Monday, December 18, 2006

Tackling Galette Dough

It's been a while since I've tackled galette dough, and I've been itching to get into the kitchen and play with it again. With the season as it is, I hadn't had the chance until this weekend.

Most people (at least, most Americans) have never heard of galettes, so I'd better take a moment to clue you in. A galette is a type of pie that is cooked without a pie tin. That's not to say that it's a pouch type of pie, if that's what you're thinking. Imagine this: you have a bit of pie dough that you roll out into a flat, more or less round shape. You trim off any really extraneous edges, drop a pile of pie filling into the center, and then fold one edge in. Fold another edge in. Go around the pie, folding in edges, maybe a dozen times or so, give or take, until all of the edges are folded in and you have a nice little window of filling in the center. Bake it as you would any other pie, except on a parchment-covered sheet pan instead of a pie tin. That, my friends, is a galette. In fact, I have heard that in France, any type of free-form pie is called a galette. For those of you who saw the groundbreaking Good Eats episode The Crust Never Sleeps, this is the type of pie that Alton Brown makes at the end of the episode.

The great thing about galette dough is that it can be used to make regular pies too. I decided that I needed to come up with my own galette dough recipe. I hit Google and started looking at recipes out there, and compared them with recipes that I already had. Finally I calculated a recipe that seemed like a good average. The ingredients:

2 1/2 cups cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 cup cold butter
5 oz ice water


Before I get any further in my story, I think I should make this perfectly clear. This was a test recipe, and if you read the rest of my story, you'll see why I don't recommend it.

Pie dough can be tricky to make. It's a short dough, which you may recall from my post on sugar cookies. One of the biggest goals here is to make as little gluten as possible. This means working the dough very little. You also want to try and keep the butter as cold as possible. Back in the day, bakers would cut their butter into little cubes, and then (after whisking the salt and sugar into the flour and sifting it) try to work it into the flour using as few moves as possible. This is called "cutting in the fat". Many moden bakers use a food processor or even the paddle attachment on their mixer to cut in the fat, and in a perfect world, this would be my preference. Sadly, I own neither a big enough food processor nor a stand mixer. And the last time I cut in the fat by hand, my dough was much too chewy.

I decided to try a different tactic. I pulled out my cheese grater and grated up my cup of cold butter. For those of you taking notes, this is what's known as "an act of desperation". But hey, it seemed to work. I tossed the grated up butter in the flour, give it a couple of stirs with a wooden spoon, and then checked it. Believe it or not, it was just about perfect. Unfortunately, there was a lot of butter stuck to my cheese grater. I left it, and later I would use the same grater on a potato that became hash browns. The butter mixed in with the potato, and I got sauteed, buttery, potatoey goodness. That's right kids, no waste!

Back to the pie dough. When you have the fat cut in, it's time to add the moisture. In an effort to keep the fat cold, the moisture must be in the form of ice water. Or must it? As far as I can tell, it only needs to be a water-type substance. Following in Alton Brown's footprints, I went with ice-cold apple juice. But I didn't use a spray bottle like he did. I sprinkled in a little, gave the dough a little mix, and repeated until the liquid was all used up and the dough was more or less holding together, if still a little crumbly. This crumbly mess was wrapped in plastic wrap and moved into the refrigerator for at least an hour.

When the dough came out, the flour was more or less hydrated. I cut it in half, intending to use it for two pie shells. I thought I'd be clever and roll out my dough between two sheets of parchment, instead of flouring my rolling surface. It wasn't long before I realized that this was a Bad Idea (TM). First of all, my dough was very sticky. Perhaps just a little too sticky. I was beginning to realize why so many recipes were calling for 1/3 to 1/2 cup water, rather than the 5 oz that I used. In my defense, one of my recipes did call for that much, and I thought I'd give it a try. But truth be told, I think even if the dough wasn't that sticky, the whole parchment thing was probably just a bad idea.

When you roll out dough, you want to sprinkle your surface with cake flour, if possible, as I did with my second pie shell. Cake flour has the least amount of protein and remember, we're going for as little gluten as possible. Form your dough into a more or less flat, round shape with your hands, before actually rolling it. Sprinkly the dough, the surface, and even the rolling pin with cake flour. Give your dough a couple of rolls, and then turn it 90 degrees. Roll it a couple more times, and then turn it 45 degrees. Roll it a couple more times and then turn it 90 degrees. I have found this to be the best tactic for getting your dough to be more round than misshappen. It also helps to flip your dough over on occassion as you do this.

When you've got your dough rolled out, carefully move it over your pie tin, and work from the bottom up. Flatten out the bottom of the tin, then work the dough into the edges, and then up the side. You can either crimp your dough on the top, or you can cut it away. Personally, I prefer to cut it away.

Out of all the galette dough recipes I looked at, not a single one gave baking instructions. And why would they? The idea that most of those authors had in mind was that the pie recipe that you used would have its own baking instructions. What none of them kept in mind was blind baking. What is this thing I speak of? Blind baking is when you partially bake your pie dough before you fill it with anything. This keeps you from having a fully-cooked filling and an undercooked crust.

The problem with blind baking is when the crust starts to puff up. In order to avoid this, you can buy a relatively expensive set of beads that you use to line to bottom of your pie crust, then blind bake the crust, and then remove the beads. Or you can do what the professionals do and line the crust with parchment, fill it with dry beans, and then bake it. Let's review: $20+ to be an amateur, or less than a buck to act like a pro. Your call.

What tempurature? I went with 375F for about 10 minutes. The dough should look about half-baked. If it looks all nice and golden, brown and delicious, well, it's probably going to look burned when you actually bake a pie in it.

I'll be honest with you. This stuff shrank on me. It wouldn't have been so bad, except that I was using fluted tart pans, which have much shorter sides. The dough ended up shrinking so much, I only had about half the height left, which doesn't work so well for filled tarts. This is largely due to the fact that too much gluten had formed. It may have been the excess liquid. It may have been because I didn't have enough fat worked in, or because I didn't work it in properly. It may have been that my dough just needed to rest before I blind baked it. Whatever the cause, my galette dough needs some reworking.

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