Sometimes you think you know how to do things. You’ve done them a hundred times, and could even do them with your eyes closed. The way you’ve been doing it has been passing muster. It’s actually pretty good, the way you have being doing it. You get compliments and stuff.
But then, you tweak one or two thing in your habitual process, and the results can, on occasion, BLOW YOUR FREAKING MIND.
That happened to me last night. I have been making fruit pies and pie crust my whole life. I thought I was alright. Some people even thought I was a decent baker. But last night, I made an incredibly simple, phenomenal rustic pear tart. And I relearned everything I ever thought I knew about pie crust. I had been using water straight from the tap, not ice water. I switched to ice water. Also, I have been trying to cut the butter into tiny little pieces when combining it with the flour, but this time, I left it in irregularly sized bits, some were even fairly large. And sometimes, even though I am not supposed to, I add a little more water to the crust than I should because it can make it easier to work with. This time, I didn’t. I used just enough water until the dough held together. You know what? The dough was still pretty easy to work with, even with just enough water.
The result: the flakiest, yummiest, noticeably awesome pie crust that I have ever tasted. Not even the best I have ever made. But the best I have ever tasted.
I think the deliciousness of the crust was even more noticeable because it was paired with super simple pears. Pears and nothing else (except butter and sugar). No cinnamon, no nutmeg, no ginger. Just the lovely taste of two types of pears cooked until perfectly sweet and soft, wrapped in buttery, flaky, slightly salty, golden brown crust. Oh yeah, one more thing: I am ate it warm, with a scoop of Haagen Dazs Salted Caramel Truffle Ice Cream.
Yep. Last night I relearned how to ride a bike. And I may never ride that bike the old way again.
I learned two things from this baking experience. 1. FOLLOW THE RECIPE, carefully, with great attention to details, especially if you are making pie crust. I am YELLING this lesson not my dear readers, but to myself, because when I think about the years of truly stupendous pie crust that I have missed out on because I did not follow the recipe to a T, it makes me cry a little inside.
2. Food does not have to be complicated to be earth-shattering. The simpleness of this tart, the short ingredient list, even it’s rustic form are all an ode to simpler times, and how the simplest flavors can be insanely satisfying.
It’s no wonder that the recipe for this amazingly simple, delicious rustic tart came from Alice Water’s The Art of Simple Food. This is already my favorite all-time cookbook. But I think it gets elevating to a higher level for reteaching me how to ride a bicycle.
The Recipe, from The Art of Simple Food, by Alice Waters, (you really all should buy this cookbook – it may change your life).
Tart and Pie Dough (makes enough for 2 eleven income tarts or one double-crust 9-inch pie)
Have measured: 1/2 cup ice-cold water (put ice-cubes in it. Seriously)
Mix together: 2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
and 1/2 teaspoon salt (omit if using salted butter)
Add 12 tablespoons (1.5 sticks) COLD butter, cut into small (1/4 inch) cubes
Cut or work the butter into the flour with a pastry blender or your fingertips, leaving some of the butter in fairly large, irregular pieces. This will take 1 or 2 minutes. (Or mix for no more than a minute, at medium-low speed, in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.) Pour in three quarters of the water, stirring all the while with a fork until the dough begins to form clumps. (In the mixer, turn the speed to low and pour the water down the sides of the bowl, mixing for 30 seconds or less.) Keep adding water if needed. Divide the dough in two, bring each part together into a ball, and wrap each ball in plastic. Compress each ball, and then flatten them into disks. Let rest, refrigerated, for 1 hour or longer. Before using in the tart, let dough warm up a little outside of the refrigerator for 20 minutes or so.
To Make the Tart
Preheat the oven to 400F and put the rack at the lowest level.
When working with the dough, use your fingertips, not the palms of your hands. Your fingertips have less heat and will not melt the butter as much. Work quickly.
Take one ball of dough (the tart only uses one – you can make two tarts, or freeze the other dough for another use later) and flatten it into a disk with your hands. Seal up any cracks that form along the edges.
Place on a lightly floured surface, and roll out the dough into a circle. Roll until the dough is a little less than 1/8 of an inch thick. To move, fold the dough carefully into quarters. Transfer the dough to a cookie sheet lined with parchment (I didn’t have parchment, so I skipped this part).
Peel and slice about 1/4 of an inch thick: three medium-large pears. I used two bosc and one bartlett.
Arrange the pears in a concentric circle on the tart crust, leaving about an inch uncovered at the edges. The pears should be a little less than 2 layers deep. Fold the edges of the pastry over the pears.
Melt: Three tablespoons butter
Brush the folder dough border generously with butter and then pat the tops of the pears with the rest (use it all).
Sprinkle the pears and crust with 3 tablespoons sugar.
Bake on the bottom rack of the oven for 45 to 55 minutes, until the crust is golden brown on the bottom. Slide off the pan and cool on a rack.
Note: This can be made with apples or pears.
Second note: This thing is awesome with ice cream or whipped cream.