NOTE: as with so many summer posts, this one got half written (and all photographed), then our social/family/work/home calendar would strike. In Chicago, it’s a chilly 52 today, and reading through this post makes me nostalgic already for a summer that barely just ended, but excited for autumn. The great thing about pastry: it’s seasonless.
This happens a lot. I am tempted to title this post something breathless and exuberant, like “Eureka!” or “OMGGGG!” But I’m trying to keep the new site organized and easy for you to use, so I’m naming the post after the thing I made. But, you see, it’s not the galette that’s so electrifying. (Well, it is REALLY good. But we will get to that in a minute.) No, no, it’s this pastry breakthrough that I’ve recently had. And I’m so excited because (and those who know me will know this part already) pastry is one of those veiled culinary realms through which I don’t often pass, and when I do, it’s with trepidation. And the sweats. You see, there are skills I don’t possess in abundance. Like patience. And a scientific mind that finds joy in measuring and precision. So baking is not really my strongest suit, but I’m getting better and braver all the time. And in the summer, in the Midwest, particularly after the winter we had, it is really difficult to leave the farmers market without lots of fruit in your basket. Italian plums, freestone peaches, apricots, ALL THE BERRIES, etc. It’s not summer unless you’re gorging yourself on soft fruit, in all forms and presentations.
Which brings me to the galette. You’ve seen one or two on here before, I think, and for all eternity the recipe I use for my pastry crust is pretty much cribbed straight from Smitten Kitchen. I like the recipe; the texture turns out nicely each time, but about 90% of the time that I make a galette (and, thus, pastry crust), I encounter 2 problems. One is major, one is more of a mental snag. The kind of thing that, each time you do it, it’s with the slightest beat of hesitation that doesn’t so much as outright suggest, but really just breezes lightly across your brain, whispering, “it doesn’t have to be this way.” One of those things you do 30 times before saying to yourself, out loud, alone in the kitchen, “um, maybe it doesn’t have to be this way.”
- MAJOR: the issue of the butter, start to finish. I’ll elaborate more in a moment.
- MINOR: I almost never have sour cream on hand, and I’m also not so married to pastry yet (see above) that I am a person who will pop to the store to get it just for this.
So the butter. I do not mind keeping it cold – I understand why that has to happen, and it is not difficult for me to do it. However: the act of “cutting in” the butter with the flour and other dry ingredients is just ridiculous. THERE I SAID IT. “Coarse meal”??? Using two knives?? Who are these people??? Fairy scissorhanded unicorns with aprons? It’s not butter’s fault, and it’s not history’s fault – people have been successfully cutting butter into flour for centuries (SOMEHOW), so I’m not criticizing. When I make pastry crust I am desperate to call my Grandma Jean to see if she has pointers – what is coarse meal? how big is a small pea? is there a pastry cutter made of diamonds and ninja blades that can help me? – but she is since passed, and I imagine she’d simply instruct me to be patient, slow, and deliberate. So I’m working on those things. BUT, in the meantime I recently decided, since it’s apparently the summer of Goldilocks recipes, to dream up some new solutions to this butter issue. First I, well… I brunoised it.
Once it came to cutting in the butter, the smaller size was extremely helpful. Less worry, less time, but still obsessing over whether the little crumbles were small enough, and sifting through the whole mixing bowl to hunt down any errant butter boulders. Which happened, so, still not a perfect solution. After enjoying a quite nice galette that night with Italian plums and mint, I daydreamed before bed of other ways to get that butter to bend to my will. I thought immediately of frozen butter and my broad Microplane. Would it melt too fast? Would I break my elbow? Would my knuckles skid across the rasp? These were questions that had answers. (Thankfully, the answer to each is “nope.”) The next day, I pulled out a stick of butter from the freezer, let it soften ever so slightly on the counter for about 5 minutes, then loaded up my Microplane and went to town. Though this method requires some elbow grease, and maybe a good radio show in the background, it gets the butter into a format that is – as you might expect – practically pre-cut-in.
I shredded the butter into a bowl, put the bowl back into the freezer for about 30 minutes, then basically tossed it with the flour and salt, making sure no little colonies formed. This is where the solution to my more minor issue comes in – where I took a stand and said, “Okay, enough. This is what I have, so deal with it.” You see, some recipes for pastry – including the one I use – call for a mixture of sour cream, lemon juice, and water for the wet combination. However, I’m 3000% more likely to have Greek yogurt in the fridge. This in itself works as a substitute for sour cream, but still the dairy-lemon-water combination has always seemed fussy. Why not buttermilk? It’s got the dairy element, it’s acidic, and it’s roughly the same consistency as the mixture, without having to mix. (It’s possible that buttermilk was the original preference but since few people keep it around, the sour cream route was more convenient. Who knows?) So in addition to my genius shredded butter, I also subbed in buttermilk. Whereas the instructions for my traditional pastry recipe (and, for that matter, many pastry recipes) foretell a “shaggy” texture that must be kept together by a spittle of liquid, substantial muscle, and sheer force of will, when using the buttermilk the dough came together in .3 seconds. At first I was concerned it was too wet, but wrapped it up anyhow, thinking a nap in the fridge would help sort it out. I was right. Though the dough still felt a little wetter than usual when it came back out of the fridge, it was not only a dream to roll out, but the finished crust turned out even better than crusts of the past. It was golden, hardy (not limp or soggy), crisp on the top, and stood up to my mascarpone-honey filling on the bottom.
