18th Century Puff Paste Crust

puff-paste1Pasties have been a popular dish on English tables for centuries. The Oxford English Dictionary claims the earliest use of the word in English literature was in 1300. The OED’s definition of a pasty matches most modern expectations of the dish: a meat filling, enclosed in a crust of pastry, and baked without a dish. I have traced similar definitions at least as far back as 1764. Earlier definitions seem to be a bit more generic or obscure, describing a pasty as “a great pie” or “a pie made with flesh or fruit.”

Recipe source: “Savouring The Past” by Jas Townsend and Son

 

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Puff Paste
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Instructions
  1. To make a foundational dough, mix the first three ingredients. If the dough is too sticky, add additional flour, a little at a time. The dough should be soft and easy to work.
  2. Knead the dough on a well-floured surface for about 10 minutes. Cover your dough and set it aside while you work on the next step.
  3. Next, lay out four sticks of butter side-by-side on a piece of cloth or plastic wrap.
  4. Cover the butter with the same and press it with a rolling pin into a single patty of butter about 1/2″ thick. Don’t be afraid to show your butter who’s the boss.
  5. Once you’ve reached the desired thickness, set your butter aside, keeping it as cold as possible.
  6. Next, roll out your dough into a large square, until it’s about 1/8″ thick — maybe just a bit more.
  7. Place your pad of butter in the center of your square and fold the dough snugly around the butter like an envelope.
  8. Roll the pastry into a long rectangle about 18″ long by 8″ wide by about 1/4″ thick.
  9. Fold the dough onto itself in thirds.
  10. Turn 90-degrees, and roll out to 1/4″ thick once more. Fold into thirds again, cover with a cloth, and allow your dough to rest for 5 to 10 minutes in a cool place (e.g., your refrigerator).
  11. Repeat this process three more times, allowing your dough to rest each time.
  12. Once you’ve done this folding and rolling process a total of four times, it’s time to roll the dough out one last time to the final thickness you wish to use it.
  13. This dough can be quite stiff and stubborn to work with. It has a tendency when rolled out to shrink right back to a smaller thicker shape.
  14. This is the case even when using cake flour, but it is even more of a battle if you opt for all-purpose flour.
  15. Once you have rolled out your dough to its final thickness, you’re ready to cut it to size. It can be used to line pie pans or to top them. You can cut out a circle of the dough, pile on some seasoned meat, and seal the edges by brushing them with egg and crimping them over. Baked or fried, the possibilities are nearly endless.
Recipe Notes

AH! But here’s a little secret technique

Jon:

I would roll the dough out to the final thickness. I had done this a number of times before, struggling each time with the dough’s elasticity. I would work up a sweat rolling the dough out to the perfect thickness only to have it spring back out of protest to a smaller and thicker size.

I had read a number of period recipes that prescribed “beating the dough well.” Up to this point, I figured that was an 18th century euphemism for “rolling it out.” My assumption was based on other such unfamiliar terms used in the old recipes. Take, for instance, the phrase, “cast the eggs until they are light.” “Cast” means to whip. So “beat” probably means to roll out, right?

Wrong.

“Beat” means to beat. I discovered this through my frustration. A rolling pin is the weapon of choice. I normally don’t condone this type of behavior — especially in the kitchen, but if you stay focused on the dough, trust me, it will be o.k.

So as you roll out your dough to its final thickness, if it resists and shrinks back to a smaller size, whack it a few times with your rolling pin. Start with a few gentle whacks at first, until you get a feel for how much the dough can handle. Try it. I think you’ll be surprised at how persuasive this technique is. And you may ashamedly find it to be a little therapeutic.

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Travis Toler

Son of James Ivan Toler and Carol Ann Vadeboncoeur Toler

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