Santa was very generous this year and brought me a stunning KitchenAid Professional Stand Mixer.
have always wanted one and am giddy at the new addition. Santa's helper was also very well-coordinated and encouraged the addition of the pasta roller attachment set for the KitchenAid. I am absolutely thrilled with these new tools, they're so beautiful and feel like such a luxury. Today, I gave them their maiden voyage and decided it was time to try my hand at making fresh pasta. I had never done it before today.
Wow, is it true that you learn from mistakes! It's been such a long time since I was trying something completely unchartered, that I felt uncertain as I progressed. I also have some very important things to convey to anyone else who may be toying with making fresh pasta for the first time. Of course, I based my recipe on Mario Batali again, but had to improvise a little due to inexperience...
First, it takes time and is hard work! I expected two hours which was about right. But, I completely ruined my first attempt, so altogether it took me about four hours because I had to do it twice. (sheepish grin)
The next thing I'll say is that my first attempt failed for two reasons. Firstly, my dough was too dry and even though I suspected it, I continued on anyway and persevered, figuring it would work itself out. Secondly, I followed the booklet with the pasta attachments and actually used the mixer itself to work the dough the first 3 minutes. I think that was a critical mistake and I could never get the dough right after that. So, while I love, love LOVE my mixer I will boldly recommend this: don't use it to actually mix pasta dough, unless you've done it so much you know how to get it perfect. Even though I was wary of working the dough too much, I think there was just no way to avoid it. I used the paddle hook beater for the first 30 seconds of mixing the eggs and flour and then switched to the dough hook and mixed for 3 minutes. I then pulled it out and started kneading by hand. I kneaded that dough for almost 15 minutes and it was still the consistency of old Play-Doh no matter what I did. So, I chucked that batch in the trash and started over. By hand. Using the old-fashioned well method, much like I did recently for the gnocchi. By the way, gnocchi dough is MUCH easier. The pasta dough seems more temperamental and is also very intense work in the hands, wrists and forearms. I feel like I developed carpal tunnel syndrome in just one afternoon! Also, I am about 5'5" tall and when I got tired, on my second batch the last 5 minutes of kneading, I actually pulled out a step-stool to get some leverage and body weight into the kneading of the dough. Whew!
Chef Batali details his recipe in Molto Italiano, with a decent overview. However, I found that if I literally interpreted his recipe, my dough still had problems. So, I adjusted the recipe by including an additional egg and I added a little fresh black pepper for more flavor. When it came to rolling out the dough, I followed his basic advice but again, developed my own rhythm and repetitions for sending the dough through the rollers. Regardless, if you make fresh pasta for the first time prepare yourself for a learning experience and that you'll probably waste a lot of dough. As you know I completely tossed out my first batch. On my second batch, I probably only got good fettuccine out of half the dough and the other half either tore, wrinkled, ripped apart or had some other handling or thiness/rolling issue. But, the next time I make it, I will definitely know what I'm doing!
So, in the successful method I did it all by hand up until rolling the dough and then, I used the stand mixer and pasta attachments. The attachments are FANTASTIC, by the way.
Here was my recipe, adapted from Mario Batali. Be aware that humidity, your flour and the size and quality of your eggs will really affect the dough. You may use anywhere from 4-6 eggs for this, if you find the dough is still crumbling apart when you try to begin kneading with your hands, form the well again and add another egg.
Makes about 1 1/4 pounds of pasta
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading
6 eggs (the recipe recommended 5, but my dough wouldn't hold together until I added a sixth egg)
2 T. freshly ground black pepper
1. Mound the flour in the center of a large wooden board or non-stick countertop. Make a well in the center and crack the eggs into the well. Beat the eggs together with a fork. Add the black pepper to the eggs and beat with the fork again. Now, begin to incorporate the flour, starting with the inner rim of the well. As you pull more flour into the center well, keep pushing the flour up around the outside to retail the well shape. Think of it as making a fortress and you're building from the inside. When half the dough is incorporated the dough will begin to come together. Start kneading the dough, using primarily the palms of your hands. If the dough keeps breaking apart or flaking apart, you may need to add another egg. If you do that, make a well again! Beat the egg with a fork again, like the first time. The well method is crucial to getting a little bit of the egg into the flour or dough at a time. Thus, the reason I don't think a mixer can do it as good as the ol' hands. Once the dough is a cohesive mass, set the dough aside and scrape up and discard any dried bits of dough.
