5 Tips for Pastry Perfection
- Use premade ingredients, such as puff pastry, pie crust, good-quality canned whipped cream, and vanilla wafers, to save time.
- Preheat the oven for the best results.
- Use tools like ice-cream scoops or melon ballers to make cookies uniform when portioning out dough.
- Cookie cutters and popsicle molds are simple to use and make things look fancy.
- Kid-sized utensils make it easier for small hands to help, too.
Who doesn't love pastries? Eating them is a piece of cake, but making them is a whole other bag of sugar, right? Wrong. Pastry cooking can be a fun, safe, and easy project for the whole family — especially when you take the preparation outdoors. Here are some things that will smooth out your baking adventure so you have the same sweet results my kids and I do.
Start with my mantra: Everything is washable. Say it out loud with your kids, and believe it. No baking or pastry experience is worth missing because you were afraid to get dirty — and, as you know, the backyard is the perfect place to do just that. I'm not saying make a mess, but know that learning may require you to break a few eggs — maybe even one or two on the ground — so don't stress; it even happens to me. Have paper towels or rags nearby, and garbage bags handy. Wear clothes you can get food on, and spread a casual tablecloth over the grass or patio for decorating cookies and cakes. Some recipes call for spattering chocolate, which you can do on tin foil or parchment paper outdoors. That way you can use the hose when you're done to wash the work surfaces — and the kids, too, if need be!
I like to begin by picking a recipe a few days ahead so I can get organized and make sure I have all the ingredients and equipment I need. It's great to use an easy family recipe if you have one. They are well-tested, and if you have any questions, you can call Grandma or Grandpa and get them involved, too. Pick a recipe the whole family will get excited about, and then shop for ingredients together.
Making various pastry doughs can sometimes seem complicated, so I like to simplify the process by using recipes that require a few store-bought ingredients like premade puff pastry, pie crusts, or phyllo dough and doing the rest of the preparation in fresh air. But if you make your own dough, you may want to do so in a shady spot. It's important to be in a cool area so the dough maintains the right texture. If you have warm hands, keep a bowl of ice water nearby in which to dip them every once in a while. Dry them off first, though, before continuing to handle the dough.
Before getting started, always read the recipe ingredients and instructions carefully — it's easy to skip a line by accident and not realize it until it's too late. And, of course, everyone must wash their hands before plunging in.
A Little Help
Working on a low surface, like a blanket on the ground, allows everyone to see and help. Try to pick hand-stirred recipes so you can bring mixing bowls outside without having to handle a stand mixer. Another good outside mixing method is to knead the ingredients inside resealable plastic bags, which avoids sticky hands and hungry bugs.
At the end, have a pastry picnic, and let the kids serve the adults for a change in roles. Nothing feels better than walking your creation out to the table (or blanket), presenting it to the family, and seeing the happy smiles.
Gale's Sweet Recipes
Mini Chocolate Chip Muffins
What you need:
- 6-oz. bag mini chocolate chips
- 1½ cups flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ cup unsalted butter
- ¾ cup firmly packed brown sugar
- 2 tsp pure vanilla
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup plain yogurt
- Powdered sugar
What to do:
- Place oven rack in the center and preheat it to 350°F. Line a mini muffin pan with mini cupcake papers.
- In a small bowl, combine the chocolate chips with 1 tablespoon of flour and toss well to coat (this keeps them from sinking in the batter during baking).
- Sift remaining flour with the baking soda, baking powder, and salt. With the whisk attachment in a mixing bowl, cream the butter until light and fluffy. Add the brown sugar and continue creaming, then add the vanilla and the eggs one at a time.
- Alternately mix in the dry ingredients with the yogurt, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients, and scraping the bowl occasionally. With a rubber spatula, fold in the flour-coated chips.
- Using a small ice-cream scoop, if you have it, scoop the batter into mini cupcake papers.
- Bake till the muffins spring back to the touch, about 20-25 minutes. Cool completely, then dust with powdered sugar just before serving. Makes 24 muffins.
Easy Apple Turnovers
What you need:
- ½ cup applesauce
- ¼ cup apple butter
- 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
- 1 box frozen puff pastry, thawed overnight in the refrigerator
- 1 egg, beaten
- ½ cup powdered sugar
- 2 tsp milk
What to do:
- Preheat oven to 425°F.
- In a small mixing bowl, combine applesauce, apple butter, and chopped apple.
- Lay out the puff pastry on a work surface and roll it thinner, using flour if needed.
- Cut pastry into 5" squares. Using a pastry brush, brush along all four edges with beaten egg.
- Place 1⁄8 of the apple filling in the center of the puff-pastry square and fold the pastry in half diagonally, pressing the edges together to enclose the filling, working out any air. Use a fork to completely seal the edges by pressing the tines down around the edge to make a crimped pattern.
- Repeat with remaining pastry squares and place them on a sheet pan. Brush the surface of the turnover triangles with beaten egg. Bake till golden brown, about 25 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together the powdered sugar and the milk to make a thick icing. Keep the icing covered until ready to use.
- Remove turnovers from the oven and let them cool slightly. Drizzle icing over them with a spoon and serve immediately. Makes 8 turnovers.