So there you have it: my 2 hacks for (literal) no-sweat pastry dough. Only 4 ingredients! I intend to try out the concept, with some tweaks, in the fall for my sister’s and my 2nd annual Pie Lab. Gianna makes a killer pie crust with Crisco, but I still carry a torch for an all-butter crust with the superior flavor (yes I said it) of butter, but the superior structure (yes… I said it) of shortening crust.
Apricot Mint Galette – no tears edition
- 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 tsp sugar – optional (for a sweeter crust. I tend to do mine without the sugar.)
- 1 stick (8 Tbsp) frozen unsalted butter. You will also need a broad Microplane, if you’ve got one, or any broad-sided rasp, or box grater. If using a box grater, make sure you use the shredding side – ideally the fine shred
- I imagine a skinny Microplane would work, too, but please be careful with your knuckles
- I don’t recommend using a shredding attachment on a food processor for this, as I think the heat from the mechanism would gum up the butter and not yield the nice separate shreds you seek
- 1/2 cup cold, well-shaken buttermilk
- 1 lb. fruit of your choice, sliced – I’d recommend peaches, plums, or apricots, but any seasonal thang will do (and they are all best friends with mint anyhow)
- 2-3 Tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped
- 1 cup mascarpone
- honey, to taste
- 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tsp water
Measure the flour and salt (and sugar, if you’re using it) into a large mixing bowl. Put the bowl into the freezer. While you’re there, get out your stick of frozen butter, and let it hang out on the counter for a few minutes.
During this time, pull together your shredding device and a medium bowl. I like to put the Microplane straight across the bowl, but you do you. Unwrap the butter halfway, and hold the wrapped half in your hands; you’ll slowly pull the wrap back as you shred. Shred the butter with strong, intentional strokes – you’ll go sort of slow in the beginning, but it’ll go faster as the butter warms a bit. (Yes, yes, insert dirty joke/imagery here, whatever.) Once the butter is fully shredded into the bowl, put the bowl in the freezer and have a drink. Or do something that takes you about 15-20 minutes.
Remove the butter and the flour from the freezer. Add the butter slowly to the flour – flicking it little by little into the bowl, so that it doesn’t all plop out in one go. Once the butter is in, you should be able to stir it all around lightly with a fork to incorporate. Add the buttermilk to the mixture, and work together with a wooden spoon. It should come together fairly easily. (The mixture should really not be too try, so I hesitate to even allow for the possibility that it could. But IF your house is insanely dry, or something else is up, you can add a wee bit more buttermilk to make it work. Like, one teaspoon, maaaaayyybe two.)
Once the dough has been mixed, shape it into a ball – it might be a little tacky – and wrap the ball tightly with plastic wrap. Let rest in the fridge for 30 minutes. During that time, mix up your mascarpone, mint, and honey to taste. (You can make this mega-sweet, or barely sweet. OR for a savory thang, skip the fruit and replace with grilled vegetables, and don’t sweeten the mascarpone, and sub in goat cheese if you want.)
Remove the dough from the refrigerator, and unwrap it. Dust a clean, broad surface with some flour, place the dough on the surface, and then dust some flour on top of the dough. If your dough is still a bit sticky, sprinkle flour into it as needed to bring the moisture level back in balance. Roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thickness. Now, plop the dough onto a lightly greased (or parchment-lined) cookie sheet – with or without rims – or you are welcome to use a pie plate. But I kinda like my galettes rustic and untidy.
Smear the mascarpone mixture evenly around the inner 2/3 of the dough. Then place your sliced fruit in whatever arrangement you find most pleasing (or easy). Fold the dough around the edges in toward the fruit, making folds or creases as you go. Brush the top of the crust with the egg yolk mixture. You can even do this with your fingers – basically just paint the exposed dough with it so that it develops a nice golden shine in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the middle of the galette only wiggles very slightly when you move the pan.
Remove from the oven, let cool for 10 minutes before serving. You can eat this warm or at room temperature, and leftovers reheat nicely in an oven. (Pastry does not like the microwave.)