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Pastry again: vinegar adds the tender touch

Most people, if faced with a quick baking dilemma, probably go to the supermarket and buy cookies or brownie bites or something.  And it makes sense, kind of, although with a food processor, you can make pretty good cookies and brownies in less time than it would take you to fight over holiday parking, much less elbow your way through the store.

The corresponding shortcut for most people who do bake would probably have to be pie crust–to say nothing of puff pastry dough. For years I’ve been looking for ways to make a pastry dough that is close to puff pastry–flaky and light and puffy–without being as heavy on saturated fats and calories. Not the easiest combination.

Fillo (purchased, I’m not enough of a DIYer to make my own yet and my kitchen’s too tiny for rolling and tossing a huge thin sail of dough the right way)–fillo is good for a lot of things, but it’s so obviously itself and not pie dough, tart dough or puff pastry. It’s also pretty salted–I always have to comparison-shop to remember which commercial version has the least sodium per ounce (they vary within brands, because some are intended for savories and the others for sweet pastries. I think the savory ones are much too salty and use the less-salted ones for spanakopita and so on as well as for baklava).

After having made a variety of pie doughs–standard flour-butter-salt-water, olive oil tart dough, rugelach butter-cream-cheese dough, and even a puff pastry recipe with about half the fat called for in the classics–plus croissants that I finally got right–I can say my latest experiment is something of an eye-opener for me.

All of these worked okay as doughs, but except for the olive oil tart dough, which I use routinely for quiche, none are really all that light-tasting or actually light in terms of fat content and overall calories. And rolling them thinner than the standard 3/8 inch (thinner equals less dough and fewer calories per serving…) sometimes leads to a tough pastry. The fact that I tend to use bread flour instead of all-purpose or cake flour is probably at fault as well, I’m sure, but I’m mostly a bread baker and not exactly a perfectionist, so how many different sacks of flour do I really want hanging around my cramped galley kitchen at any given time?

A week or two ago I checked out an older cookbook (late ’80s) on Armenian food and tried to puzzle out the Armenian, Lebanese, Turkish and Russian influences–it’s a real mix. I was looking for a recipe for bureka dough, and this book had one.

The recipe for spinach burekas had an accompanying (and aging, over-tinted ’80s-style) photo of a browned and flaky dough wrapped around a log of improbably-green spinach filling on a platter lined with too-green lettuce and too-orange tomato slices underneath. But other than the color enhancements, the spinach log, kind of like a spinach Wellington, looked pretty nice.

To my great surprise, the dough was quite similar to some of the ones Joan Nathan had in The Jewish Holiday Kitchen.  The key ingredient differences from my standard pie doughs are:

1. slightly more butter for the amount of flour than for standard pastry dough (to be expected–you want it flakier, you probably need more fat in the dough) though a lot less than for rugelach or puff pastry

2. a little vegetable oil as well

3. an egg. Nathan’s “muerbeteig” egg dough for a plum pie calls for a hard boiled egg yolk, of all things, but the one here is raw. I’m not sure what it’s for, exactly. Perhaps for leavening or some other structural purpose–maybe it helps the dough puff into layers and hold them better with less hard fat than puff pastry requires?

4. a quarter-cup of dry white wine–which I didn’t have, only red, which would have turned the dough gray…so I substituted half apple cider vinegar and half water–the vinegar because Nathan had used it in a dough with egg. Why wine or vinegar? I think–don’t quote me–it’s the acidity, which breaks down gluten a little and tenderizes the dough. Certainly it did in this case compared to my usual experience.

So anyway–this dough came out surprisingly well. It doesn’t puff anywhere near as much as puff pastry–at least not while rolled out as thin as possible, and I haven’t tried it thicker–but it’s light, crisp and tender at the same time and not heavy or greasy. It’s unsweetened and mostly unsalted and would be equally good for savory pastries, Wellingtons and other encased main-dish things (like pot pies, coulibiac of salmon, and spinach-type fillings) where it’s the top layer or a wraparound, and for sweet ones like the impromptu almond paste and apple tartlet at the bottom of this post.

Bureka (and tart/puff) Dough

(modified from Secrets of Cooking Armenian/Lebanese/Persian, by Linda Chirinian, Lionheart Inc./Publishers, 1987–you might find it in your library if not online)

  • 1 3/4 c. flour
  • 8 T (one stick) unsalted butter, cold and in slices (NOTE: I used Fleischman’s pareve margarine for half the butter to lower the saturated fat; it was just fine)
  • 1.5 T light vegetable oil (canola has more polyunsaturated fats than most oils)
  • 1 large raw egg
  • 1/4 c. white wine (Chirinian’s original recipe) or a 1:1 mixture of cider vinegar and cold water
  • 1/8 t or a pinch of salt
  • 1 egg yolk mixed with a spoonful of water for glazing the pastry for when you actually bake it–optional, but makes the pastry brown and shiny if  you’re using it as a top crust or wrap. You don’t need it if you’re just making a pastry base topped with something else.

Do the basic pie-dough-in-the-food-processor thing (it’s the same for dough as for scones): Pulse everything dry with the butter, margarine and canola oil 3-4 times, just until the fat and flour make pea-sized lumps and the rest is in oatmeal-like crumbs. Add the egg and pulse once, then drizzle in a spoonful of the wine or vinegar and water, pulse once or twice–stop and poke it with a finger and ask, is it dough yet? If you can pinch it together, and it’s moist but not sticky, good enough. If it’s mostly dry sandy stuff, even if you can stick it together by pinching hard, drizzle a little more of the wine or vinegar/water in, pulse a couple of times, and open the container and feel it again. There should still be some visible bits of butter and margarine in there, and the dough may not all be stuck together in the food processor bowl. This is a good thing; it means you haven’t overworked it.

