My dearest children,
We all need to take a little break sometimes, and for me personally, baking something delicious is the best therapy. You guys are great and all, but life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. I’ve had a lot of opportunity to try out all kinds of therapeutic baking: the kind where you smack your frustrations into a mound of pizza dough till that bugger whips into shape; the kind where you cry into your frosting and then you eat it anyway; the kind where you immerse yourself into a recipe so technically precise that your brain gets to focus on something other than tragedy for a little while.
It feels so good to get your hands dirty. But it’s not only about the process. Recreating an exact flavor can be the cherry on a melancholy sundae. Sometimes a person is gone, or a moment is gone, and it guts you. Did you have your first taste of roasted figs with them? Did they introduce you to sundried tomato omelets with chopped rosemary, fresh from the garden? You can rebuild it on a plate, take a bite, close your eyes, and it all becomes just a tiny bit better.
Baking is great therapy.
I find few recipes as calming as putting together a flaky puff pastry dough (or pâte feuilletée).
It’s a challenge to get it just right, but when you do…. oh, wow…. when you do, it is tender, delicious heaven on a plate.
Every time I work with this dough, I discover a new parallel to human nature. I think I have a few dozen examples, but I’ll just share the top five with you.
A good pâte feuilletée:
1. ...can’t be rushed. Butter tends to overreact to everything. Flour is resistant to change. All those fluffy layers are the result of hours of gentle coaxing.
Lesson: If you push something too much, too soon, you’ll regret it.
2. ...is light and flaky. A sense of humor can take you far in life.
Lesson: It’s ok to laugh, even at yourself… It’s ok to fall apart, too.
3. ...isn’t too salty. (This one is pretty self-explanatory).
Lesson: Don’t be a pain in the $%S!
4. ...is humble. Mille-feuille without crust would simply be a mound of pastry cream and icing. Quiche without crust becomes an ordinary plate of cheesy eggs (delicious, no doubt, but definitely not a quiche). The crust is vital, yet it still tips its hat to a great filling.
Lesson: Have the quiet confidence to let others shine, too.
5. ...is deceivingly complicated. You don’t realize just how fickle this dough is till you’ve made it yourself. It requires the best ingredients, kept at an ideal temperature. It needs rests and careful rolling, measuring, more rests (temperature-controlled rests... cue eyeroll). This is not a low-maintenance dough.
Lesson: The greater the challenge, the greater the reward.