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A pastry cloth provides a handy and durable way to roll out dough for piecrusts, cookies, or pizza. Such cloths have been used for at least a century, and to many chefs, they’re essential in the kitchen and much easier to use than marble or wooden boards. They are undoubtedly simpler to use than plastic wrap or wax or parchment paper, and since a chef can reuse the cloth many times, they’re an eco-friendly kitchen tool.
Most pastry cloths have a canvas front and a non-stick back, often some type of oilcloth. This makes them similar to durable oilcloths for covering tables. The principal benefit of this backing is that the cloth won’t slide around as the cook rolls out dough, which is a definite improvement over using a few sheets of plastic wrap, which do tend to slide.
This material is available in a wide variety of sizes. Chefs who like to roll out large sheets of puff pastry or big pizzas should err toward choosing one in a size a little larger than they think they will need. It can be frustrating for a cook to run out of cloth if he hasn’t achieved the thinness or size he needs the dough to be. The price of these cloths can also vary, usually depending their size.
Pastry cloth can be used in the same way as a board or plastic wrap. After placing the cloth on an even surface, the chef should add a little flour so the dough doesn’t stick to the cloth. He can then add the dough, with perhaps a little flour on top, and roll out. Those who are rolling out circular dough may find it convenient to turn the cloth instead of the rolling pin to create near perfect circles.
After use, and depending upon the ingredients in the pastry or dough, the cloth can simply be dusted off and folded up for the next use. Most times, the chef should probably give the cloth a washing before its next use, especially if the dough contained a lot of butter or raw eggs. Most are hand washable, with a little bit of dish soap, and they should be hung up to dry before being stored for the next use. Cooks can get years of use out of a gently treated pastry cloth.
Another advantage of the pastry cloth is that a chef can cut dough directly on it, while it provides some protection to the surface underneath it. It’s an easy space for cutting out cookies, making scones, or creating ravioli with a pastry crimper. The chef should cut lightly, since the canvas side can become damaged with knife cuts. Most dough cutting tools won’t mar the canvas, however.
Arguably, one of the best benefits of the cloth is that it can be folded into a small size. It’s a great tool for people with crowded kitchens, especially when they don’t have room to store big wooden or marble boards. It can be kept in a dishcloth drawer or placed in a cabinet in between uses. It doesn’t take up much space and will prove adaptable for a variety of kitchen applications.