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Pastry - Eating Without Fear

( Originally Published 1923 )

Beneath this here dust, the mouldy old crust
Of Nell Batchelor, lately was shoven-
She was skilled in the arts of pies, custards and tarts,
And knew every use of the oven.
When she'd lived long enough, she made her last puff:
A puff by her husband much praised;
And now here she lies, a-making dirt pies,
In hopes that her crust may be raised.

—Epitaph on the Grave of an Old Pie-woman

Every cook has her (or his) own way of making pastry, but when it comes down to cases there are only two sorts of pastry, i. e., good and bad. I experimented some years before I arrived at, what I consider, a good puff paste and a good short crust. A puff paste should be an innumerable number of the thinnest of thin layers, which melt in the mouth. A short crust should be so "short" that it is difficult to cut it without crumbling. It too should melt in the mouth. A puff paste is always used for meat pies and for large fruit, such as apples and plums, but a short crust is better for the smaller fruits like gooseberries, rasp-berries, and currants.

I can almost hear some good lady say ; "The very idea of his telling me how to make pastry. Me, who's made more pies than he ever heard of." I do not doubt it, Madam, and peradventure I have had some of those pies. A bilious upper crust that looked as though it needed two weeks at the seashore to bronze its anemic complexion, a heavy leathery under crust that meant sleepless nights and pains like a Naysmith hammer on the chest. I have seen those pies used to great advantage by that greatest of all actors, Charlie Chaplin. The ancient Greeks used them in their sports, and there is the famous Greek statue of the Discobolus, just about to hurl a mince or apple pie into space. Nay, if you would satisfy your appetite on pie, I pray thee, shun the flat pie of the farmhouse and cultivate a passion for the "deep dish." And then pastry need have no terrors for thee. If so be thou must eat flat pie, eschew the sodden lower crust.

There is no difficulty about making pastry, either puff or short, but it cannot be hurried. Try this :

In the center of a deep pie dish—I refer to a large one about ten inches across and not individual pie dishes, such as are used at restaurants-place a small stemless wine glass and then fill the dish with fruit; add sugar and a little water for juice. The object of the glass is not to fill up the dish but to hold the juice and keep it from boiling out, either through the air hole in the top of the crust, or forcing its way through the edge. The liquid is caught in the glass by capillary attraction.

Puff crust: Half a pound of flour, a quarter of a pound of butter (or half butter and half lard), a pinch of salt, and as much baking powder ,as will cover a ten-cent piece, a few drops of lemon juice, and about a wine-glassful of water.

Dry the flour thoroughly and mix in the baking powder and salt. It is important that too much baking powder be not used, or the crust will be "bready." Squeeze a few drops of lemon juice into the water and add this to the flour and mix thoroughly, so that it is sufficiently damp to stick together without crumbling, and sufficiently dry to leave the bowl perfectly clean. For all this mixing use a pastry knife, not a spoon, and never touch the crust with the hands until it comes time to place it on the pie dish, of which more anon. Then flour the pastry board and rolling pin, turn the contents of the basin on to the board, and roll out as thinly as possible. Cover the rolled-out paste with little pieces of butter about two itches apart. Fold the paste over and roll out again. Cover with butter knobs. Repeat this until all the butter is used. The more times it is rolled, the lighter and more flaky will be your crust. When it comes to the last rolling, roll it out so that it is only a little larger than the outside measurement of your pie dish. Place the pie dish on top of the pastes lightly, so as not to dent it, cut it round with the pastry knife and remove the dish. Then cut the remains of the paste into strips one inch wide. This is used for making the thick edge. Dampen the lip of the pie dish, lay on these strips, pressing them down gently so as to make them adhere to the dish, and repeat this till all the paste is -used, being careful to dampen each layer slightly so as to make them stick together. Wet the top layer and then, gently but quickly, lift the oval top crust up in the flat of the hands and place it squarely on the pie; press down the edge and nick it all the way round with the back of the knife. Make an air hole at the top, just above the wine glass, and put the pie in a cool place to set. It should be baked in a hot oven, otherwise the butter will run out of the pastry and the pie be spoiled. It should only take about twenty minutes to cook, and if there is reason to believe that the fruit is not sufficiently cooked when the pastry is done, the dish can be placed on the hot stove without danger to the crust. Before serving, the crust should be brushed over with beaten white of egg, and sugared. Pastry such as this can be eaten without fear of indigestion, so long, of course, as too much is not taken.

