July 18, 2007

A good baker—an intuitive baker—will tell you that they never follow recipes and that it's all in the touch. But what they're not telling you is that to get to that point, you have to be so intimately acquainted with the proportions of your ingredients (I think it's called a recipe?) that it has become internalized and can't be distinguished between fact and fingers.

Take, for example, pie crust. Too much fat (butter, lard or shortening) and the pastry literally melts in the oven. Too much flour and it's springy and impossible to work with. And too much water makes it sticky and tough. Plus, if your proportions are off to begin with and you need to make a few adjustments on the fly, you risk overworking the dough. In that case, too much handling makes the pastry tough and unworkable. This is where a good recipe is so important (I'd be out of a job if I didn't fervently believe this!).

A good baker will also tell you that they would never use a machine to do the work of their hands. Ordinarily, I would agree (pizza dough, biscuits), but when it comes to pastry dough, I use a food processor with such good results, I would defy anyone to find fault with it. It really takes the mystery out and cuts the prep time by half. And if, after the water is added, the ingredients are processed only to moistened crumbs and not a cohesive mass, I still get to feel the dough and measure it against the pastry of my memory. That's intuitive baking.  

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