Dump it all out onto a plate or cutting board, gather it in a ball, pat it into a disk, stick it in a plastic bag and put it in the fridge or freezer to relax the glutens in the dough for an hour or so before rolling out. You can keep the raw dough in the freezer if you don’t use all of it at one time.

— — —

The first thing to say here is that this recipe contains slightly more fat per flour than my usual pie dough. So I’m not fooling myself. It’s not “lite”, even if margarine and vegetable oil substitute for a large part of the butterfat. But it’s considerably less fat for the flour than a standard rugelach dough, and it isn’t tough even using bread flour.

The second is that it does roll out thinner than standard 3/8 inch pie dough thickness fairly gracefully if you want–1/8 inch is pretty good, and you can roll it even thinner if you’re ambitious. And it tastes pretty good. And once it bakes, it’s both flaky and definitely more tender than most of the doughs I’ve tried. And not too greasy. It’s still not puff pastry, but it’s not a bad option for small flake  pastries, empanadas, sambusak and so on.

Carb calculations and other nutrition stats

Because I knew I wasn’t going to use the entire disk at once, I weighed out the ball of dough in grams and wrote it down. That way I could weigh out whatever amount I used for a given pastry before rolling it out and figure out the actual carb and fat counts for it. In a household with a diabetic kid (and two parents who don’t want to be but like their pastries once in a while anyway), that helps get the overall carb count right.

Calculating the carb info for everything you make may not be your thing, but since we have to, I’m including my notes in case someone finds them helpful

Here’s what I come up as a full-recipe count with for the measures above, and using half margarine rather than all-butter:

  • Total calories for the full recipe: 1680
  • Total carb 155 g
  • Total fat 91 g, saturated fat 41 g, trans fat 6 g, mono- and polyunsaturated fat 44 g
  • Total sodium 285 mg
  • Total weight: 445 g this time around, almost 1 lb. (your mileage may vary a little depending how much wine or vinegar/water mix you have to add, so it’s handy if you can weigh it out on a food scale and be sure)

♦  If you’re using the entire dough, divide any total-dough stat by whatever number of servings you get out of the recipe and you know how much is in a single portion.

♦  If you just want to take a walnut-sized or slightly larger chunk to make something smallish (turnover, tart shell, etc) for either one person or a couple of servings, you can do that and get an idea of the single-serving stats by dividing the weight of whatever amount you take (preferably in grams) by the total dough weight, then multiplying by the stat you’re interested in–carbs, calories, total or saturated fat, etc., and then divide again by the number of servings you’re making. Calculators ‘R’ Us…

So what have I used it for?

So far, an impromptu apple pastry for dessert one night (served us three)–thin pastry base rolled to about 6×9″ from about a 2″ chunk of dough, a quick almond paste spread for the middle, and a top layer of microwaved apple slices (or pear sprinkled with vanilla; the microwaving is to speed up the baking time by cooking the fruit and letting you drain it before adding to the pastry so it doesn’t sog). Plus a sprinkling of raw washed brown sugar crystals on top for pretty.

The whole thing took maybe 15 minutes in the toaster oven at about 350F on the bake setting, and I cut it in six squares. All of them looked and tasted pretty good without being overly sweet or making a huge mess, and it made us feel elegant for a minute or so.

Impromptu small frangipane tart with bureka dough (feeds 2-4 as a small dessert, but obviously you can scale this up as desired)

  • 100 g or so bureka dough, above, thawed but cold, rolled out between floured sheets of plastic wrap to about 6×9 inches (very thin) and transferred to tin foil on a tray for baking (a toaster oven works).
  • 1/2 c. simple almond paste:

1/2 c. (40 g.) almond meal
2-3 t. sugar
1 t. amaretto or 1/4 to 1/2 t. almond extract
1-2 t. coffee, orange juice or water just as needed to make a very thick semi-dry paste like marzipan

Stir the almond paste ingredients in a cup and taste a crumb to make sure it’s not too bland or too strong before you use it–add more almond meal if too strong or too wet and pasty; add more sugar or almond flavoring if too bland. Spread this paste gently over the rolled-out pastry, leaving maybe a 1/4 ” border.

  • 1 large (250 g-ish, 4 inches across) Granny Smith apple or large just-ripe pear, peeled, cored and sliced thinly, and microwaved 1 min on an open microwaveable plate (drain any juices before adding to the pastry). Top the almond paste layer with fanned-out but overlapping slices of the microwaved apple or pear.
  • Dust with a pinch of cinnamon if you like it and sprinkle 1-2 t. of turbinado sugar (light-brown large sugar crystals like “Sugar in the Raw” or “Hawaiian washed sugar”) over the pastry.
  • Bake about 10-15 minutes at 350 F or until the pastry edges are golden brown and the whole thing is starting to smell good.

Carb counts: My estimated carb count for the dough was about 38 g. for 110 g. weight, so with the sugar in the almond paste and the topping and the apple, the total was about 78-80 g. carb, or about 25-26 per person (12-13 g. per square for 6 smallish 3″ squares), about half of whichever measure as starch and half as sugar. 140 calories per person or 70 per square, 7.5 g total fat (3.25 g/square), 3. 5 g sat (1.75 g/square)…

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