Baby It's Cold Inside

Today, I stumbled upon a horrible truth: a badly insulated apartment in the middle of winter has... a benefit. One. It's really great for making pie dough.

A friend of mine, who's going to have her baby any day now, was telling me recently that her little guy has been craving pie (you know, I can really see myself enjoying being pregnant and having a convenient scapepig inside me...I just wouldn't know what to do with *it* after it was born). As I've been wanting to practice my pie-dough making, I suggested a pie party.

So this afternoon, I made two types of pie dough: a sweet dough for a frangipane tart and a regular shortcrust pastry for a quiche. And it was so easy, she coos even though she hasn't actually baked either crust yet and has no way of knowing how her pastry is going to come out.

But it was easy. The one thing recipes always emphasize regarding making your own pastry is that everything has to be cold cold cold. This is partially cause you want whatever fat you're using to stay solid; then when it bakes, the fat goes *poof* in the heat and leaves little pockets of empty space between the layers of pastry, resulting in a light, airy texture--i.e., flaky. Some people even go so far as to put their butter, flour, and blender in the freezer. Well, thanks to my home being naturally nice and frosty, I didn't have to do any of that.

For the shortcrust pastry, I simply combined 1 tablespoon of shortening and 4 tablespoons of butter with 1 cup of pastry flour (or 5 tablespoons of cake flour and 11 tablespoons of all-purpose) and a pinch of salt; and then proceeded to cut up the fats with a fork and knife. Nice and easy. No frantic sawing, no rush. And no frightening sight of glistening butter--a sure sign that's it's GASP! softening. When the fat was cut into tiny pieces, I gently rubbed the remaining creamy lumps into the flour with my fingers. Then I gradually dribbled in 4 tablespoons of tap water, while tossing everything with a fork. I gently squeezed the lumpy mass together into a rough oval. Wrapped it in parchment paper. Ziplock bag. Fridge. (For blind baking instructions, see note below)

Will get back to you on how my tarts actually come out.

As much as I enjoyed today's non-hysterical (as compared to a previous attempt at making croissants in the summertime) pie dough session, my entire body was really starting to stiffen into a rigid state from lack of warmth. I finally broke down and had a hot shower. I think it fair to say I am not exaggerating the low temperature in my home, seeing as the shower room was instantly enveloped in a thick fog of condensation the instant the water turned warm, and I was forced to blindly fumble around in search of the shampoo bottle; not to mention the burning sensation in my toes as the shower water hit--a common occurrence in the first stages of frostbite, no?

See, no matter how many layers of clothing I wear, if I'm going to do something inactive, like write a post for my blog, I have to prep for it. Being in an expansive mood, in honor of cold apartments, I offer you my list of Top Five Ways to Be Temporarily Warmed When One is Indoors and Yet Freezing One's Ass Off:

1. Hot shower
- Toasty factor: delicious level of heat without any effort
- Drawback: overabuse can result in expensive water bill and tight, dry skin

2. Have dog chase you around the room, using toy fishing rod as a puppy lure
- Toasty factor: warm enough to possibly remove one sweater
- Drawback: need to keep moving for at least 15 minutes

3. Turn on some music and dance!
- Toasty factor: hot and sweaty to mildly warm, depending on the music
- Drawback: dancing at home alone can be rather sad and embarrassing unless you're that chick in Flashdance; dancing alone in front of other people can be equally sad and embarrassing

4. Bake bread
- Toasty factor: very warm during dough kneading, and also when oven is on
- Drawback: none! (Unless you're on the Atkins Diet, I guess)

5. Sit on your heated toilet seat (if you live in Japan, your home should have one of these babies)
- Toasty factor: superb; you'd be amazed how nicely the heat radiates from your butt to the rest of your body
- Drawback: well, obviously, you can only sit there so long before your back stiffens up

Note: blind bake pie crust in oven (line with foil, add beans, the works) 375'F/175'C for 15 minutes and another five without the beans.

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Not to stray from the theme, but when's this pie party supposed to be?

I agree with you on the wonders a cold kitchen does to pastry making. Sometimes I miss my kitchen in my old house in Setagaya, not just for its massive size, but for the freezing temp. It was so cold I'd lose feelings in my fingers but the doughs came out great.

Have you baked the shells yet? How did they come out?  

- Lynn

1/06/2005 09:46:00 AM  

Dear Rachel,
I admire your ability to find the silver lining in your cold-apartment situation. I feel your pain! I don't have a heated toilet seat, but maybe I could sort of back up against the heated towel rack... I also really like the idea of turning on some 80's music and at least *pretending* I am the chick from Flashdance. :-)
I love my little apartment here, but it has one major flaw: there is no oven. So for the time being, I am living vicariously through your baking adventures (and occasional misadventures; thanks for sharing those too) and learning a lot. :-)  

- Jessica

1/06/2005 09:25:00 PM  

Hi Jessica!

Oh, be careful with the towel rack--is it the scorching hot kind? I've tried cuddling the gas heater with painful results.

I only recently got an oven, so I'm well acquainted with the emptiness of life without one. I noticed you have a rice cooker. There are quite a few books written in Japan about all the non-rice things you can make with your rice cooker, including cakes and breads. I only tried making a ginger cake once, and something weird happened where all the butter squirted out the top. I was left with a moist--and I guess somewhat fat-free--sponge cake. It wasn't bad...

Oh no, if you're going to live vicariously through my baking experiences, I will have to try harder to not mess up all the time. I'll do my best! 

- Rachel

1/07/2005 12:47:00 AM  

mmm - i love the feeling of cold feet stinging in a hot bath or shower. Makes me feel toasty.

My flat is not particularly cold, or rather, it warms up quickly, but I am very indulgent in the mornings. I have my hot shower and then have breakfast wrapped in my towel sitting against the radiator - when it gets really hot I have to hang another towel behind me. mmmmm. 

- Bridget

1/07/2005 02:17:00 AM  

Mmmm, that sounds luxurious, Bridget! 

- Rachel

1/09/2005 12:58:00 AM  

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