November 16, 2009

Cooking School: Fridge and Freezer: Friends or Foes?

A friend who's really getting into baking lately with her little girl asked me a fantastic question over the weekend about pie dough and the fridge vs. freezer. I thought this might be a good time to address the whole baked-goods-and-refrigeration confusion in pastry.

Generally, anything pre-baked can last 24-36 hours in your fridge without drying out. If it's going to take you longer than that to get to it, wrap it really well in double plastic wrap and a freezer-grade Ziploc and store it in your freezer until use (make sure you label and date it with a Sharpie!). As Chef Jacquy at the French Pastry School would often say to us in class, "The freezer is your friend." Just move it to your counter if you plan to work with it within an hour or so. If you did leave something like pie dough or cookie dough in your fridge longer than you should have, rework it using bits of shortening (pie dough) or tablespoons of milk (cookie dough) until it's pliable and workable again. You can also store unused cake batter for up to 48 hours. Unlike pie or cookie dough though, cake batter needs to come all the way back to room temperature and given a good stir before using.

With anything already baked, alas, refrigeration for extended periods is the enemy. It's fine to store frosted cupcakes or a cake in the fridge for a day before serving, but typically, cake, bread, cookies, muffins, and other high-ratio-flour already-baked goods will dry up like cilantro in Chicago (we can't grow it here), so don't go there. I will often freeze a half loaf of bread if we won't get to it 'til the next week or bake only half a batch of cookies and freeze the rest of the dough until next time. Again, the freezer is your friend, folks! Not that today's design and engineering is though. According to a recent article in Bon Appetit, side-by-side refrigerators came about in an era when we didn't cook. The appliance industry fashioned them to accommodate our TV-dinner lifestyle in the 70s and 80s. Now that we're cooking and entertaining at home more, at least they've come up with the French-door refrigerator, which enables getting party trays of food or a sheet cake in and out of the fridge at eye level much easier. But from the point of view of bakers everywhere, the bottom-mount drawer freezer is a logistics nightmare. Digging around in the depths of a drawer for frozen pre-baked goods is like the hunt for Red October when on a delivery deadline. And freezing trays of pastry shells or other items that keep shape in the oven better after a 20-minute freezer shock treatment (you'll see a lot of pie, tart, and party finger-food recipes this holiday season that perform better with a pre-freeze) is next to impossible. Goodness knows I miss the old-fashioned top-mount freezer. Oh, to be able to turn the guest bath into a walk-in fridge/freezer!

Well, all the best this holiday pie-baking season! And while we're at it, I highly recommend trying this one for next Thursday. We've made this several times this fall season already, since pears came into their own this year. D'Anjou or Bartletts work best, and I highly recommend it with some butter pecan ice cream. For me, a la mode is the only way to go with a pie!

Pear Butterscotch Pie from Gourmet Magazine (R.I.P.) September 2008

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