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I'm looking for something that works like pastry (malleable before baking, rigid after baking, mild unobtrusive flavour) that is transparent or translucent.

The idea is to use for topping savoury pies, where the base and sides are regular shortcrust pastry and the top is something similar but translucent, so that you can have a selection of different pies of the same size and shape on a sharing plate and people can see which is which - without leaving the top open so not exposing the contents to the elements.

Since things like glass noodles and translucent dough wrappings for Chinese dumplings exist, I'm sure it must be possible - maybe based on corn flour, or pure starch like glass noodles? Apparently translucent rice is also a thing. The closest I've found are recipes like this one for transparent Chinese dumpling dough - but these aren't very transparent and are gooier than would be ideal alongside pastry.


If there's no such thing that has an established name or recipes, it would be great to have a few basic principles on how it might work: for example, how the pure starch that glass noddles are apparently made from could be sourced and adapted to be pastry-like without losing translucency? Perhaps simply making a starch dough, glazing it with oil then baking might be enough to make it work like pastry?

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Certainly it could be done with sugar. I couldn't do it, but it could be done. Actually, it could be done several ways with sugar (just don't look at me...ever). –  Jolenealaska Sep 27 '13 at 9:49
    
Interesting idea! Sounds very difficult though - I think if I tried it it would turn either black or the colour of flames (most likely both). Maybe starch, oil and a tiny amount of sugar for hardening... –  user568458 Sep 27 '13 at 9:59
    
People who are good at it are REALLY, REALLY good at it. I mean fairytale Kingdoms and stuff. It's amazing to watch. Hmm, I somehow missed the savory pie part. –  Jolenealaska Sep 27 '13 at 10:04
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Have you worked at all with dinner plate sized, extra thin rice paper for spring rolls? –  Jolenealaska Sep 27 '13 at 10:11

4 Answers 4

With great skill, a true artist could do what you describe with Thai/Vietnamese rice paper, the dinner plate sized, extra thin ones, like for Fresh Spring Rolls.

I will never apply for the job, I promise.

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Thanks, I'll try this later and add any tips as comments (e.g. what glazings work if any). p.s. your original wording said something about nearly needing to call 911... is there anything in particular I should be wary of? Sounds like one to watch closely through the oven door... :-) –  user568458 Sep 27 '13 at 10:33
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No, as a matter of fact they're not cooked. They will tangle you up good though; and tear, and stick to themselves, and stick to passing pets.... –  Jolenealaska Sep 27 '13 at 10:36
    
They're really not that bad, I just don't have the patience. I'm looking at a package of them right now, I wanted to confirm what they were called. Evil, evil, devil spawn things. –  Jolenealaska Sep 27 '13 at 10:38
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They get really sticky as they dry ... if I have to make a bunch of spring rolls up in advance, I set each one on an individual lettuce leaf so it can still be picked up. I'd probably try to find a way to cut them down so they only covered the top up to the crust, so you don't have issues w/ it sticking to the plate or the pies around it. (note that I'm assuming you're sealing them after they've cooked ... I have no idea if they remain transparent if baked) –  Joe Sep 27 '13 at 12:22

I respect Jolenealaska's creative thought, but nothing truly resembling pastry is going to be translucent or transparent unless it is exceedingly thin. The structure alone will refract light, making the product opaque in the same way snow is opaque even though individual water crystals are fairly transparent, if they don't have air inclusions.

This is because any real pastry will have a complex structure of starch, fat, protein, and so on.

While I respect the idea of trying to use a very thin noodle (which is only really somewhat translucent because it is thin, much like tissue paper), that is not likely to be delicious, and will be somewhat incongruous in a western style savory pie.

Instead, I suggest you achieve your goal (making it clear which pie is which) by the more traditional means of one or more of:

  • Different crimping styles at the rim
  • Using different patterns for the steam vents
  • Cutting out and baking on crust garnishes in different shapes for different types of filling; you could even cut out letters

Less traditionally, at least for savory pies:

  • Use a lattice crust, so the filling is visible, but you still have some pastry on top
  • Use food coloring, or natural ingredients like beet juice or annatto to color the pastry, with different colors for each pie variation

For example, one Caribbean restaurant near me has vegetable patties (a hand pie) with pale crust, and chicken patties with a pale greeny-yellow crust (not sure what they use, probably a touch of their curry mixture), and beef patties with a richer orangish colored crust (they might have used annatto).

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If you want the least obtrusive flavor, the best you can go with is thickened water.

While you can probably prepare sheets with the right hydrocolloid and lots of care and plastic foil, I would suggest choosing a thickener which thickens on cooling, and pouring the warm mixture over the pie. Arrowroot starch is frequently used in this role on fruit pies, I don't see a reason why it shouldn't work on savory pies. But if you have meat in the pie, a gelatine texture would probably feel more natural. In both cases, don't add anything to the mixture, just the thickener and water, and process in the usual way.

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Rather than a sheet, you could probably just pour a gelatin mixture over it, and let it firm up ... it'd be kinda like a cross between a pie and an aspic. –  Joe Sep 28 '13 at 2:02
    
@joe This is exactly what I was wanted to suggest in my answer. If my wording is unclear, I would be happy if you can edit a better formulation into my answer. –  rumtscho Sep 28 '13 at 12:43
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This is frequently how apricot glazes are used on things like Danish. I assume the hydrocolloid in this case would be pectin. –  sourd'oh Sep 28 '13 at 17:54

While it wouldn't be a pastry, per se (or at all), using discs of cast sugar might work for what you need. If you poured thin disks of cast sugar into a ring mold the size of the top of your pie, you could probably attach them with marzipan or a starch wash or something after cooking the pie. If they were thin enough, you should be able to cut through them to serve the pie (though they probably wouldn't cut neatly).

I agree with the previous answers on several other points though. You could use something akin to a Korean sweet potato noodle. They are exceptionally clear, but the gummy and chewy texture probably wouldn't do a pie any favors. Anything resembling a more traditional pastry is going to be opaque (even a single layer of phyllo dough is opaque when baked).

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