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We have a small kitchen in our flat in England and for a couple that like to cook, it's hardly ideal. The lack of cupboard space means that the worktops tend to be cluttered with appliances and frequently used ingredients and this arrangement becomes most frustrating when trying to make pastry - or at least the rolling out of pastry. I have to confess to a lack of spatial awareness so it's not uncommon for me to push items out of the way only to find that there's just no way I can roll the pastry out to the size I need in the space I've made; the other issue is that I end up handling the pastry more than I really ought to because I gingerly take the pastry to the dish only to find I've seriously underestimated the size required and have to return it to the worktop for more rolling.
I first saw one of these pastry rolling mats from advertised in a magazine but the one shown seemed expensive and I was able to find a cheaper one on Amazon. The idea is simple; it's a non stick mat on which there are markings to help you roll your pastry out to the dimension required. You could also use it for rolling out fondant for icing cakes.
This one by Kitchen Craft measures 61 by 43 cm which enables you to measure out the right size for some pretty big pies; on the downside it does mean it's quite big for storing and I have to store mine in another room because I don't have anywhere in my kitchen that's right for it. It needs to be stored flat because other wise it will spring up when you try to place it on your worktop or table top. I do sometimes take mine to the dining table and roll there because it means I don't have to move everything on the work top to lay the mat out, and because the dining table is lower than the work top and therefore a more comfortable height for rolling.
The central section shows a series of concentric circles that you use when rolling out pastry for round dishes. The edges of the mat can be used for measuring pastry for rectangular dishes. Metric and imperial measurements are given.
The mat is flexible which makes it easy to lift the rolled pastry off to move it to the dish; when rolling out on the worktop I have found sometimes that the pastry gets damaged when you try to lift it off the worktop but when using the mat I have no such problems. In fact, if you are really concerned you can slide the pastry off the mat and into the dish. Another advantage is that I use almost no flour for rolling out now because the mat's surface doesn't require it. This has the knock on effect of keeping my worktop much cleaner and makes cleaning up quicker.
At first I found that the mat would slip on the worktop or table which made it difficult to roll the pastry. I tried laying a damp tea towel under the mat but it was too bulky, though the principle worked. Instead I slightly dampened some kitchen roll and place it under the corners of the mat and found that this stops it from slipping. I suppose you could even use a couple of pieces of blu-tac or even little bits of masking tape on the corners instead.
The mat is easy to clean - just a wipe with a damp cloth is sufficient. It isn't easy to dry and if the weather is fine, I tend to peg mine on the washing line to dry. Using a tea towel to dry it is a long and tedious activity.
I paid £7.98 (with free delivery) from Amazon.co.uk. A similar mat by Wellbake is priced at £14.99 (though this comes with a 10 year guarantee and I don't envisage the markings on the Kitchen Craft mat lasting more than a couple of years).
My mum laughed when I told her I'd bought this; she can roll out pastry in seconds and has an innate ability to roll it out to the right size first time. I don't think that I'll ever master that skill in spite of baking frequently so this is a really useful acquisition for me. Taking into consideration that it also cuts down on cleaning makes this an attractive little tool for me so an initial outlay of just under eight Pounds represents good value to me.