Care should be taken to keep the pastry cool while it is being made, and a marble slab is the best pastry board. The butter, too, should be hard. A richer pastry can be made by using equal quantities of flour and butter.

It is not possible to make good pastry with oily butter.

Nut butter is not good for pastry making, though margerine (made from animal fats) can be used, but the pastry is not very good. It is apt to be tough and lacks what is called "richness."

"Short" crust is much simpler to make and takes much less time.

Half a pound of flour, a quarter of a pound of lard and butter mixed, as much baking powder as will cover a dime, a tablespoonful of sifted sugar, and a wine-glassful of water.

Dry the flour thoroughly and mix in the baking powder and sugar. Then with the pastry knife knead in the butter and lard. It will,;be almost damp enough to roll out, but without water it does not "bind," and it would crack before you could get it on the pie dish. So you add just sufficient water to hold it together and still leave the bowl perfectly clean. Turn it on to the pastry board and roll out only once. You then cut it, place the strips, etc. just as described in the recipe for puff pastry. Be sure you make the air hole at the top of the pie or the steam will sodden it. Bake in a hot oven directly it is made.

Pastry can always be prepared hours before it is required, and if desired hot, can be warmed up, without hurting it, in a few minutes.

For meat pies, puff crust is always used (except for raised pies, and these are so tedious to make and require special molds that I am going to side-step them altogether. This book, after all, is for "home cooking" and the management of the kitchen on the easiest and most economical lines, both as to money and energy). IA) a meat pie no wine glass is used—the gravy should permeate the meat. The usual meat pies are made of steak, kidney and mushrooms, veal and ham, rabbit, sheep's head; and any cold meat "put under a crust" is palatable.

Steak and kidney pie: Two pounds of beef-steak, four lamb's kidneys, a dozen mushrooms, two hard-boiled eggs, one onion, salt and pepper and a pinch of mixed herbs. Cut the steak and kidneys in small pieces and stew them gently for half an hour with the onion, cut in rings. When cold, place them with the gravy, in a pie dish, with the mushrooms and the hard-boiled eggs cut in slices. Pile them up in the center so as to hold the crust. Then cover with puff paste and bake in a hot oven. Brush over the top of the pie with beaten white of egg and serve. Sometimes the top is decorated with paste cut in the shape of leaves and roses. They are quite easy to make and look very pretty and "professional. Be sure, in making meat pies, to leave the air holes in the crust, and all meat should be cold before the crust is laid on.

Peal and ham pie is made much the same; the veal is stewed with onions and herbs and with, if possible, some bone so as to make the jelly when cold. Ham is mixed with the veal when it is placed in the pie dish, and the top is covered with a layer of ham and hard-boiled eggs. Then the paste cover is put on and the pie is baked. This is excellent cold, but the gravy should "jell."

Rabbit pie: Joint and stew the rabbit, but not too much, and when cold pack the pie dish with the meat and small pieces of bacon. Cover it with strips of bacon and slices of hard-boiled eggs. Then put on your crust and bake. This can also be eaten cold.

Sheep's head pie: Two sheep's heads with the tongues; two onions, mixed herbs, parsley, salt and pepper. Split and stew the heads till the meat comes off easily. Pick it off in small bits, slice the tongue in thin strips. Put the bones back into the liquor and boil it hard to reduce it to half the quantity. This is to make jelly. Put the meat and tongue into the pie dish, cover with bacon and slices of hard-boiled eggs, put on the crust and bake. This is al ways eaten cold.

Giblet pie, made of turkey or goose giblets, is very good, and, as I have already said, almost any cold meat leftovers, except corned beef, are admirable put under a crust. But they should always be made in a deep dish so that there be plenty of gravy—or when cold, jelly—otherwise they will be too dry.

