Shortening 2: Peter’s Flaky Pastry Recipe

by Peter Tyrrell Wednesday, September 21, 2016 9:51 AM

I use shortening in my pies, and they are reckoned to be very good, if I do say so myself. Here is my flaky pastry recipe.

3 cups all-purpose flour (400g, 14.4 oz)
0.5 cups unsalted butter (114g, 4 oz)
0.5 cups shortening (114g, 4 oz)
1 tbsp granulated sugar (15mg)
1 tsp salt (5mg)
1 cup water

1 beaten egg
1-2 tbsp sugar

Mix the dry ingredients. Cut the butter and shortening into acorn sized lumps. Using a mixer, pastry knife or a pair of table knives, mix in the fat until the butter lumps are the size of small peas. You can hand-fondle any remaining lumps to size. Don’t overmix, as can occur when you use a mixer. If the dough has the consistency of breadcrumbs, you’ve gone too far. In fact, when using a mixer, I turn if off early and do the rest by hand. Just to be sure. Those little lumps of fat are going to create pockets in the pastry while in the oven, which is where the pastry’s flake comes from. If the butter and shortening are mixed too thoroughly into the flour, you’ll wind up with a dense, heavy pastry.

Add the water bit by bit while mixing. (A mixer is invaluable here.) Watch the dough carefully, because you may not need all the water. You want the dough moist enough to clump together, but not wet. How much water the pastry will want depends on the humidity, temperature, and probably the phase of the moon. Temperamental stuff, pastry. When I make pies at our summer cabin, I always need to add the full amount of water, but at home, never. And again, do not overmix.

Dump out the dough onto a floured surface and knead it gently by folding it over 5 or 6 times, just enough so it is holding together. Overmixing or too much kneading at this stage will lead to tough and chewy pastry, because you will have over-activated the gluten in the flour.

Divide the dough into two halves, wrap with cling film plastic, and put in the refrigerator for at least an hour. If you’re in a hurry and don’t have that much time, you probably shouldn’t have tried to make pies today.

Make your filling, and put that in the refrigerator too. Side note: whatever your filling, be sure to mitigate its moisture content with enough flour, cornstarch, chia seeds or what have you, and avoid adding excess liquid when ladling your filling into the pie. Too much liquid and your pie will come out of the oven with a soggy bottom.

When your dough has chilled long enough, haul out one half and roll it out on a floured surface to fit your pie pan. Ceramic pie pans are best because they conduct and evenly distribute heat super well. However, glass pans are fine, plus they allow you to check the bottom of the pie as it bakes, which is arguably more important when you are still getting used to a recipe. The dough should hang over the edge of the pie pan.

Add filling. As above, the less liquid the better. Put the uncovered pie in the fridge.

Roll out the second half of the dough on a floured surface and cover the filling, so that the dough hangs over the edge of the pie pan. You want enough so that you can pinch and roll the bottom and top dough together to create a seal, and that raised crust around the edge. Cut off any excess before your pinchrolling activity or you’ll end up with an uneven or overly thick crust.

I press my thumb into the crust to create a sort of scallop pattern. Do whatever you must, just make sure the crust seals the top and bottom together.

Beat an egg and brush it lightly onto the pie surface to create a lovely browning effect in the oven. Sprinkle sugar on the top also if you’re into that.

Cut some blowholes into the pie with a sharp knife so it can breathe while baking. Don’t do this and you can expect exploded pie guts all over your oven. I used to put fancy scrollwork into my pies for vents but now just stab them with XXXs.

Bake at 375 F (190 C) for about an hour. Check the pie after 50 minutes. When ready to come out, the pie should have brown highlights, and the bottom—if you can check through a glass pan—should be a golden brown. The filling will probably bubble out of the vents a bit. Don’t be afraid to keep baking for 10 or even 15 minutes past the hour if that’s what it needs. You’re more likely to underbake than overbake, in my experience.

Let cool, then serve it forth.

General Tip: Keep the ingredients cold, even going so far as to put them in the refrigerator or freezer before you begin. While you’re working, everything you don’t need immediately should go back in the refrigerator until you do. Even put ice cubes in your water. Really.

Tags: tips

The Many Uses of Shortening

by Jonathan Jacobsen Tuesday, September 20, 2016 9:42 AM

Shortening is a wonderful thing: in baking it makes pies and cakes light and fluffy, and on the web, it makes long, unwieldy URLs short and manageable. This blog post is all about the second usage, but we can think about the first as we read it.

You might wonder why you should care about short URLs. After all, isn't a long one like 

http://www.cjhn.ca/en/experience/image-galleries/gallery.aspx?q=dolls&name=&topic=&setName=&year_tis=&numbers=MA+15&onlineMediaType_facet=Image

a perfectly good URL?

Sure, your web browser will have no trouble with that and will access the web site and cause it to run the search specified by all those parameters.

But what if you want to share this URL via email or on Twitter, or post it to a blog or Facebook. That URL is 144 characters, so it's not going to fit in a tweet.

Long URLs are often wrapped to two or more lines in an email and sometimes this breaks the URL itself, resulting in a bad link.

And, as the Canadian Jewish Heritage Network discovered recently, posting long URLs with many parameters to Facebook is problematic. When posting the URL above, Facebook stripped out all the equals signs, leaving a non-functioning URL. Who knows why Facebook would do this, but happily, there’s an easy workaround for this, one that lends itself well to emailing and tweeting long URLs too: URL shortening services.

As Wikipedia tells us, "URL shortening is a technique on the World Wide Web in which a Uniform Resource Locator (URL) may be made substantially shorter and still direct to the required page. This is achieved by using a redirect, often on a domain name that is even shorter than the original one, which links to the web page that has a long URL."

In practice, this means that a long URL such as

http://www.cjhn.ca/en/experience/image-galleries/gallery.aspx?q=dolls&name=&topic=&setName=&year_tis=&numbers=MA+15&onlineMediaType_facet=Image

can be shortened to something like

These fit handily in Tweets, blog posts, emails and are not edited by Facebook when posting there.

You might now ask, is this the same as a permalink? Well, it is a link, and a short one, so it’s close, but there's no guarantee of permanence, as you're reliant on a third-party service to keep the redirect in place indefinitely. Although that may happen, it's probably better to think of these as short but disposable URLs, like a post-it note you stick on a desk or document pointing at something.

Some of the most common URL shortening services are: 

So when you next need to send or post a long URL, especially one with lots of parameters and query strings, give one of these a try.

The Librarian's Introduction to Programming Languages: A LITA Guide

by Jonathan Jacobsen Wednesday, September 07, 2016 9:09 AM

We are excited to announce that the newly published "Librarian's Introduction to Programming Languages: A LITA Guide" includes a chapter written by our Peter Tyrrell on programming in C#. 

Peter was approached last year by the editor, Beth Thomsett-Scott, who has gathered together chapters by experts on nine different programming languages that librarians might need to know more about.

"There are many books on programming languages but no recent items directly written for librarians that span a variety of programs. Many practicing librarians see programming as something for IT people or beyond their capabilities. This book will help these librarians to feel comfortable discussing programming with others by providing an understanding of when the language might be useful, what is needed to make it work, and relevant tools to extend its application. Additionally, the inclusion of practical examples lets readers try a small "app" for the language. This also will assist readers who want to learn a language but are unsure of which language would be the best fit for them in terms of learning curve and application.

This book is designed to provide a basic working knowledge of each language presented, case studies which show the programming language used in real ways and resources for exploring each language in more detail."

Peter is of course both a librarian and a programmer himself, so was delighted to contribute a chapter to the book.

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