Until this past week in pastry class, I fretted over the mixing of biscuits and pie dough. You’ve heard the mantra from notable bakers and recipe writers: “Cut the butter into the flour only to pea size lumps, no smaller! Once you add the liquid, don’t over mix the dough, it will be tough!” All this did was make me nervous in the process, and most of the time my efforts ended in patchwork dough that proved dry and crumbly. Sound familiar?
So imagine my surprise, when in pastry class at the Culinary Institute my chef tells me to mix biscuit dough in a stand mixer for six minutes. Six minutes! I thought he was crazy, cracked up, lost his marbles. But culinary students do as culinary students are told. “Yes, chef,” fifty-five (tough and rubbery) strawberry shortcakes up by five o’clock.
With serious hesitation, I let the mixer roll. Two minutes on low speed, then (insert cringe) four minutes on medium. We patted out the soft mass to half an inch thick, and cut pretty little scalloped rounds. At least they’ll be cute, I thought hopelessly. I wasted no time tasting the baked biscuits – light, fluffy and the perfect texture for liqueur laden strawberries and whipped cream. Wow, what an edible epiphany.
I now feel no pressure when crafting pie dough and biscuits at home to worry about over mixing or creating lumps of butter that are exactly the size of a garden vegetable. Furthermore, flaky pie doughs are usually only desired when the shell is completely baked prior to filling, such as with chocolate cream pie. Because when you fill an uncooked crust, the weight of the mixture will collapse any large pockets of flake created, anyway (effort wasted).
So enough is enough, I say. Dough made using paddle pressure may seem contradictory, but especially with this recipe, you’ll find it pleasingly supple and easy to handle. At least I did! Because baking should be fun, not a source of frustration. We have lives, and families and jobs for that.