Sunday, July 27, 2008

Like Warm Blueberry Pie...

Mini-Blueberry Pies cooling out and looking vain.

Today, I was sitting around with my mom discussing general topics of life, baking and the reasons for moving to a weight-based system of baking, when we somehow got on the subject of pastry dough. Mom does quite a bit of the baking for The Spro, ranging from classics like Red Velvet to Chocolate Nemesis to little, frilly cupcakes. She got her start back when I was running Jay's Shave Ice and she wanted to try making the Chocolate Nemesis cake for the shop. Back then, Jay's Shave Ice wasn't equipped for refrigerated display of cakes and pastries, but once we installed our sushi case, she got cracking.

I have to admit that I was hesitant at first. She wasn't a baker. She is a doctor who still practices medicine. But, my mom was insistent that I at least give it a try - and who can really say "no" to their mom?

Fast forward to present time and mom has evolved into an excellent baker. I'm continually surprised by the level of skill and quality she produces (and I'm not saying that because she's my mom). Her stuff is really quite good.

My only peeve is her penchant for volume-based measurement. It's one cup this, two cups that, and three-quarter cups of the other. Oh, and only medium eggs. If I get a deal from Woolsey Farm on XL eggs, she doesn't like them and I end up making scrambled eggs for the next two weeks. I'm constantly trying to get her to convert her recipes to weight-based measuring, but it's just not working out.

I hear your pleas - weight is more consistent. I know, I know, I tell her all the time. Problem is that her consistency is pretty darn consistent and the customers love the products, so my consistency argument is tenuous at best in her mind.

Today, I thought I would try another tactic. Recently, I bought a digital scale for the bakery to use alongside the mechanical scales we have in-house. We were talking about new recipes and started talking about making tarte tatins for The Spro, which got us into discussing how to make pate brisee as a base.

In case you're not familiar, pate brisee is a great general pastry base that can be used in place of puff pastry. It just takes a little time to prepare and you can make a big batch and refrigerate (or freeze) and use as necessary. Mom was ready to give it a try, but I had a surprise in store: everything was weight-based.

The basic recipe we used was 1000g of cake flour and from there, the recipe is ratio-based (the ratios are based on the weight of the flour): 25% sugar, 30% liquid (could be water, but I used eggs and milk) and 50% very cold cubed butter. So, the actual amounts were:


The beauty of the ratio method is that you can start off with any amount of flour and work from there. Need only 250g? No problem. Want to make 65 Kilos? Better get a bigger mixer.

After you cube the butter, you want it to be super cold. Put it in the freezer for about an hour. The colder the better. With the flour and sugar in the mixer, start adding the butter. Keep mixing the flour and butter until it turns a certain consistency. It's hard for me to accurately describe the correct consistency but it should ball in your hand but easily crumble apart. Do an internet search because I'm sure someone else can more accurately describe it than I can. I'd have to show you in person. That's how I learned it.

Once the mix is ready, add liquid ingredients and mix until combined. Once the liquids have been combined, stop immediately. You do not want to fully combine the butter into the mix. Ideally, you want the liquid to bind everything while still leaving small bits and chunks of butter in the mix.

Dump in out onto a floured worksurface and knead briefly into a ball and break up into useable portions (if you're making larger batches). Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least two hours until very cold.

At this point, the brisee is pretty much done. If you have excessive amounts, you can freeze those for future use. You want to refrigerate to relax the glutens as well as keep the butter and everything cold. Then, when it's time to use, take it out, beat to flatten and roll it out with a rolling pin to the desired thickness for whatever you're using it for.

The interior: not too shabby looking for a quick fix.

We had some blueberries in the fridge, so I decided we would make mini-blueberry pies. Making the filling is relatively simple, just toss these ingredients in a bowl:

Fresh, locally grown blueberries
25% sugar
2 tblsp brandy
1 tsp ground cinnamon
lemon juice

Ideally, you want to use round molds, but since we didn't have any, I grabbed a couple of mini cheesecake springforms, tossed the bottoms and used the rings. For pie dough, you want to roll it out on the thick side to hold in the filling. Cut a circle about twice the diameter of the ring and carefully insert the dough into the ring, running the dough up the sides.

And it would help later if you remember to grease the rings with butter beforehand.

Place the dough-lined rings on a silpat lined baking sheet and preheat the oven to 425F. Pour the filling into the center of the dough. Cut a circle of dough to cover the top of the pie and cut a cross-shaped pattern in the center to allow heat to escape during baking. Sprinkle some demarara sugar over the tops of the pies.

For these mini-sized pies, bake at 425F for ten minutes. Then lower the temperature to 350F and bake for an additional 15 minutes until done. Pull the tray from the over and allow to cool for a few minutes. Then separate the pies from the ring molds - you want to do this when the pies are still hot because it will be easier than after they have cooled completely.

Place the pies on a wire rack to cool for at least two hours prior to serving.

Our first attempt at these pies were pretty decent, I thought. The springform rings are a bit too tall, creating pies that are just too big for one person. With smaller rings, I think we might have a winner and a new menu item for The Spro.