Bringing our dough to life

Unless he's using it to polish his shoes, Crisco doesn't have much use for Jim Dodge. Today we were in the kitchen again with the seasoned pastry chef where we learned how to work with our all-butter flakey piecrust (and how Crisco can be used as a protective barrier on kitchen clogs!). In addition to rolling out the top and bottom crust for apple pie, we baked off our tart dough and made two different pastry creams—lemon and white chocolate mousse and vanilla pastry cream. We also watched chef Jim demonstrate his technique for making pithiviers—a pinwheel shaped tart made with puff pastry, fruit, and frangipane.

Throughout the day I picked up more useful tips that directly apply to home baking. For instance, to prevent juice leaks in pies and tarts, brush the bottom crust with egg white to seal the dough. And did you know that metal pie pans are best? I didn't. They conduct heat better and encourage more even browning.

 A kitchen full of hot apple pies is never a bad thing.

A kitchen full of hot apple pies is never a bad thing.

Chef Dodge usually makes his pastry creams and curds with whole eggs because he prefers the lightness. But many recipes call for egg yolks only which result in a slew of leftover whites. Often times, that container of clear, yellowish liquid ends up in the back of my fridge waiting to be used for meringues. I learned from Jim that adding a pinch of salt and sugar helps preserve the whites. Good to know!

After filling our blind-baked tart shells with lemon mousse, we all gathered at the front table to sample chef Jim's apple pie (ours were still too hot). The crust was amazing. I usually make all-butter piecrust, but it's never quite as light and flakey as the one we tasted today. There were horizontal layers of tender, caramelized pastry in every forkful. It shows how chef's technique for incorporating the butter into the flour really does make a difference. Not that I ever doubted it.