HAVE YOU ever made a pie crust dough and rolled it out to its proper thickness only to find that the crust had become stuck to the surface it was rolled on? Perhaps you were able to lift the dough off the surface by folding it onto your rolling pin but then the crust split apart for lack of support.
These frustrations are not uncommon to pie and tart makers. Pie crust doughs are made by blending together flour, water and fat. The fat can be lard, butter, shortening or margarine. The greater the proportion of butter, the finer will be the dough. Unfortunately, the more butter there is in the blend, the more difficult the dough is to handle and the greater the chances are that it will stick to the rolling surfaces.
During the late spring of 1971, I was fortunate to be visiting with Julia Child in her home in southern France. She was making a pastry crust as part of the preparations for our brunch. Heat forced the butter to separate from the flour blend and the warm weather was making the dough rather difficult to handle.
When it came time to lift the dough from the table surface, she produced two large pieces of then sheet metal. Each was a perfect semicircle, or bisected circle, shape. When they were laid next to each other on a flat surface, they formed a circle that was about 15 inches in diameter. She placed one disk on either side of the pastry dough that had been rolled out to an 11-inch circle. The flat side of the semicircle faced the dough. The semicircles were then pushed together so that they joined up to form a full circle beneath the dough. As the dough was 11 inches in diameter and the joined metal units formed a circle that was 15 inches in diameter, a lip of two inches surrounded the dough.
It was a simple task to lift the disk with the dough fully supported on top and place it over the tart pan. At that point, the metal sheets were drawn apart and the dough settled gently into the pan.
Here was a wonderful tool. It was simple in design, virtually unbreakable, no moving parts, it did its job perfectly. It was easy to store and met all of my criteria for an excellent piece of cooking equipment. I could not imagine that it would be very expensive, and I wanted to purchase one immediately.
I was shocked to find out that this was not commercially produced. It had been made for Julia by a friend and was literally a one-of-a-kind. There still is no commercial manufacturer producing this device. It is, however, quite simple to acquire for yourself. Look at your baking equipment and measure the diameter of the largest pie pan or tart form that you use. Add four inches to that number to allow for the dough that will come up the sides of the pan. Add another four inches to give yourself a lip to hold.
My largest pie pan has an 11-inch diameter. Adding four inches for the sides and four inches for the lip, I get 19 inches as the ideal diameter for my pastry dough lifter. Don't skimp on the lip.Remember that those extra inches will give you only 2 inches per side which is barely enough for buttered and floured fingers to get a good grip.
Once you know the ideal diameter for the tool, consult the Yellow Pages of your telephone directory for your nearest sheet-metal worker. These are not giant factories. Look under the heading "Sheet Metal Specialties" or "Sheet Metal Work."
Call and ask them to cut a circular disk of the proper diameter and then to bisect it. The best materials are stainless-steel or tin-covered sheet steel. Neither of these will stain, pit, rust or interact with foods. Last fall, I had a dozen of these pastry lifters made at a small shop and gave them as gifts to various friends throughout the year. They have brought great joy to the hearts and mouths of many bakers.