Butter or lard for pastry should be sweet, fresh and solid. When freshly-made butter can not be had, wash well, kneading while under cold water, changing the water two or three times, and then wiping dry with a napkin. The board on which the butter is rolled should be hard and smooth, and never used for any other purpose.
A very nice paste for family use may be made by reducing the quantity of shortening to even so little as a half pound to a quart of flour, especially when children or dyspeptics are to be considered. With the exception of mince-pies, which are warmed over before serving, all pies should be eaten the day they are baked. In warm weather, when not ready to bake immediately after making up paste, keep it in the ice-chest till wanted, several days if necessary, and, in any event, it is better to let it thus remain for one or two hours. Roll always with a well-floured rolling-pin.
To prevent the juice of pies from soaking into the under crust, beat an egg well, and with a bit of cloth dipped into the egg, rub over the crust before filling the pies.
For a more wholesome pie-crust shortening, boil beans or potatoes "until soft, make into a broth, work through a colander, mix as much into the flour as can be done and preserve sufficient tenacity in the dough. Knead moderately stiff, and roll a little thicker than crust shortened with lard. It is a good plan to make a puff-paste for the top crust, and for the under crust use less shortening.
When using green currants, pie-plant, gooseberries, or other fruits which require the juice to be thickened, fill the lower crust, sprinkle corn starch evenly over, and put on the upper crust. This prevents the juice from running over, and, when cold, forms a nice jelly. Do not sprinkle with sugar until the fruit is placed in the crust, as the sugar sets the juice free. In all pies with top crust, make air-holes, or the crust will burst. These may be arranged in any fanciful shape, and are best made by the point of the bowl of an inverted tea-spoon pressed through the crust while on the board, and gently drawn apart when taken up to put over the fire. Meringue, for pies or puddings, is made in the proportion of one tablespoon sugar to white of one egg, with flavoring added. Never fill pies until just before putting them in the oven. Always use tin pie-pans, since, in earthen pans, the under crust is not likely to be well baked. Just before putting on the upper crust, wet the rim of the lower with the finger dipped in water, or with a thick paste of flour and water, or egg and flour, and press the two crusts firmly together; this will prevent that bane of all pastry cooks - a burst pie. Bake fruit pies in a moderate oven, having a better heat at the bottom than at the top of the oven, or the lower crust will be clammy and raw. When done, the crust will separate from the pan, so that the pie may be easily removed. Remove at once from the tins, or the crust will become "soggy."
The secret of success in making puff-paste is to secure the greatest possible number of layers of butter and dough (alternately) as the result of folding and rolling. This is best accomplished, as will readily be perceived, by increasing the quantity of butter; the more you use, the greater the number of layers before the butter is exhausted by absorption into the dough. On the other hand, too much butter produces equally bad results; a quantity of butter equal to the flour is the most, and three-fourths pound of butter to a pound of flour the least, that can be used in puff-paste with good results. For pastry for the family table the proportion of butter may be reduced to one-fourth as much butter as flour, and lard or suet may be substituted for butter.
In making puff-paste, it is a mistake to suppose that lessening the quantity of butter is economical. For instance, tartlets cut one-fourth of an inch thick from paste made with half a pound of butter to a pound of flour, will not be any thicker or higher when baked than those cut from paste half as thick made with three-fourths pound butter to a pound of flour. Thus, by using one-fourth more butter double the bulk results, besides the satisfaction of having good light pastry. In washing or egging pastry, be careful not to allow the egg or milk, or whatever is used, to run down over the edges, or, as it sets by the heat of the oven, it will bind the edges and prevent them from opening fully. In rolling, use the rolling-pin as lightly as possible, and take care that the pressure is even. The layers will be even or uneven just in proportion as the pressure is even or uneven. Be careful not to break the dough, or the butter will be forced through, and thus destroy the evenness of the layers. If the dough breaks, cover it with a piece of "plain dough," dust it well with flour, and continue rolling. (It is well to keep a piece of plain dough in reserve for this purpose.)