Multifunctional

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I couldn’t find more than four of my small tart rings.  They are probably buried in the backyard somewhere.  Or being used as some sort of contraption for Batman.  Or hidden somewhere with my brain.

Not looking forward to running out to the cooking supply store with two kids in tow, I was trying to think of any alternative when I remembered something I’d seen on Pinterest…canning jar lids as tart pans. Hooray for Pinterest!

This lesson was a departure from our previous projects as it was the first time we made two different pastry components which we then brought together to form frangipane and apple tartlets.

First up, the tart dough, also known as pate sucree.

We talked about the differences between pie dough and tart dough.  Typically, the first is flakey, and not overly sweet.  The latter is sturdier, (to stand unsupported by the pan), sweet, and crunchy or sugar cookie-like.

Now the ingredients are not wildly different in the two doughs; the primary distinction is how the butter is incorporated into the flour and to what degree.

Me: “Does anyone remember how we mixed our butter into our pie dough?”

“We cut it up into little squares?”

“Was it supposed to be cold?”

They recalled cutting the cold butter into the flour, and I reminded them that we did that to avoid completely mixing it into the dry ingredients.  Those chunky bits of butter gave us the flakiest dough.

I explained that tart dough is more like a cookie dough, so that is how we would mix it.  Just like our gingerbread cookie dough, we would start with room temperature butter which we would then cream together with the sugar.

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Me: “If we are using room temperature butter should we try to mix in a cold egg?”

“No!”

Flour was measured and added and, that was that.

Tart dough.  Easy peasy.

Again, just like our cookie dough, we would need to let this dough rest in the refrigerator for a couple of hours to let the flour absorb the liquid from the egg and allow the butter to firm up enough to roll out.

I had some dough already made and ready to go.  And roll they did.

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We worked on keeping our hands closer together to even out the pressure of the pin on the dough.

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And what to do if the dough started getting too long or misshapen in one spot: “Turn it!”

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As well as how to use small bits of dough to press into and patch the spots they weren’t happy with.

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We tried to roll “around the clock” to keep things somewhat circular.

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Once the dough was bigger than the tart ring, we gently picked it up and placed it over the top of the tin.  I showed them how to lift the outer edge of the dough and use their thumbs or fingers to ease it into the bottom contour of the lid.

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We didn’t worry about getting a perfect round, but aimed more for an even thickness.  At one point we even got something that resembled the continent of Africa, though there was some discussion about whether it looked more like Louisiana.

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Once the dough was settled nicely in the pan,

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we rolled the pin over the top to make a nice edge.

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Further refinements could be made once the extra dough was removed.

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The tartlet cases were then placed in the refrigerator to chill while we made our almond filling.

Frangipane, or almond cream as it is also known, is very versatile and besides being used for filling tarts, it can be swirled into a quick bread or pound cake, spread onto pastry or yeasted dough and rolled up cinnamon bun style, or even spooned over fruit in a dish and baked as is.  Another cheer for multifunctional items!

But back to the task at hand…

The first step required a food processor.  The kids were excited to see an actual piece of cooking equipment as up until then we’d mixed every other recipe by hand.

To avoid making almond butter, we ground the sliced almonds with a little bit of sugar, pulsing the blade until the nuts were a fine meal and beginning to climb the side of the bowl.

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We creamed room temperature butter with sugar and salt, then added our reserved almond mixture.

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Finally, the egg and vanilla were beat in with a tiny bit of milk.  We finished the filling about the time that the tartlet shells were sufficiently cold.

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The kids took turns scooping the frangipane into their shells, (yes I did label the bottoms so there wouldn’t be a question of which belonged to who!), not quite to the top of the pastry.

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They used a spoon to spread the frangipane over the tartlet cases while I sliced some apples.  We kept the slices together and just pushed them slightly forward to get a nice fan.  These were placed directly on top of the almond filling.

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We had extra frangipane, which they had ideas for…

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About 25 minutes later the small tarts emerged from the oven, slightly puffy and nicely browned.

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I warmed up a bit of apricot jam to glaze them with and removed them from the tins.

I think we even won over the “non-almond” person in the group.  There were only crumbs left on the plates.

