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In Pastry I Trust

I recently discovered a life-changing recipe for pastry dough. Hear me out.

This recipe has produced sweet and savory tarts so good I honestly can’t believe I made them. More importantly, this humble recipe has shifted my attitude. It has helped me manage my anxiety. Breaking up the butter with my fingers is the most therapeutic thing I’ve done in I can’t remember how long. Making something from scratch gives me a real opportunity to connect. It has slowed me down and given me a much wider lens through which I see time.

I think you should make pastry dough from scratch, because who knows, maybe your life could change, too? I’m aware of the obvious protests like, “I don’t have time.” That’s fair. Or, and I feel this way, too: “I just don’t have the energy, what with the dishes in my sink and the world on the brink of implosion.”

plum tart

Friends, here’s the deal: Making pastry dough from scratch is exactly what we need to be doing right now. As Anne Lamott writes in her book Almost Everything, “We’re doomed, stunned, exhausted, and overcaffeinated. And yet, outside my window, yellow roses bloom, and little kids horse around, making a joyous racket.”

One of the best ways to summon the will to keep going is to do the one thing that feels both inappropriate and necessary: savor the simple joys of life.

Working with your hands is a good place to start experiencing some joy. I’ve always made pastry dough with a food processor, because using a machine seemed like the responsible (and professional!) thing to do. Machines save time by speeding up the process. The catch? Take the process out of anything and you’re essentially sucking the air out of the experience. In the case of pastry dough, or anything really, you have to have your hands in the process in order to truly appreciate it for what it is.

I discovered the recipe on Saveur Magazine. It’s an adapted recipe from Chez Panisse Café Cookbook by Alice Waters—the one book by Alice Waters I don’t own! She’s a huge source of inspiration in my kitchen. Her restaurant, Chez Panisse, is hands down my favorite restaurant of all time.

tomato and goat cheese tart

Here are a few notes from my direct experience. I’m an amateur, so take them for what they’re worth. But know I’ve made this about thirty times since August, so I’m basically an expert. JK, don’t ask me any questions.

1 / I follow the recipe to a T for sweet tarts, but for savory I eliminate the sugar and add a teensy bit more salt.

2 / I made a lot of tomato and goat cheese tarts this summer, and the dough stood up like a champ to the juicy, ripe tomatoes. Just be sure to add the flour to the bottom of the tart shell before adding your tomato slices. Crumble as much goat cheese over the top as you want. Sprinkle some course sea salt over the tomatoes right before you pop the tart in the oven. By the way, a tomato tart is the perfect way to cook those lifeless grocery store tomatoes you find in winter.

3 / If the pastry breaks apart around the edges when you roll it out, or if it rolls into a weird non-circular shape, don’t stress. Just cut and paste. I take a little bit from over here and press it into the dough over there. Works every time. No one will ever know.

4 / The pastry dough recipe makes enough for two tarts. Horray, more tarts! Sometimes I make an apple pie and cover it with the second crust. To seal it properly, you need about a half-inch overhang. Fold the bottom dough over the top dough and roll it in towards the center. Crimp with your fingers. Cut slits in the top of the pie to let the steam out.

5 / For perfect flaky pastry, you need a HOT oven and COLD pastry dough. Don’t skip over the steps that ask you to chill the dough, or place the tart/pie in the freezer before baking. And make sure your oven is good and hot.

6 / For tarts, place parchment paper on your baking sheet. Cool on a wire rack. The parchment paper makes it easy to lift the tart right out of the baking sheet and onto a cutting board. For pies, I recommend placing your pie dish on a baking dish in the oven just in case your pie bubbles over.

7 / About the baking time, listen carefully: I’ve made this recipe in three different ovens and the timing was completely different for each one. What did I learn? After 45 minutes, turn on your oven light and take a peek inside. You’re looking for a nice golden crust. If your fruit or savory filling looks like it’s on the verge of burning, you can always drape a piece of foil lightly over the top of your tart.

In summary: Life is hard, but making pastry dough from scratch doesn’t have to be. In fact, it might be exactly the kind of flakey, buttery meditation you need. The process will anchor you in that unwavering part of yourself that exists beyond anxiety, hopelessness, and exhaustion. At the very least, it will taste outrageously good.

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  • Thanks for welcoming me into your h(om)e.

    May this meditation help you find the peace within. I look forward to sharing more inspiration and goodies with you in my regular newsletters.

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