We all know the many ways the food processor helps us accomplish tasks in the kitchen. I have been a fan for a long time. Dough-making captures the muscular power of a food processor, showing how that whirling blade — whizzing around at thousands of revolutions per minute (rpm's) — has the brawn to knead in a flash.
It took me way too many years to figure this out. At first, I used the machine as it was advertised: to cut, grate and purée. Yes, mine was a misspent youth, all those wasted rpm's. But I've come a long way, baby.
It's All in the Pulse
The pulse is the key to using a food processor for dough-making. Steady pulsing harnesses the machine's amped-up power and saves the dough from a thrashing or shearing that could toughen it. Minding the mass as you pulse allows you to see it come together, and minimizes the risk of overworking. You pulse, you watch, and in seconds — not minutes — you have a finely textured dough.
Chilled Blades and Overcooked Yeast
Overmixing is the bane of most doughs — especially those flaky doughs that are sensitive to heat, like pie crusts and biscuits. The movement and friction from the food processor can easily melt the fats and create toughening gluten. The result? The very possibility of flakiness is quickly turned leaden. I chill the food processor blade as well as the fats and liquids required for these recipes. The chilled blade makes short work (and the flakiest crust).
For yeasted concoctions like pizza dough, another sort of accommodation is in order. You see, yeast is sensitive stuff; it likes warm, but hates hot. Therefore, instead of using the hot water — up to 115°F — that most recipes direct in order to activate the yeast, I use 80°F water and count on the heat of the blade to generate the remaining 25 degrees.
Some processors come with a plastic dough blade and that helps, but I've found that using room-temperature water and also warming liquids such as oils and the water used after proofing only to the 80°F to 90°F range gives great results in 25 to 45 seconds. Again, pulsing is your friend in this procedure, and checking the dough for the right softness to make sure the dough is not overheating is key.
The food processor is also a miracle for muffins. To avoid overmixing muffins (and the resulting ever-evil toughening), I grind my ingredients — like oatmeal, nuts, or even dried fruit mix-ins — before adding the flour and other ingredients.
Doughs of every variety are fast in the modern marvel that is a food processor. But it isn't just fast: With a few accommodations and close attention, the food processor is a dough whisperer that turns out perfect textures — tender, toothsome, and supple — every time.