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Sweet Tart Dough    yield: two 9″ tart shells or six 4″ tartlet shells

1/2 c + 1T unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 c granulated sugar

1/4 t salt

1 large egg, at room temperature

1 3/4 c all purpose-flour

Either by hand or using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar, and salt until smooth.  Mix in the egg.  Scrape the sides of the bowl, then add the flour all at once.  Mix until just incorporated.  Divide the dough as necessary and shape into a disk about 1/2″ thick.  Wrap well and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Let dough sit out of the refrigerator for a few minutes to take the chill off and become just malleable enough to roll.  Roll to 1/8″ thick and line tart pans. Patch as necessary.  Chill until firm, about 15 minutes.

Frangipane      yield: about 1 1/2 cups

1 c sliced almonds **

1/2 c granulated sugar

7 T unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/8 t salt

1 egg, at room temperature

1 T whole milk

1 t vanilla

In a food processor, grind 2 T of the sugar with the almonds until fine.  Set aside.

Either by hand or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with the remaining 6 T sugar and salt.  Add the almond mixture and beat until combined.  Add the egg, milk and vanilla and mix until light and fluffy.

** Alternately you can use purchased almond meal.  I chose to grind the almonds because commercial nut meals are more likely to have been processed on equipment also used for processing peanuts.  Just FYI for those with allergy considerations.  Also, grinding your own is a bit cheaper.

To assemble and bake the tarts:  heat oven to 350 degrees.  Spread frangipane over chilled tart shells.  Add fruit.  Bake 25 – 30 minutes or until nicely browned.

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Small Pies for Small Fries

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Hand pies to be exact. And apple because Thanksgiving is coming up!

People love pie. However, the idea of baking a pie from start to finish makes many people anxious. One need only peruse the aisles of the grocery store for the evidence: multiple buying options for ready made crusts.

The kids found this funny, the notion that anyone would be hesitant to make pie dough. Five ingredients that they’d already manipulated in three other projects; this would be a piece of cake. Or pie, rather.

“The most important thing about making an all butter pie crust is to always keep the dough cold, but how can we keep it cold while we’re working with it?”

Kids reading recipe…

“Start with cold ingredients?”

Bingo.

I showed the kids how to cut the butter into cubes. First in thirds, lengthwise.

“Does everyone know what I mean by thirds?”

“In three pieces!”

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Then we rolled the whole cube of butter onto its side and repeated the process. This gave us nine skinny rods. Next, we cut the cube in half, crosswise.

“Anyone want to guess what I’ll get if I cut each half in thirds?”

“Six?”

“Yes, sixths!”

Now we had perfect little cubes to put in the freezer to chill while we measured out the other ingredients.

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A pitcher of cold water went into the refrigerator to chill down even further.

The kids measured the flour, salt, and sugar into a heavy, shallow bowl.

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I placed the pastry cutter on the table and somebody said, “oh we’re going to make it like we did the pumpkin cake.”

I explained that yes, we would be cutting the butter into our flour mixture, though not as thoroughly as in the last recipe. Our goal was to blend some of the butter in with the flour, keep some of the butter separate, in bigger pieces, and leave a bit of the dry ingredients uncoated by the fat.

The best way to achieve this is to keep the butter, you guessed it, cold.

I pointed out that if we took a long time to cut our butter in, there was a good chance it would start warming up. Not that I wanted them to move so fast that we had flour flying everywhere, but…

“Should we each take a quick turn then?”

They were all very agreeable to this and after I started the ball rolling, the kids each took a few passes with the pastry cutter before pushing the bowl towards their waiting neighbor.

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Luckily, most of the ingredients stayed in the bowl.

The whole process took just a few minutes and the butter stayed quite firm. I explained that if we could squish a piece of butter between our fingers without it leaving a melty residue, then we could keep going. If the butter had gotten soft at any point we would have needed to refrigerate the mixture for 10-15 minutes before moving on.

We took a look inside our bowl. There were three different things going on in there: coarse sand, slightly larger bits like lentils, and finally, bigger chunks, about the size of large peas.

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Time to mix in the water.

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Using a rubber spatula, I gently folded and pressed the ingredients together while each of the kids took turns dribbling in tablespoons of water.

We stopped adding water when large clumps of dough began to form, after about 6 tablespoons in all. They could see that there was almost no dry flour left in the bowl.

