Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Puff Paste

The other day I went to my Irish Pub Cookbook for an idea for dinner. I happened to have some ham in the fridge, and some chicken in the freezer, so I ended up making a pot pie. The recipe called for pre-prepared crust, but I didn't have any (I've never had any). I went to Alice Waters' book for a recipe. Usually my wife makes the pie crusts but she was away.

Actually that one of the things I remember most about my courtship with her. We started dating in October, and then one thing and another, she came to Thanksgiving dinner and she brought pie. I was with her when she made the pie, and she whipped the pie crust out from scratch without a recipe and without measurements. And it was divine. I was in love.

But now being on my own for the crust, I went to Alice Waters. Basically she said two cups flour, one cup butter, a pinch of salt and just enough cold water to hold it together. Refrigerate one hour after mixing before rolling. So I got to thinking... I had seen plenty of pioneer recipes for pie, but never any for a crust or puff paste.

My wife learned to make her pie crust from her mother, and she's made hundreds and hundreds of pies. From everything I've seen, this rote style of learning was how the pioneers did it also-- never a written recipe or set measurements. Fortunately, some people did write things down. Mostly, they were enterprizing publishers, not pioneers.

Here's Anna Maria Collins' recipe for puff paste, from The Great Western Cookbook, 1857:

"To a pound and a quarter of sifted flour, rub gently in with the hand, half a pound of fresh butter; mix it up with half a pound of fresh butter; mix it up with half a pint of spring-water. Knead it well, and set it by for a quarter of an hour; then roll it out thin, lay on it, in small pieces, three-quarters of a pound more of butter, throw on it a little flour, double it up in folds, and roll it out thin three times, and set it by an hour in a cold place."

This seems a little excessive. Here's something more simple, from Warne's Model Cookery, 1869:

"One pound of flour; six ounces of beef suet; a cupful of cold water. Strip the skin from the suet, chop it as fine as possible, rub it well into the flour, mix it with a knife, work it to a very smooth paste with a cupful of water, and roll it out for use."

So we see that there are lots of different ways to make a pie crust. No doubt our Mormon pioneers each had their own method.

What's your pie crust? Where did you learn to make it?