Pastry, in all its various forms, is such a versatile thing to make and serve, be it on top of a pie, as a sweet and flaky croissant or around a meaty sausage roll. Making successful pastry dishes takes patience, a bit of practice and careful handling. By following these simple tips and tricks your short crust pastry will be golden, crunchy and light. Oh, and delicious, too, of course.
Short crust pastry uses a ratio of one part fat to two parts flour. Sift 200g plain flour into the bowl of a food processor. Add a pinch of fine salt and 100g cold butter or vegetable fat, cut into cubes. Whizz briskly until the mix looks like fine breadcrumbs. With the motor running, drizzle in enough ice-cold water (about 75ml) to make the dough come together into a smooth ball. Remove the dough from the processor, knead very quickly to make a smooth ball then wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge.
When working with pastry there are eight general tips to follow:
1. Bring to room temperature – if you try to work with pastry that’s too cold it won’t be pliable and you’ll struggle to roll and shape it. Take your pre-made pastry out of the fridge and give it at least 30 minutes before starting.
2. Keep it cool – although your pastry’s now at room temperature, worktops and hands all need to be cold so the pastry doesn’t become sticky. You don’t want the fat in the mix to warm up and soften too much. It’s a balance and you’ll need to work quickly!
3. Steady on the flour – the common practice of covering the worktop and the pastry in flour might stop it becoming sticky but it can dry out the mixture. If you think you’ve used too much flour, make sure you brush off any excess before baking.
4. Chill before cooking – once you’ve rolled and shaped the pastry, place it in the fridge to cool for 20 minutes. This allows the fat in the mixture to firm up.
5. Glazing – if you want to bring colour and shine to the top of your pastry you need to glaze it. For short crust pastry, a brushing of beaten egg will leave a lovely golden-brown top.
6. Oven Temperature – having your oven at the correct temperature makes the difference between your pastry folding or burning. 180°C for 30 minutes (or until the pastry’s golden brown) usually does the trick. Try to keep the oven door closed throughout the cooking time as too much opening and shutting affects the temperature and could change the end result.
When working specifically with short crust pastry, these next technical tips will help you achieve the best results:
1. Working the dough – make sure you don’t overwork the dough. Short crust pastry should be (as its name suggests) ‘short’. That means flaky and crumbly. If you over-knead the dough you’ll activate the gluten in the flour making it stretchy. And the end result will be tough and chewy.
2. Correct dish – no one likes a pie with a soggy bottom so choose the right dish to avoid this outcome. A metal dish (rather than a ceramic one) will heat up quickly, ensuring the base of your pie bakes evenly and crisply.
3. Don’t stretch – when place your pastry in the tin avoid stretching it to fit. Short crust pastry shouldn’t be stretchy (remember, it’s ‘short’) so pulling it about will make it cracked or thin and more likely to leak or burst.
4. Repairing holes – if you do find a hole or a crack, don’t panic! It’s simple to correct. Dampen the edges of the holes using a pastry brush and water then use your fingers to push the mixture back together. Or create a patch with a bit of spare dough.
5. A little bit extra – leaving a little bit extra dough hanging over the sides of your dish will compensate for shrinkage during cooking and keep the filling from leaking out of gaps between the base and top.
6. Give it time – once you’ve lined your dish with pastry, pop it in the fridge for 10 minutes to let it firm up before adding the filling. Making sure your filling’s cool is important too. If it’s too hot it can melt the pastry before it has time to cook.
7. Pay attention – the pastry usually takes longer to cook than the filling so you shouldn’t have to worry about the pastry burning. If you do find it’s colouring more than you’d like you can simply cover it loosely with foil.
8. Let the steam escape – as the filling heats it’ll create steam so you need to create a hole in the top of your pie to let the steam out. If you don’t it’ll make your pastry soggy or your pie burst. All you need to do is make a slit with a small knife; it doesn’t have to be anything fancy.