using a paring knife, slash the top of each pie. Sprinkle generously with sanding sugar for fruit tarts.

Preheat oven to 425*. Place a piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet and bake for 20 – 25 minutes. Check to make sure they don't overcook.

For the Julia Child recipe that I adapted from the pâte feuilletée – I just kept rolling out cold
thin leaves of pastry on top of one another over and over again, and it worked,
although her Fast Puff Pastry is delicious and not that hard to make – there's always store-bought.


Asparagus Tips in Pastry

18 to 24 fresh (slim) asparagus spears
2 to 3 Tbls. Butter and 1 Tbls. Minced shallots or scallions
salt & pepper
6 pastry rectangles about 2 ½ by 5 by ¼ inches
Egg glaze (one egg beaten w/ 1 tsp. Water)


Trim ends off asparagus spears and peel from bottom to near tip to remove tough outer skin.
Choose a deep skillet or casserole to hold asparagus flat; fill 1 ½ teaspoons salt per quart water. Lay in asparagus, cover until boil is reached, then uncover and boil slowly just until cooked through – 5 to 8 minutes. Immediately remove spears when done and arrange on towel in one layer to cool. Cut the tip ends into 5” spears and save the bottoms for a salad.

Just before serving melt 2 – 3 tablespoons butter in a frying pan large enough to hold the tips in one layer; add shallots or scallions and cook for a moment, then add the asparagus tips, shaking pan by handle to roll them over and over to coat with butter; season lightly with salt and pepper and roll again.

Lemon Butter Sauce

2 Tbls. Fresh lemon juice
3 Tbls. Dry white French Vermouth
salt & white pepper
1 stick chilled butter cut into 12 fingertip-size pieces


Boil the lemon juice, vermouth and ¼ teaspoon salt slowly in a small saucepan until liquid has reduced to about 1 tablespoon. Then, a piece or two at a time, start beating in the chilled pieces of butter, adding more as previous pieces melt, forcing the milk solids to hold in creamy suspension as the butter warms and softens so that the sauce remains ivory colored rather than looking like melted butter. Sauce can be held over faint heat of a pilot light or a
spot warm enough to keep butter from congealing, but not so warm as to keep butter from congealing. However if this happens, you can often bring it back by beating over cold water until it begins to congeal and cream again.

About 15 minutes before serving arrange the pastries (can be frozen) on a baking sheet and paint the tops, - not the sides – with the egg glaze; in a moment do a second coat, then make decorative knife cuts and crosshatchings in the surface. Immediately bake in the middle level of oven for 12 to 15 minutes, until pastries have puffed up and browned and the sides have crisped.

While still hot split pastries in half horizontally, arrange 3 or 4 hot and buttery asparagus spears on the bottom half, their tips peeking out the top. Spoon a bit of the lemon butter sauce over the asparagus sauce over the asparagus, cover loosely with the top, serve at once.

This amount of pâte brisée will make either 12 pasties or turnovers and 16-18 asparagus tips in pastry.

That's all we have time for today, as Julia says, Bon Appétit!