Reader Irena asks if I wouldn’t mind clarifying just why it is that a very evenly mixed, extremely homogenous dough or batter yields a stronger piece of pie, cake or pastry than a less-evenly mixed one. Irena, I’d be delighted.
I brought up fat distribution a couple of times over the last week, pointing out that a British pie dough, in which the fat is thoroughly blended into the flour, is both stronger and more flexible than an American pie crust in which the fat is “cut” in in large, uneven pieces. Both doughs have very similar characteristics until they’re baked, at which point the fat goes liquid and the crust starts to resemble a brick wall that’s losing bits of its masonry.
If the fat pockets it contains are very large, well then you’ve got some pretty big holes to contend with. Also they’re not evenly spaced, which makes the structure even weaker. However if the fat pockets are small and regular they’ll create smaller gaps in more regular places. The resulting structure is still weakened, however the odds are that is will still find a way to stand up since its weight is distributed over lots of small, regular supports instead of just a few big, irregularly spaced ones.
Does that make sense? The great irony of very thoroughly mixed batters and doughs is that they can be both stronger AND more more tender than their less-emulsified (fat-distributed) counterparts, because a finer structure is also more flexible. Pretty darn cool!