To make a good puff paste is a thing many ladies are anxious to do, and in which they generally fail, and this not so much because they do not make it properly, as because they handle it badly. A lady who was very anxious to excel in pastry once asked me to allow her to watch me make paste. I did so, and explained that there was more in the manner of using than in the making up. I then give her a piece of my paste when completed, and asked her to cover some patty pans while I covered others, cautioning her as to the way she must cover them; yet when those covered by her came out of the oven they had not risen at all, they were like rich short paste; while my own, made from the same paste, were toppling over with lightness. I had, without saying anything, pressed my thumb slightly on one spot of one of mine; in that spot the paste had not risen at all, and I think this practical demonstration of what I had tried to explain was more useful than an hour’s talk would have been.
I will first give my own method of making, which is the usual French way of making “feuilletage”. Take one pound of butter, or half of it lard; press all the water out by squeezing it in a cloth; this is important, as the liquid in it would wet your paste; take the third of the butter, or butter and lard, and rub it into one pound of fine flour; add no salt if your butter is salted; than take enough water ( to which you may add the well-beaten white of an egg, but it is not absolutely necessary), to make the flour into a smooth firm dough; it must not be too stiff, or it will be hard to roll out, or too soft, or it will never make good paste; it should roll easily, yet not stick; work it till it is very smooth, then roll it out till it is half an inch thick; now lay the whole of the butter in the center, fold one-third paste over, than the other third; it is now folded in three, with the butter completely hidden; now turn the ends toward you, and roll it till is half an inch thick, taking care, by rolling very evenly, that the butter is not pressed out at the other end; and now you have a piece of paste about two feet long, and not half that width; flour it lightly, and fold over one third and under one third, which will almost bring it to a square again; turn it round so that what was the side is now the end, and roll. Most likely now the butter will begin to break through, in which case fold it, after flouring lightly, in three, as before, and put it on a dish on the ice, covering it with a damp cloth. You may now leave it for an hour or two, or till next day. Paste made the day before is used much better and easier to manage, and in winter it may be kept for four or five days in a cold place, using from it as required.
When ready, to use your paste finish the making by rolling it out, dredging a little flour and doubling it in three as before, and roll it out thin; do this until from first to last it has been so doubled and rolled seven times.
Great cooks differ on one or two points in making pastry; for instance, Soyer directs you to put the yolk of an egg instead of the white, and a squeeze of lemon juice into the flour, and expressly forbids you to work it before adding the mass of butter, while Jules Gouffe says, “work it until smooth and shining” I cannot pretend to decide between these differing doctors, but I pursue the method I have given and always have light pastry. And now to the handling of it: It must only be touched by the lightest fingers, every cut must be made with the sharp knife, and done with one quick stroke so that the paste is not dragged at all; in covering a pie dish or patty pan, you are commonly directed to mold the paste over it as thin as possible, which conveys the idea that the paste is to be pressed over and so made thin; this would destroy the finest paste in the world; roll it thin, say for small tartles, less than a quarter of an inch thick, for a pie a trifle thicker, than lay the dish or tin to be covered on the paste, and cut out with a knife, dipped in hot water or flour, a piece a larger than the mold, than line with the piece you have cut, touching it as little as possible; press only enough to make the paste adhere to the bottom, but on no account press the border; to test the necessity of avoiding this, gently press one spot on a tart, before putting it in the oven, only so much as many people always do in making pie, and watch the result. When your tartlets or pies are made, take each up on your left hand, and with a sharp knife dipped in flour trim it round quickly. To make the cover of a pie adhere to the under crust, lay the forefinger of your right hand lengthwise round the border, but as far from the edge as you can, thus forming a groove for the syrups and pressing the cover on at the same time. A word here about fruit pies: Pile the fruit high in the center leaving a space all round the sides almost bare of fruit, when the cover is on press gently the paste, as I have explained, into the groove, than make two or three deep holes in the groove; the juice will boil out of these holes and run round this groove, instead of boiling out through the edges and wasting.
This is the pastry-cook’s way of making pies, and makes a much handsomer one than the usual flat method, besides saving your syrup. To ornament fruit pies or tartlets , whip the white of an egg, and stir in as much powdered sugar as will make a thin meringue- a large tablespoonful is usually enough-then when your pies or tartlets are baked, take them from the oven, glaze with the egg and sugar, and return to the oven, leaving the door open, when it has set into a frosty icing they are ready to serve.