I can now say that I have experienced shrinkage first hand (wrong choice of words? maybe.), and let me tell you — it is not pleasant.
As if the stakes weren’t high enough — this being the first time I’d ever been commissioned to bake something (for money) — it was for my boss for her husband’s birthday. Stress.
“This is going to be amazing,” she said as I left the office. “Probably the best one ever.”
This past summer my mother had asked me to bake several dozen cupcakes for a wedding shower she was throwing. I didn’t get paid or anything, but she bought all my supplies and did all the dishes. And frankly, when your mother asks you to produce something you do it, because she produced you. Totally not the same.
And if the stress levels weren’t high enough already… I’d never made one of these french pastries before, and frankly had probably only ever tried it once in my life (why on earth I agreed to this, I’ll never know). But apparently I can’t say ‘no.’
If I can impart any wisdom (or one of the semi-intelligent thoughts I rarely have) about baking, I’ll say this: read a lot of recipes. Read recipes thoroughly, look for tips and follow them. Bloggers don’t say things like “your butter should be practically frozen” for fun. And for god’s sake, if you’re getting your recipe from a blog, read the comments. Brave souls who have tried this recipe before you will often offer great advice for anyone trying to recreate the recipe who is not a professional baker. They may also burst the blog’s bubble — some recipes may sound delicious, but taste lame.
To add to that — if you’re baking something like custard, or Pâte brisée, read through a few recipes and compare. If you’re nervous about how something will turn out it may help to see that it’s a pretty commonly used method. To that end, if you like the looks of the crust in one recipe and the custard in another, why not use just mix them? Just make sure your quantities match up (ie. don’t make enough custard for a 12″ pie plate when you only have a 9″ crust).
ANYWAYS, I rushed home from work last night, gulped down some dinner (I’m a totally ineffective human being when I’m hungry) and started my mission praying that I’d be done in time for my 10:30 bedtime (seriously, I’m an old lady in a 22-year old’s body).
Here’s what went down:
7:03 pm Leave for grocery store in my brother’s tank of a car
7:10 pm Get distracted by the Bulk Barn. Wander aimlessly around and think about buying Smarties. Miraculously resist temptation.
7:15 pm Run across parking lot into Linen Chest, buy 9″ tart pan. Feel like a weirdo.
7:20 pm Go into Longos, stare at fruit. Consider going to another store because the fruit is so damn expensive. Remind self not to be so f’ing cheap.
7:23 pm Find real vanilla beans in Longos, decide they are not worth $8 (I could buy like 2 drinks with that…maybe).
7:30 pm Go to checkout with Whole milk, assorted berries and apricot jam. Feel like a weirdo. Stupid cashier decides I don’t need a bag so am forced to do some weird balancing back to the tank.
7:45 pm Finally start baking. Realize crust needs to chill in the fridge for an hour before being rolled out. Durrr.
From there it was a blur.
I managed to make the custard, fairly painlessly. Although I neglected to let the eggs come to room temperature (seriously, read the whole recipe through before you start — I never learn). And then rolled out the crust and forced it into my pan. While I waited for the crust to bake I washed and cut the berries and the Kiwi (being allergic to these green devils I kept having to remind myself not to touch my eyes…I mean it’s not like I do that normally, but knowing that I really couldn’t somehow made me want to do it more).
Then it happened. I removed my “Pâte brisée” (imagine me seeing this with a really pretentious French accent) from the oven to see that it had shrunk. It literally looked like a slab of shortbread, no way you could ever put any kind of filling in it. OF COURSE. Gentlemen, I can now say that finally understand just how devastating shrinkage can be, I was all “but, but…it was bigger than that…”
My mother swears that it’s basically a rule that as soon as you’re baking something for someone, it’s not going to turn out well. But if you’re just baking it for the heck of it, it’ll be the freakin’ Mona Lisa of pies.
This recipe sounds complicated, but I assure you it’s entirely do-able, and actually could have been done in about 3 hours (I’m including the time I spent aimlessly wandering through stores) — granted I had to make the crust twice, but I have faith that you’ll learn from my mistakes and be able to make this flawlessly on your first go.
French Fruit Tart with Vanilla Pastry Cream — Adapted from the Tasty Bite Blog:
Start by making the pie dough —
Pâte Brisée (pie dough)
(makes one 9-inch tart or four 4 ½-inch tarts)
1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp sugar
1 stick of unsalted butter, chilled, cut into small cubes
Pinch of salt
Whisk together flour, sugar and salt, then using a pastry cutter (or two forks), cut in butter until the mixture is gravel-like. From there, start adding in ice-cold water about a tbsp at a time until the dough comes together. Make a disk out of the dough, wrap it in plastic-wrap and let chill in the fridge for an hour (much longer and it’ll become some cold it’ll be almost impossible to roll out). While you’re letting the dough chill, move on to the pastry cream.
Crème Pâtissière (vanilla pastry cream)
Adapted from Ina Garten, “Barefoot in Paris” — If I trust anyone with a French recipe, it’s this homegirl.
(yields 2 cups)
5 egg yolks, room temperature
¾ cup sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch
1 ½ cup scalded whole milk (any kind works, but 2% or whole milk will give you a better consistency) — ps. “scalded” basically means boiled.
1.5 tsps vanilla extract, or the seeds of one vanilla bean (if you’re rich and have $8 to drop on those badboys)
1 tbsp unsalted butter
Using an electric mixer, whip together yolks and sugar for 4-5 minutes on medium speed (mixture should be fairly thick). Reduce speed to low and add in cornstarch, mix well. Meanwhile, bring 1.5 cups of whole milk to a boil (stir constantly to avoid burning the milk). Slowly pour milk into yolk mixture and combine, then pour the whole thing into a sauce pan over low heat, whisking vigorously for about 6 minutes, or until your mixture is a pudding-like consistency.
Remove mixture from the heat and whisk in butter and vanilla. Then, pour it all into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, making sure the plastic is actually touching your custard (this ensures you won’t get some weird skin forming on the top). Let sit.
Back to the crust!
Pre-heat oven to 400.
Use a well-floured rolling pin to roll out a thin layer of dough on a floured-surface (wax paper or parchment paper work too) — make it as thin as you can, you can always go back and fold the edges of your crust over again, but you don’t want to have to stretch the dough at all (that’s what makes it shrink). Using a fork, poke a number of holes into the bottom of your crust (this makes it so that the bottom won’t poof up — also known as blind baking). Bake for 15-17 minutes. Let cool before you fill with your custard, I would also recommend letting just the crust and the custard hang out together in the fridge before putting the fruit on.
Fresh fruits of your choosing (such as berries, kiwis…whatever you want)
¼ cup apricot jam, seedless raspberry jam, or red currant jelly
2 tbsp water
Arrange your fresh fruits however you want (I made my pattern on a cutting board first, that way you don’t have to worry about messing up the custard).
While you’re doing this, heat the jam and water over low heat. Then use some kind of pastry brush to glaze the fruit (this isn’t necessary, but it’s fairly painless and has a nice effect).
I’d say it turned out pretty well.