By following a few simple guidelines, you can produce exquisite pies and pastries right at home with a minimum of work. Plan ahead now and create some delightful treats for any upcoming events, or just to have wonderful treats around the house.
Three things to keep in mind:
1. When preparing fresh pie and pastry dough, wrap the dough in plastic and let it rest in the refrigerator immediately. Return the dough to the fridge every time you notice that the dough is approaching room temperature. These cooling/resting periods are crucial for two reasons: a. It prevents the fat (i.e. butter, shortening, margarine) from melting, which will create a more flaky crust, and b. it gives the moisture in the dough time to be absorbed into the flour on a microscopic level, which makes the crust more tender. See these tips for more on flaky and tender crust.
2. Prepare the doughs for pies, pastries and cookies ahead of time, and just stick them in the freezer. These products are among the most freezer-friendly foods in the world. That way your work is compartmentalized and you won’t be discouraged to take on a pastry project. Just cover them tightly with plastic. I like to roll and cut out pie shells and then freeze them. After just a few minutes out of the freezer and placed onto a non-frozen surface they will be softened and malleable. Many cookies can even be baked off while still frozen, but pre-form them, of course, as frozen cookie dough is a bit hard to work with.
3. Plan to do the actual baking during the cooler hours of the day, when an open window in your kitchen will be sufficient to keep your house cool. Professional bakers go to work in the wee hours before daylight, but you can also bake after dinner or before bedtime.