Shortcrust pastry is the workhorse of the pastry world. Make it your friend, not your enemy. Learn all the tips here.
225g (8 ounces) standard flour
Pinch of salt
170g (6 ounces) butter
1 medium (size 6) free-range egg yolk
3–4 Tbsp chilled water, or as needed
It’s made by rubbing fat into flour, then binding with water, or egg yolk and water. It is used in both sweet and savoury recipes, to line flans, tarts, tartlets and pies. I use butter in pastry making, never margarine, as I prefer a natural product. The butter should be cool but pliable, or it will not blend properly with the flour. For sweet pastry, a little caster sugar (superfine granulated) is added to sweeten the dough and to give a nice crisp finish.
1 Sift flour, salt and sugar (if using) into a large wide bowl to aerate. Cut butter into cubes and drop into flour. Use two round-bladed knives or a metal pastry cutter to cut butter through flour. Then finish rubbing in butter with your fingertips. As you rub the butter into the flour, lift it slightly in the bowl to keep it aerated. Shake bowl occasionally to bring larger lumps of butter to the surface. Once mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs, stop. The idea is to get the butter coated with flour, not to have the flour absorb the butter. These pieces of butter will disperse through the dough when rolling it but will help create little air pockets during baking which will make the pastry flaky. If you overwork the ingredients at this stage, the pastry will be heavy and greasy.
2 Blend egg yolk and chilled water together and mix into flour and butter with a knife, working quickly but lightly. Once it starts to form a clumpy ball, use your hand to bring it to a smooth ball, but use minimum and light contact. If you move the ball of clumpy dough around the bowl it should start to look clean. If there are a lot of floury flakes, dribble in a little more water. If the dough is too dry, it will be flaky and difficult to roll and shape, and it’s likely to crack. Conversely, if the dough is sticky or wet it will be difficult to handle and may be hard and tough when baked, and may shrink.
3 Pat dough into a ball, then into a round or rectangular shape depending on its end use, which will make it easier to roll out, using a little extra flour if necessary to prevent sticking. Wrap in plastic food wrap and chill for 20–30 minutes, until dough feels firmish. Do not let it set hard or it will be difficult to roll out. If this happens, let it soften a little at room temperature before rolling. Resting dough makes it more manageable and easier to roll and it is less inclined to shrink during cooking.
Making pastry in a food processor
To make pastry in a food processor, use 4 tablespoons water to 225g (8 ounces) standard flour. Care must be taken not to overwork the dough or it will become oily. Whizz flour, salt and sugar (if using) together in a food processor fitted with the chopping blade. Add butter and process briefly until mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Mix egg yolk and chilled water together and pour all of it into the processor. Pulse just until mixture gathers in large clumpy beads, turn onto a clean dry worktop and use your hands to quickly gather it into a smooth ball. Pat dough into a flat shape, using a little extra flour to prevent sticking, then wrap and chill as described above.
Lining into a flan ring
1 Roll out the pastry. To line a flan, put the ring on a baking sheet lined with baking (parchment) paper. Gently roll pastry around rolling pin – don’t drape it over the pin or it will stretch. Gently brush off any excess flour (which can make the pastry dry and caked). Gently unroll pastry over the flan ring, then ease it into the ring, pressing it right into the corners, and letting the pastry settle in without stretching or pulling. If fingers are warm, or the dough is a little sticky, coat fingers in flour first.
2 Let excess pastry drape over the edge of the flan ring. Roll off excess pastry with the pin, then go around with fingers and thumb and form the cut edge of pastry into a small ledge. If the filling is quite a firm, solid mixture, prick pastry base before filling it. If the mixture is liquid, as in a custard, prick it after 10 minutes of cooking – not before or it may ooze out. Pricking prevents air getting trapped between the pastry and the paper-lined baking sheet, which can cause hollows of uncooked pastry.
3 If pastry has warmed up during rolling and lining the flan ring, chill until firm. If you put soft, limp pastry into a hot oven, the butter or fat will melt before the flour has had time to cook and the pastry will collapse down the sides of the flan ring. If the pastry is chilled until the fat is hard and cold, the flour will have time to cook first. The starch grains can then pop with the heat, swell a little and embrace the particles of fat so they can’t run off. The pastry then stays in position.
1 Unbaked pastry cases can be filled and baked, or the pastry case can be partially baked before putting in the filling. To partially bake a pastry case, line it with baking (parchment) paper or tin foil and fill with beans or rice (use dried white haricot beans or similar, or white rice, or buy special ceramic pellets sold as ‘baking beans’), then bake as described below. The paper or foil helps support the pastry until it is cooked into shape, and the baking beans hold the paper down. This is known as ‘baking blind’. It’s a technique which is very useful when cooking in an oven that doesn’t have good bottom heat, or for flans, tarts and pies with moist fillings, as it helps avoid a soggy base. If the pastry case is to be filled with fresh fruit, or a filling that doesn’t require cooking or one that is already cooked, the pastry can be cooked right through (the beans and lining are removed for the last few minutes of cooking).
2 To partially blind-bake, bake for 15–20 minutes in an oven preheated to 180°C (350°F). If your oven doesn’t have good bottom heat, cook pies, flans and tarts in the bottom third of the oven and experiment with temperature, increasing it to 190°C or even 200°C (375°-400°F).
3 To completely blind-bake, allow 25–30 minutes, or until pastry is golden and shows no greasy patches. Remove baking beans and paper or foil for the final 5 or so minutes, to ensure the pastry is thoroughly baked.
1 A metal flan ring placed on a baking tray, or a loose-bottomed flan ring, produces a crisper base as excess moisture from the filling can escape from underneath the flan ring in the form of steam. In a china flan dish the moisture is trapped and can cause soggy pastry. Metal is a better conductor of heat than china. Heating a baking sheet in the oven onto which you slide the prepared tart or pie will give the pastry a burst of bottom heat to help get the cooking under way.
2 Work in a cool kitchen, use metal knives and cutters, ensure baking sheets are cold unless otherwise stated, and chill pastry before baking so that it will hold its shape during cooking. If your hands and fingers are warm, first run them under the cold tap to cool them down. Marble or a cool surface is ideal for rolling out pastry. The aim is to keep the pastry cool during rolling to prevent butter bursting through and making the pastry sticky.
3 Use a long wooden rolling pin. Flour the pin not the pastry, or you will roll in an unnecessary amount of flour which could make the pastry dry. You want just enough to stop sticking – dab any sticky patches with a little flour. Roll in one direction only, releasing the pressure from the pin on the return. This prevents stretching the pastry and having it shrink during cooking. To roll out a round shape, think of the pastry like a clock. After each roll, turn pastry to the right by 2 hours. In humid conditions, lightly floured pastry can be rolled between sheets of baking paper or plastic food wrap for ease.