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Pastry

Introduction

Pastry isn't difficult to make; it just requires a bit of practie in following a few simple rules. The basic ingredients are flour, fat (butter), some fluid, and also sugar for sweet pastry. Ground nuts are sometimes substituted for some of the flour.
  • Flour must be plain, soft flour and never strong (bread) or self-raising flour.
  • Fat is almost always unsalted butter (French is best), which should be cool but not too hard; if taken straight from the fridge then soften by working it with a spoon in the bowl (or on a chopping board). Increasing the fraction of fat makes the pastry more crumbly (shorter).
  • liquid is usually water in a plain pastry recipe, but whole egg or egg yolk can also be used (always size large). Too much water is the main cause of tough pastry.
  • sugar is used in sweet pastry. As the sugar caramelises when baking, sweet pastry must be cooked at a lower temperature.
Some poeple add a pinch of salt as a flavour enhancer, but I don't bother.

Try very hard to follow these guidelines:

  • Measure the ingredients accurately; do not guess quantities.
  • Keep everything cold. Make pastry in the morning, or when the kitchen is cool. Use a chilled ceramic bowl, rather than a plastic one that will warm up quickly. Cool your hands in cold water beforehand.
  • Use a quick, light touch. Working the pastry (especially when the water has been added) develops gluten and makes it tough.
  • Rest the pastry in the fridge before and after rolling out. Wrap it in clingfilm to stop it drying out.
  • Don't stretch the pastry when rolling it out. It'll just shrink back in the oven.
  • If baking blind, trim the pastry after baking - then shrinkage is less of a problem.
There are two main methods; 'rubbing in' and 'creaming', depending on the recipe. I used to make my pastry in a food processor, but it's just too easy to overprocess it. So make it by hand for more predictable results.

Equipment

You will need:

  • tart tins; always use loose-based metal ones. Non-stick are better, otherwise line with lightly greased baking paper
  • a rolling pin, not too heavy
  • scales for weighing ingredients
  • measuring spoons; 1 tbsp = 15ml, 1 tsp = 5ml
  • greaseproof baking paper; silicone is best
  • a mixing bowl, wooden spoon, knife.
It would be helpful to have:
  • A heavy-guage baking sheet (large, flat and square)
  • A marble pastry board for rolling out on (chill in the fridge beforehand).
Baking Blind

'Baking blind' means cooking the pastry in the tin on its own before a filling is added. This is done if the cooking time for the filling is less than that needed for the pastry, or if the filling is runny and would make uncooked pastry soggy.

You cover the pastry in a layer of greaseproof paper, and then weigh it down with ceramic baking 'beans' or coins to stop it puffing up. Make sure the edges are covered as well as the base, or they'll burn. When the pastry is cooked remove the beans and paper and cook further to dry out.

Just before the the final stage of baking you can brush with an egg wash, (variously egg white, yolk, whole egg and or milk) to give an attractive sheen and make the pastry more resistant to going soggy.

Pâte à foncer

This is the recipe I use when a tart calls for a plain short-crust pastry (foncer Fr. to line (a mould)). It is made with the rubbing-in method, and so is also called pâte brisée (as the butter is 'broken') in the context of a savoury dish. The '4oz' quantity here should be multiplied up to give the amount needed for a baking recipe. Ingredients:

  • 120g plain white soft flour, sifted
  • 60g cool unsalted butter, chopped
  • 1 egg yolk, large
  • 1.5 tbsp (37ml) of chilled water
Instructions:
  1. If the butter is hard then in the bowl beat with a wooden spoon to soften.
  2. Add the flour and cut the butter into the flour by chopping the mixture with a knife. You can try one knife in each hand or use a pastry blender. Keep going until it looks fairly well blended.
  3. You now have a bowl full of small pieces of butter coated with flour. To mix them together more finely, 'rub in' the flour into the butter using your fingertips. Lift the mixture up and let it fall back into the bowl as you rub it together. You want the mixture to resemble fine bread crumbs; give the bowl a shake and the larger pieces of fat will rise to the top. The odd larger piece is fine; if there are none left then you've probably over done it!
  4. Very lightly beat the egg yolk and chilled water (approx 1:2 ratio of egg yolk and water). Add to the mixture bit by bit (less than 1 tbsp at a time) to the mixture. Bring it together with a fork or knife, mixing and compressing the mixture as it absorbs the liquid. As it comes together in a ball use your fingertips. It should leave the bowl clean, and the ball of pastry should be a homogenous colour (no obvious pale lumps of fat). If not, very gently work in a little more liquid.
  5. Wrap in clingfilm and rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.
If you don't have an egg, then just use water, but be extra careful about using the bare minimum necessary to bring the pastry together.