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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Component One Revealed - Raspberry Midnight - The Crust

The Raspberry Midnight
Component One: "A Crust Like No Other"

The Raspberry Midnight will have a crust. A top crust. A chocolate crust. A sophisticated crust.

Chocolate Pate Sucree Pie Crust Lattice

A seemingly simple creative choice, but one that required much soul searching. I hate crust.

Dry and flavorless, I have long viewed pie crust as some accidental tourist in the fine land of pastry. Or a classification error, never corrected. It has no standalone merits. And when pie crust is placed in juxtaposition with a broad array of palate exhilarating fillings, its short-comings are all the more apparent.

And even that name... crust. Tough break.

Is it any wonder that pie crusts were originally just vessels made from bread and water in which actual food was cooked? Or that these vessels were called coffyns (it would seem the pie crust has suffered a long and rough history of poor branding)?

"So much hate, and yet still a crust?"

But then it happened - one of those "Ah ha!" food moments. Eureka in the bathtub (although my epiphany came in a pie shop in Seattle, as good epiphanies do).

A little bit vintage with a winking subversive edge, High5Pie had the exact vibe this East Coaster expected (and hoped) to experience in his travels.

It was a random find, the result of a series of Google searches while on the tarmac two days prior:
  • Best Seattle Restaurant...
  • Best Seattle Coffee...
  • Best Seattle Record Store / Tattoo Parlor / Artisanal Jam and Vegan Leather Shoppe
  • Best Seattle Pie... there it was... write that down!  
I had no expectations for the crust on my visit. I was there for the fillings, which spanned the sweet and savory spectrum from Peanut Butter & Jelly to Potato, Dill and Cheddar. Serve me those fillings in a dirty styrofoam container on the street corner and I would still be a happy customer (you know, like we do in NYC).

"I'm not sure when I blacked out..."

Salted Caramel Pie from High5Pie
...but as my vision recovered - face flush and sweaty, a tinny buzzing in my ear - I could barely make out the fork in my hand as the prongs dove into a salted caramel marvel... and two empty plates stood off to the side, licked immaculately clean.

My god, that was a good crust!

High5Pie wasn't hiding any secret. The answer was there, on glossy postcards atop each chrome rimmed table.

Butter! Lots and lots of butter. Never shortening. Only butter.

Could it be so simple?

"So everything is better with Butter! Paula Deen, you genius, you!"

It seems it really could be.

Here's the deal. Butter has flavor. Shortening, the fat alternative used in many American pie crusts, does not.

Then why would anyone in their right mind ever use shortening over butter?

The problem is heat. Heat creates many issues for this infamously finicky dough.

It should be no surprise, but butter melts. In a hot kitchen, butter melts quickly.

When butter melts into flour, the flour becomes moist and glutens (the proteins that provide the signature chew to a good bread) begin to form. If that happens, you're going to find yourself with an unleaven, bready mess of a crust.

Bowl of butter slices and flour for pie crustFor a good crust, the fat should be 'cut' into the dough - suspended in the mixture, not blended into it. When baked, the water heats, expands and evaporates, leaving small air pockets and that desired flakiness.

But what about shortening?

Well, shortening will stay solid at room temperature. As a result, it became popular in pie crusts because the dough remained easier to work with, particularly during rolling (the source of many baking meltdowns - tears before dessert - looks like we're having Jello tonight).

"So I'm assuming you have some sort of plan here?"

Chocolate Pate Sucree Pie Crust LatticeIt's clear. I needed to start with a butter crust (Pate Brisee). An all butter crust, mind you. None of these partial measures using 1/2 butter and 1/2 shortening.

And this is dessert, so give me some sugar.

Pate Brisee + confectioner's sugar = Pate Sucree!

And while we're doing some simple math...

Pate Sucree + cocao powder = Chocolate Pate Sucree.

I'm sold!

Flavor and texture decided, the last question was presentation.

Chocolate Pate Sucree Pie Crust Lattice Snack Bars
Latticework crusts look cool. There's something deeply satisfying about a presentation that conveys the time and effort dedicated to bringing a dish to life.

That said, I had never seen anything more complicated than a simple over and under weave of broad strips of dough. I had to assume there was a good reason.

Why would anyone try to make a complicated woven pattern out of a notoriously temperamental dough?

Why, indeed... for this is a test kitchen.  And what's a test kitchen without a few tests!

Long story short, it worked... and the test batch made for an amazing breakfast of chocolate pate sucree lattice bars.  Take that, toaster strudels!

So there's the crust! 
Check back later this week to find out what lies beneath.

And get all the details on how the crust, and all the other components, are put together this Friday when the Midnight Raspberry makes its debut.

Let me know your thoughts.  Send me an email or leave a comment. Stay connected with Outside of the Breadbox on Facebook or follow on Twitter @breadchefmark. And sign up for the email feed.

Chocolate Pate Sucree Pie Crust Lattice Snack Bars Close Up


  1. Replies
    1. Indeed, sir. Many a 'nom'. We'll have to figure out shipments to the DC area.