February 27, 2017 / In: Pasta

Egg Dough


Egg dough is the starting point for most noodle-types of pasta like tagliatelle and pappardelle, as well as many other charming shapes like farfalle and garganelli. For most home cooks, it serves as the entry point to handmade pastas, although the use of protein-rich eggs for moisture and the dry, tough texture that results makes this dough much harder to work with than its semolina-and-water cousin (you can read more on the differences between the doughs here). So if you’re new to handmade pastas, I recommend starting with something based on the semolina dough to practice the process at a lower difficulty level.

That said, there’s nothing quite like a succulent, silky handmade egg pasta, so if you’re prepared to endure just a bit of agita as you familiarize yourself with the quirks of egg dough, you’ll be richly rewarded. The steps are largely the same as with semolina dough: You mix the ingredients together on nice, big work surface, transition to a knead as the dough comes together, let the dough rest, and then shape it into pasta. The key difference in the process is that egg dough is rolled out, most often with a pasta machine, whereas semolina dough typically is not.

The primary components of this dough are flour and egg, of course. The best type of flour to use is probably Italian flour labelled “00,” with the double zero indicating flour that’s ground as finely as possible. Purists will tell you that no other flour will do, but I’ve found regular-old all-purpose flour to be an adequate substitute in a pinch, and something finer like cake flour is an excellent, almost indistinguishable substitute. Really, the key difference between flour types is how the resulting dough handles: Finer flours like 00 and cake flour are much more agreeable to work with, while all-purpose flour will demand a little more massaging. If the choice of flour fineness yields any difference in the character of the final pasta, particularly once it’s cooked and sauced, I certainly don’t have the palette to detect it. That said, if you make egg dough with any regularity, I do think it’s wise to keep 00 flour on hand as your go-to for this task. It costs a little more money than the generic stuff, but it’s worth it given the trouble it saves.

By contrast, I find that the choice of egg matters much more to the ultimate quality of the pasta. You want to use the freshest, best-quality eggs that you can find, ideally from your local farmer’s market. The chickens that produce those live in far better, freer conditions than the chickens that the chickens that make even the best eggs at the grocery store, and they use that freedom to eat all sorts of bugs and junk. The well-rounded diet results in magnificent yolks with a rich, deep orange hue, and all that flavor and color carries right on through to the finished pasta.

As with semolina dough, the typical rule of thumb is to allow for about 100g of flour, moistened with one egg, per dinner-sized serving, or perhaps a bit more than half of that for a starter. That old rule must have had hard working old world bellies in mind because it yields some BIG servings, so I usually adjust down a bit. And of course, how much moisture you get from an egg heavily depends on how big the egg is, which is another reason that egg dough is slightly more complicated than doughs moistened with water alone. I find that eggs labeled as “large” typically work pretty well with the rules of thumb, although large eggs from the grocery store are usually a little bigger and vary a little less than the large eggs I get from the farmer’s market. So more often than not you’ll have to adjust the moisture content midway through my knead, but eventually you get a knack.

For a richer dough, you can use extra yolk in addition to or instead of whole eggs. In fact, you’ll see many celebrity chef types recommending that you only egg yolks to moisten your pasta, which means something like 16 yolks for a four-serving batch. While that yields an exquisite pasta that you should absolutely try making sometime, it’s really not practical to do on a regular basis for both financial and caloric reasons…and on top of that, what would you do with all those leftover whites? Luckily, you can achieve much of the same effect simply by sneaking in a couple extra egg yolks. The first two or three egg yolks you add really crank up the richness, and returns largely diminish after that. A good rule of thumb is that one whole egg is roughly equivalent to four egg yolks in terms of moistening prowess.

Put it all together and you get the following master recipe for four dinner-sized or six starter-sized portions:

  • 350g Italian 00-type flour, or the finest flour you’ve got handy
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp salt

1. Combine the flour and salt in a bowl, and sift it onto a big wooden work surface. As with Step 1 of Semolina Dough, I like to use my wire mesh strainer to sift, forming a well for the eggs in the pile of flour as I go. Then add the eggs and yolks to the well.

2. Grab a fork and poke each egg yolk to break the surface tension, and then start scrambling the eggs very gently right in the well. Once the eggs are well scrambled, start working in that  flour little by little by just grazing your folk along the edges of the well, then digging into the bottom, then back to the edges. Don’t rush this step. Put on some music, unwind from the stresses of the day, and just roll that fork around the well to get those yolks and whites mixed together without disturbing the flour too much.

