I was taught, before anyone (at least, in northwestern Iowa) had ever heard of Spry or Crisco, that, if one liked tender pastry it should be made with lard and that, if one preferred crisp pastry, it should be made with butter. I have never liked lard (and it should be noted that lard pastry tastes like lard whereas pastry made with good, fresh unsalted butter tastes like butter), and I have never liked crumbly, fatty pastry, so my narrow path was, from the beginning, cleanly defined. For as long as I can remember, but for the occasional (and fairly recent) intrusion of olive oil, I have always prepared pastry with nothing but butter and, be it in America or in France, it has, to my taste, been perfect. But, of recent years, a great many people have assured me—with A DISTRESSING RING OF AUTHORITY (I HAVE BEEN AWAY TOO LONG...)—THAT, WHEREAS PERFECT PASTRY MAY, INDEED, BE MADE WITH PURE BUTTER IN France, the flour in America does not permit it. I had, as recently as seven years ago, prepared satisfactory pastry from “all-purpose” flour in the United States, but, troubled (memory, they say, plays tricks), I asked friends to bring me American flours—“all-purpose” and “wondra” (which, except that it is bleached much whiter, corresponds closely to a type of flour that is now widely commercialized in France); with these flours, a pinch of salt, a lot of butter, and a bit of water, one may make impeccable pastry; the “wondra” seems to require a bit more water and makes a slightly more “brittle” pastry, a quality that I appreciate and that, perhaps, everyone does not.
For ease in working, use a fairly large mixing bowl; pour in the flour, sprinkle with salt, add the butter, cut into small pieces, and cut with table knives, one in each hand, blades crossed and touching, repeatedly and rapidly pulling the blades outward and away from each other and recommencing; gather the flour and the butter pieces back to the center of the bowl regularly with the knife tips. Work no more than a minute or so—the butter fragments need not all be as small as the traditional pea. Add the water (not all at once—you may need just a bit less . . .), stirring with a fork and mashing as little as possible to begin bringing the mass together; finish rapidly, working with the tips of your fingers—only enough to create a cohesive body that may be formed into a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate in the coldest part (not the freezer) of the refrigerator for at least 2 or 3 hours.
The coldness of a marble slab—if you have one—facilitates one’s work. Dust it generously with flour, flatten the dough with your hand—it should be quite hard—and give it a few gentle smacks with the rolling pin to flatten it more and render it more supple. Turn it over to be certain that both sides are well floured and roll it out rapidly. Fold the pastry round in two to facilitate draping it into the mold and gently fit it to the form, cutting off the excess pastry some ½ inch outside the border, rolling the ½ inch under, pressing it firmly into place, and crimping the border all the way around by pressing with the side of your repeatedly floured thumb while holding the inside and outside of the pastry rim in place with thumb and forefinger of the other hand. Pierce the bottom here and there with the tines of a fork or the sharp point of a knife.
To half bake an empty pastry shell, line it with a sheet of aluminum foil or kitchen parchment paper, pour in dried beans, split peas, or what have you (keep something around for that use—it can serve no other purpose afterwards; a litre of chick-peas has served me well for several years) and bake for 15 minutes at 375° to 400°, remove the paper and dried contents, and return the pastry to the oven for 5 minutes to let it dry out.
Short pastry, rather than being rolled out only once and fitted to its mold, may first be rolled to a length of about one foot by some 5 or 6 inches, folded in three and then rolled out to the desired form. This is the first step in the preparation of a somewhat simplified feuilletée and lends the pastry a bit of the feuilletée’s quality of flakiness. To transform the pastry into a simple feuilletée, roll the folded length again to the long rectangular form, fold the two extremities in to meet each other, then fold the two, this forming four layers, refrigerate for at least ½ hour, repeat, refrigerate again, repeat and roll out (or refrigerate again before rolling out).
Fold the trimmings into a many-layered stack (or roll them up), form into a ball, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for another hour or so and you will have a demi-feuilletée. Roll it out (not too thinly; to about ⅛ inch) to a length about 4 inches wide, sprinkle each side very lightly with cayenne and generously with grated cheese, pressing it first into the surface with the flat of your hand, then with a cleaver, flat mallet, or the flat of the blade of a large knife, cut into ½-inch-wide strips, twist each gently—three or four turns—into a spiral, and place on a lightly oiled baking sheet, pressing the extremities lightly so that the form will hold. Bake for 15 minutes at 400° and serve with an apéritif . . .
Copyright © 1974 by Richard Olney. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.