September 20, 2009

My Life in France

So, My Life in France was a transformative experience. I mean, transformative. All I really remember about Julia Child was my mother watching the show and her horror at how, well, sloppy Julia was. Not that Ma was the world's neatest cook. And. as they say, the fruit doesn't fall from the tree. The bits and pieces fly in my kitchen, for sure.

But I digress. My Life in France naturally led to an opening night viewing of Julie and Julia, and of course, an honorary dinner cooked to celebrate Julia's BD on August 15. More on that later. What I really want to talk about is pastry. Its simplicity. Its elasticity. Its pliability and ultimately - if done right - its ethereal flakiness. So why does it strike fear in the hearts of many of us?

After all, pastry is probably one of the most elemental of things. Flour. Butter. Lard. Salt. Some ice water. Mix. Let rest. Roll out. Bake. And even though pie is probably my very favourite of desserts, I somehow have shied away from pastry. But Julia's tarte tatin changed all that. It was meant to be the pièce de résistance of our Julia birthday dinner, and it was, only we made it the next morning. Can I tell you how gorgeous eating warm tarte tatin is, when the crust is just perfect? When the sun is streaming in your beautiful kitchen windows, you have a steaming cup of coffee and the whole of a lazy Sunday in front of you?

Herewith, Julia's recipe, from Julia's Kitchen Wisdom, with some editorial comments. And, natch, a pic of said tarte.

All-Purpose Pie Dough - Pâte Brisée Fine
Dough for two 9-inch round shells or a 14-by-18-inch free form shell

1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour (measured by scoop + level method)*

1/2 cup plain bleached cake flour
Why bleached flour here but not above? I must investigate...

1 tsp salt

1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) chilled unsalted butter, diced

4 tbs chilled vegetable shortening
Here's my secret. I used good old fashioned pork lard, bought from the lovely Mennonite lady at my farmer's market. I never met a part of the pig I didn't like. And honestly, it adds the VERY best flavour.

1/2 cup ice water, plus droplets more if needed
Droplets. A lovely, oft neglected word, isn't it?

Combine the flours, salt and butter in the bowl of a food processor fitted with steel blade. Pulse 5 or 6 times in 1/2 second bursts to break up butter. Add lard, turn on machine and immediately pour in the ice water, pulsing 2 or 3 times. Remove cover and observe the dough, which will look like a mass of smallish lumps and should hold in a mass when a handful is pressed together. If too dry, pulse in droplets more water.

Turn dough out onto your work surface and with the heel of your hand rapidly and roughly push egg-sized blobs out in front of you in 6-inch smears. Gather the dough into a relatively smooth cake; wrap in plastic, and refrigerate at least 2 hours (or up to 2 days) or you may freeze for several months.

Proceed with whatever recipe you are making - trust me, your pastry will be delicious!

*Scoop and level method. Now, here's a contradiction. In Mastering (I have the 1983 edition), Julia instructs us to scoop the dry-measure cup directly into the flour container and fill the cup to overflowing. Without shaking or patting down the flour, sweep off the excess, and sift after measuring. In Wisdom (2000), you're meant to place the dry-measure cup on a large piece of waxed paper, scoop the flour directly into the sifter and sift it directly into the cup until overflowing, then level as above. Seems more fussy, no? and certainly more messy. But they say with age comes Wisdom, and this method hearkens back more closely to the original edition of Mastering. Confession: while I scooped and levelled, I did not sift the first time I made the dough. Still came out great.

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