I do not mention "Pot-pies" because the crust is very indigestible and I am not advocating anything for general use that I cannot thoroughly recommend as digestible. It will therefore, perhaps, occasion surprise when I speak of boiled suet crust, which if improperly made or insufficiently cooked is terrible, but which if prepared as it should be, a baby could almost eat with safety. I have had beefsteak and kidney pudding with a crust like leather, as heavy as lead, and of a gray complexion. Needless to say, this is not as it should be. A suet crust should be light, spongy, of a delicate golden color, and the meats inside covered with a rich, thick gravy, the like of which will make you think of the fields of Elysium. No American has visited London without paying a visit to "The Cheshire Cheese," in Fleet Street, supposed to be one of the taverns frequented by Dr. Johnson. The pudding served there is supposed to be made after the same recipe as that made in Johnsonian times. Be that as it may, it is a remarkably good pudding, and many a merry party have I "assisted" at, at the Olde Cheshire Cheese. 'Tis rather solid fare for these effete days, but if one be in good condition it is possible to go through the whole menu, to wit, pudding with boiled potatoes and Savoy, old Burton ale, stewed cheese, and the famous whiskey punch. As a matter-of-fact, it is the whiskey punch that saves one's life—just as raw nips of whiskey keep the Scotsman from passing to brighter realms when he indulges in haggis.

Beefsteak and kidney pudding A big pudding is much better than a small one, therefore I will give the quantities sufficient for a party of six.

Three pounds of lean beefsteak, two pounds of lamb's kidneys, several mushrooms, a dozen oysters, and if passible at least six larks, though any other small birds would answer the purpose. Do not, however, let the impossibility of getting larks deter you from making the dish—though a great addition, they are by no means absolutely necessary. Salt, pepper, one chopped onion, and a pinch of herbs. For the crust, half a pound of suet, chopped very fine; three-quarters of a pound of flour, a heaped teaspoonful of baking powder, a saltspoonful of salt, one egg beaten to a froth, and a wine-glassful of water.

Dry the flour thoroughly, mix in the baking powder and salt, and then add the chopped suet, being sure that it is well and thoroughly mixed. Beat the egg, add the water to it, and beat again. Then turn this into the flour, etc., and mix it till it leaves the bowl perfectly clean. For all this use a knife and not a spoon nor the hand. Then turn the ball of dough on to a well-floured pastry board, and roll it out till it is about half an inch thick, or a little less. You now lay your pudding bowl (which has a good lip to it) face downward on the paste and cut round it so as to make a circular top for the pudding. This you lay on one side and the balance of the paste you form into a ball again and roll it out sufficiently large to line the basin. You then grease the inside of the basin with butter, lift up the larger piece of pastry on the flat of the hands and drop it into the bowl, so as to thoroughly cover the inside, leaving about two to three inches of paste hanging around the edge. You now fill this lined bowl with the meat and kidneys, all of which have been cut into small pieces, with a little but not too much fat. Don't just tip these in, but place them carefully so as to mix the kidney and meat, thoroughly interspersing the mushrooms and oysters, until the bowl is full. Each layer should be sprinkled with the salt, pepper, onions, and herbs. When the bowl is full, pour in water up to about an inch of the brim. Then lay the circular piece of paste on top, fold over the flaps which are hanging over the edge, and smear the joints with flour and water to close them. Then tie over the top a square cloth, the corners of which are pinned together to facilitate lifting it in and out of the saucepan. The pudding is then placed in a saucepan of boiling water, which entirely covers it, and the water must be kept boiling. If it goes off the boil the pudding will become water-logged and spoiled. The longer it is boiled the better it will be, and the lighter and more digestible the crust. A pudding this size re-quires at least three hours' boiling, but it will not be over-cooked if it has four or five. To serve, the cloth is re-moved from the top, the basin is stood on' a cold platter and is then covered with a white napkin neatly folded and pinned around it. The top crust is cut with a sharp knife, and the contents and inner crust scooped out. It is admirable and in every way delicious, wholesome, nutritious, and if sufficiently cooked, most digestible.

Fruit puddings made the same way, using apples, blackberries, black currants, or gooseberries, are excellent, but these are generally turned out into a dish, instead of appearing on the table in the bowl in which they are cooked. The only trouble is, that the inner crust will very often break. This, however, does not affect the taste.

The same crust is used for "roly-poly" jam puddings.

Plain suet pudding, made exactly as the suet crust de-scribed (but not rolled out), boiled in a basin, or even in a cloth, is excellent with sugar, j am, or with hot meat, such as leg of mutton or ribs of beef. Dumplings for corned beef are made of the same materials. The whole secret of successful suet crust, puddings, or dumplings is plenty of suet, enough baking powder, and sufficient boiling, and of course they must never go off the boil.

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