Using a Mixer Fitted with a Paddle Attachment, add the ingredients to the mixing bowl and mix until just smooth. Alternatively, mix the dough by hand until just smooth. Avoid overmixing, as this will cause the dough to bubble in the oven. It is often necessary to adjust the amount of syrup, depending on the relative dryness of the flour. Therefore, stay close to the mixer and check the dough consistency when it is about 90 percent mixed. The finished dough should be quite firm, but not at all crumbly. Once mixed, wrap the pâte morte in plastic.
Note The Following Special Considerations:
- The dough must be on the stiff side so that the shaped pieces retain their distinction and don’t merge together. Therefore, thorough covering of the unused dough with plastic is important to prevent dehydration.
- White rye is the flour of choice because of its low-gluten content and fine particle size. Medium and whole rye are not suitable for fine work due to their granular nature.
- Ciril Hitz, a highly skilled Swiss pastry chef living in the United States, has developed an innovation: He uses about 25 percent light buckwheat flour to 75 percent white rye; the inclusion of buckwheat helps reduce the formation of surface bubbles on the pieces as they bake, and facilitates the rolling out of the dough.
- The dough accepts color readily. Caramel color can be added to the syrup to make a darker-hued dough. Swirling 2½ ounces of caramel color or coffee extract into 1.3 pounds of syrup yields a dough with a deep, rich tone. Other additions are cinnamon, chili powder, paprika, and ground turmeric, which give the dough varying shades of reddish or brick hues, or soft yellow in the case of turmeric. Cocoa can be used in lieu of caramel color. About 1.5 ounces of powder to 2 pounds of flour is a good amount to begin with; increase or decrease the powders to vary the shades. Don’t use cayenne pepper!
- White flour with about 12 percent protein can be used all or partly in place of the rye. The gluten in white flour makes it more difficult to achieve fine, thin flower petals or leaves, but it can be a good choice when a whiter color is desired rather than the grayish cast of the all-rye dough. A portion of cake flour added along with the white flour enables the dough to be rolled thinner, with less shrinkage. Pâte morte made with white flour accepts dye readily.
- For fine work, such as fashioning flowers, branches, and leaves, it’s best to use the dough within a few hours of mixing it. Even when wrapped and refrigerated, the dough slowly dehydrates, and as the dough gets older it becomes less suitable for these types of applications.
- When hot from the oven, the pieces have a matte tone. To give them a brilliant shine, use a fine paintbrush and carefully brush them with the sugar syrup. For intricate items like wheat stalks, where complete coverage is impractical, use the syrup simply to highlight the wheat and give an overall luster. Food-grade sprays can be used to achieve shine, although they are not always easy to come by. Coffee extract can also be brushed onto the pieces, either prior to, or just after the bake.