A few pushes of the hand was all it took to gather it into a ball.

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We could still see chunks of butter in the dough, exactly what we were going for. This went back into the fridge so we could ready the table for rolling out our crusts.

Why wouldn’t we want the butter to be fully mixed in?

We talked about the texture of pie dough.

“Is it crumbly and sandy like a shortbread cookie? Or is it flakey?”

Careful consideration…”flakey!”

We discussed gluten, and how it makes baked goods like bread chewy. We reviewed the ways to avoid activating the gluten in flour: by using a gentle hand in mixing, and by coating the flour with fat so that it doesn’t absorb water, which we did, partially. This keeps the crust tender. The little bit of flour that was left uncoated does mix with water to kind of glue the whole mess together. When the resulting dough is rolled out, the pea-sized chunks of butter get flattened out and sandwiched between the thin sheets of slightly glutenized dough. When the pie crust is placed in a hot oven, the water in the butter converts to steam and causes the dough to puff up. Flakes!

We divided our ball of dough in two and flattened each half into a disc. (These would normally be the top and bottom crusts). Then each disc was divided into four even pieces for a total of eight.

My five year old son: “Hey, this is math!”

We would need to take turns with the pin, so the portions we weren’t working with went back into the fridge. I know, I know, but we have to keep the dough cold so the butter never melts into the flour.

Onto rolling.

“Give yourself plenty of elbow room!”

I grabbed a handful of flour and flung it across the table, not just a little sprinkle of flour, but more like a spray, like rolling a pair of dice.

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The rounded portion of dough went on top of the flour and the top got dusted as well.

I showed them how to roll from the middle of the circle out, but not back and forth, and “around the clock”: 12, 2, 4, and so on. I slid my hand under the dough to make sure it wasn’t sticking and gave the dough a quarter turn.

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I explained that the flour acts like little ball bearings under the dough, so they should flour the table as needed. The bench scraper would come in handy in the event the dough did stick.

I reminded them to use the dry hand towel to wipe off any bits stuck to the rolling pin as they would encourage the dough to stick to it even more.

When my dough was about 1/8″ thick overall, I stopped rolling and encouraged the kids to try.

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We didn’t worry so much about getting a perfect circle, we just worked towards an even thickness.

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Any excess flour got brushed off with a dry pastry brush.

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We piled sliced, cinnamon-sugared apples onto the dough circles shapes, leaving enough space to fold it over onto itself.

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The kids squeezed and sealed the edges together, some even getting a bit fancy with the pleating.

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Once all the hand pies were placed on a sheet pan, we used a pastry brush dipped in milk to brush over the tops. A sprinkle of turbinado sugar would make the crust extra crackly.

A sharp knife was used to cut a few steam vents, and the whole tray went into a 400 degree oven.

About 25 minutes later we spoiled our dinners with warm apple pies.

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It was the quietest moment of the entire day.

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All Butter Pie Dough

2 cups all purpose flour
2 T sugar
¾ t sea salt
8 oz, (2 sticks) sweet butter
water
ice cubes

About ten minutes before mixing the dough, cube butter and place in freezer. Fill a measuring pitcher with 1 cup water (you won’t need it all, but it’s better to have more than enough ready), and place a few ice cubes in the pitcher, refrigerate while you measure the remaining ingredients. Place the flour, sugar and salt in a heavy, shallow bowl. Whisk to combine. Cut butter into flour with pastry cutter until largest chunks are no bigger than pea size. You are looking for a mixture of sand, small bits of flour and butter combined, and larger chunks of butter coated in flour. Check to make sure that the butter is still fairly firm. You should be able to squeeze a piece between your fingers and feel some resistance. If the butter is soft, place the bowl in the refrigerator for 10 – 15 minutes. Sprinkle ¼ c water over the flour mixture and toss together with a spatula. Add more water as needed, 1 T at a time. Stop adding when you see clumps of dough form, with little to no dry flour at the bottom of the bowl. The dough should just hold together in large clumps. Remove dough to a lightly floured board. Press dough together and divide in half. Form into rounds. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate if not using immediately, for up to 3 days.

Photo credits: 4, 7, 10, 12, 14-16 by Helena Ottoson