Eventually, the dough will be thick and crumbly enough that the fork is no longer helpful, so ditch it and start working with your hands, or a board scraper if you’ve got one. It’ll take a bit of coaxing to bring all the mini dough-balls that are forming into a cohesive ball, so again, we’re still firmly in “don’t rush it” territory here. You might have some stubborn bits of damp flour that just don’t want to adhere to the bigger ball. That’s fine, don’t force them; just brush them aside. You may need to add a tiny bit of water to get it to come together, or a bit extra flour if your eggs were big; this is the part that requires a bit of trial and error. Ideally, egg dough will have just barely enough moisture to hold together, so don’t add any water unless you’re certain you need it.

3. As the dough starts to form into a cohesive ball, transition into a full-on knead. Between using something sticky like eggs for moisture, and moderating the moisture content to the bare minimum, this is a stiff, stiff dough, so kneading it will be something of a workout. Though I usually use only one hand for the same sized batch of semolina-and-water dough, egg dough is definitely a two handed job for me. It’s a little hard to describe, and (stop me if you’ve heard this here before) there’s a little bit of a knack to it that takes a few trials to develop, but the way I do it basically resembles a push and pull motion. I take my ball of dough and give it a good, hard two-handed push over the board, spreading it into a flattish disk; then I pull and fold until it’s back into a roundish ball, and repeat. Again, you’ll need to get a little physical with it because it’s so dry and stiff. But only a few minutes of kneading is necessary here since you’ll be developing gluten later on with the pasta machine. Your arms likely won’t last more than a couple of minutes anyway.

After the knead, let it rest for anywhere from half an hour to as long as a day. The rest time does not appreciably change how the dough handles from my experience, but you’ll want to make sure you wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap if you’re going to let it rest for more than an hour. If you’re only giving it an hour rest or so, it’s fine to just rest it under an inverted bowl.

4. Once the rest is finished, it’s time to start rolling out sheets. The thinness you’ll roll the sheets to will depend on what type of pasta you’re making, of course, but the first steps are always pretty similar: You’re going to basically kick the gluten formation into high gear by rolling the pasta out at the thickest setting (labeled #1 on most machines) several times. I often hear this process referred to as “laminating” the pasta dough, but it’s a completely different animal than what’s more traditionally thought of as a laminated dough (e.g., croissant dough or puff pastry dough) so I tend to avoid that term.

For this four-portion quantity of dough, I usually roll it out in three pieces. So cut about one-third of the dough ball off and re-wrap the remaining two-thirds. If it’s wet to the touch, sprinkle a bit of flour on the surface, and stretch it out to start to flatten it just a bit. Then pass it on through the roller set on the thickest setting (#1). If you kneaded and rested it well, it hopefully will roll through pretty cleanly, but it may well crack and tear the first time or two through. Ain’t no thing. Fold it in half and pass it on through again. Lather, rinse, repeat. After something like five, six, or maybe seven passes, the dough should be going through smoothly and cleanly, and you can move on up to the next setting (#2). A cool little hack that helps out: If you pass the dough through creased side last, eventually you’ll get an air bubble that pops as it passes through the rollers. That means you’ve got some good gluten formation going on, and you’re ready to move on to #2.

How thin you’ll roll the sheets depends upon what type of pasta you’re making, but usually you’re going to one of the last three settings, typically numbered #5–#7. To get there, pass the sheet through the rollers twice at setting #2, reversing direction for the second pass. Do the same for settings #3, #4, and #5.

For thicker pastas, #5 will be your end point. I usually stop here for tagliatelle, pappardelle, farfalle, and garganelli. For more delicate pastas, pass it on through once at #6. You can try passing it through a second time if you’re feeling daring, but at this thinness I don’t think the second pass makes is nearly so necessary as at the thicker settings, where the dough is still springier. I use setting #6 for taglierini, mafaldine, campanelle, or corzetti. If you’re going to the thinnest setting (#7), tread carefully, because it’s really easy to tear or otherwise muck up the sheet at this point, particularly if you rushed through the lower numbers (you didn’t do that, did you?). The thinnest setting is usually reserved for stuffed pastas, ravioli being the quintessential example.

All of these pasta shapes will eventually be linked to articles where we explore them further, so thanks for bearing with me! We are just starting our journey and we will eat well and learn much along the way….



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