How to Roll and Cut Pastry Dough

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An alternative to pressing pastry dough into a tart tin or pie plate is to cut the rolled out dough into shapes to bake and use as lids and platforms to make freeform tarts.

The simplest shapes are squares, diamonds, strips or rectangles made by cutting the dough with a floured chef's knife in a crosshatch or parallel line pattern. Or, cut out appealing shapes such as hearts, circles or animals with a cookie cutter. You can always roll and cut the dough up to several days ahead of baking them if you wrap them well and freeze them; there is no need to defrost them before baking.

Use Flaky Butter Pastry for Tarts, Pies and Freeform Pastries or your favorite pastry dough.

Let the dough sit at room temperature about 15 minutes before rolling. Shape the dough into a 4-x-5-inch rectangle. Sprinkle the work surface lightly and evenly with a little flour. Rub the rolling pin with flour as well. Center the dough in the middle of the work surface. Beginning at one edge, press the rolling pin down onto the dough to flatten it, moving it across the dough in increments.

Moving from the center of the dough and working outwards, begin to roll the dough, adding more flour to keep the dough from sticking. Roll the dough gradually in each direction, flattening as you go, to form a 10-x-10-inch rectangle; do not roll thinner than 1/8 inch. If the dough cracks or pulls apart, moisten the torn edges with a little water (using your finger or a paint brush) and press together to secure. Dust lightly with flour if the surface of the dough is sticky. Use a knife or cookie cutters to cut the dough into desired shapes. With a thin metal spatula, transfer the shapes to a baking sheet.

Gather any scraps of dough, if any, press into a ball, wrap in saran and refrigerate 1/2 hour to relax the gluten. Then roll and cut the remaining dough.

To bake the dough: Refrigerate just-cut dough at least 10 minutes before baking. Preheat the oven to 375'. Bake until the dough is golden brown and crisp, about 10 minutes.

To Roll and Cut out Puff Pastry:

Puff pastry is a classic French pastry dough made by interleaving thin layers of a flour-and-water dough with thin layers of butter. When baked, it puffs to many times its volume. It is readily available commercially. With a few caveats, puff pastry can be used as you would Flaky Butter Pastry to make charming lids of freeform bowl-and-spoon desserts.

    • Figure about 25 percent more puff pastry by weight than regular pastry.
    • Always defrost puff pastry in the refrigerator for 1 hour before rolling.
    • After rolling and cutting into desired shapes or forming pastry, chill in the refrigerator 30 minutes.
    • Bake in a pre-heated 375' oven until the pastry is firm and dry to the touch and a deep golden brown.
    • Save scraps of pastry to reroll them later. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate several hours or freeze.

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Sally Schneider writes The Improvised Life, a lifestyle blog about improvising as a daily practice. Her cookbook The Improvisational Cook is now out in paperback. More

Sally Schneider is the founder of The Improvised Life, a lifestyle blog that inspires you to devise, invent, create, make it up as you go along, from design and cooking to cultivating the creative spirit. It's been called a "zeitgeist-perfect website." She is a regular contributor to public radio's The Splendid Table and the author of the best-selling cookbooks The Improvisational Cook and A New Way to Cook, which was recently named one of the best books of the decade by The Guardian. She has won numerous awards, including four James Beard awards, for her books and magazine writing.

Sally has worked as a journalist, editor, stylist, lecturer, restaurant chef, teacher, and small-space consultant, and once wrangled 600 live snails for the photographer Irving Penn. Her varied work has been the laboratory for the themes she writes and lectures about: improvising as an essential operating principle; cultivating resourcefulness and your inner artist; design, style, and food; and anything that is cost-effective, resourceful, and outside the box.
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