2. Lightly flour your work surface and continue kneading for at least 10 minutes, dusting the surface with a little bit of flour as necessary. The dough should be pretty firm and elastic most of the time. When you finally have it in one nice ball that is quite elastic, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and allow it to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature. This resting is critical, when you unwrap it the dough will have softened and that is what you want. Do not knead it back into tension before rolling out. You need it somewhat soft. If after 30 minutes, it still feels very tight, cover again and wait another 15-20 minutes.
4. Set the flat pasta roller attachment to the widest setting and dust rollers with a little flour to make sure the dough won't stick. Do not use more flour as you go along unless you dough does stick. If you use too much flour, the pasta will become too dry. Fire up the mixer and get the rollers cranking and begin feeding the dough into the slot between the rollers. For me, it worked best to feed in the top with my left hand and catch the dough from the underside of the rollers in the palm my right hand. Make sure you don't tear it and don't pull the dough through. You also may have to pinch it at the top to get it thin enough to continue through the rollers. Too thick and it'll go nowhere.
Fold the dough in thirds, flatten it with your palms and roll it out again. Repeat this process 5 times, then set the rollers to the next-thinnest setting and repeat about 6 times again on that setting. Here's another place I diverged from the recipe. It encourages the folding between each repetition. I found that my dough was destroyed by the time I got through to the thinnest settings if I folded so much. So, after getting the hang of it, I settled on folding just the first couple times through and then every other time, it fit perfectly in the rollers and I just shipped it through each time. You will have to experiment with your own rhythm and reps. Also, as I fed the dough in the top once it started going I folded it over the backside of the attachment as you see in the photos. This helped keep it aligned and "between the rails" if you will. Otherwise, it would get crooked and then wrinkle and tear.
5. After the first two settings, switch to the third setting and roll the dough through three times, since it's getting more delicate. If the pasta sheet becomes too long to work with easily, cut it in half width-wise and continue rolling the pieces. They will still work out to 10-12 inches long if your dough is right. Roll the dough out through the progressively thinner settings without folding, until you have reached the thinnest or next-to-thinnest setting. Support the sheets from underneath and let them lay along your forearm from elbow to wrist. (This was my own discovery and worked like a charm, especially for those of us with small hands and arms. I am no Mario Batali!!!)
6. Trim the dough sheets to have even, uniform edges and let them dry on cooling racks or over the back of chairs, aerating the sheets as they dry. Continue the steps above for the remaining three quadrants of dough that you originally divided.
7. When the dough is all rolled and dried, attach the fettuccine cutter attachment to your mixer and send each sheet through the cutter, catching it delicately with one hand as you feed it through with the other. Again, let the uncut portion lie over the back of the attachment for alignment and less pressure on the dough. If you don't have the cutter attachment, you can brush your sheets of pasta lightly with flour, roll them up and use a sharp knife to cut them into 1/4 inch wide strips.
8. After all the pasta has been cut, spread it out on the racks to dry a little more and gently bend them into a u-shape so that when you cook them, they don't snap in half.
It a was tiring and fascinating experience, I haven't learned so much from trial and error in the kitchen in a very long time. But, ultimately, it was so much fun! Sitting here tonight, however, my forearms and wrists are positively aching. No wonder those Italian women have such thick and strong forearms!
Next post, I'll show you how I cooked the pasta...it was worth ALL the work and turned out exquisitely.