If you want pastry made in the traditional manner, this article is not for you. Whilst many “traditional ways” are included, I have my own method for “making and baking” developed over the years from child to OAP – I reached my 65th birthday just a few days ago.
My cookery teacher at school said I would never be able to make good shortcrust pastry, “not a natural dear“, though I can make the other types of pastry – potato pastry, suet, choux, rough puff, puff and flaky. She was not being cruel just truthful, I followed her instructions to the letter, my pastry was “hard” but she added I was a natural when it came to cakes and bread, my scones were to “die for”.
I have warm hands and “I do not have a delicate touch” (my Mother´s polite way of saying I am heavy handed), Mum also said it was something I had to work at, so I did. Is my pastry as good as Mum´s – not really, but it is a close second. While working on my “technique”, Mum said I should make pastry with self raising flour – that way it would be edible, actually it was very good but had a more “cake like” texture.
I worked on technique and solved – in part – the delicate touch problem. But I had to find a way to help me make better pastry – I did find one … eventually, as in the mid 1960s, but thirty odd years on it is still “work in progress”. This is the method I have used for many years.
But before I begin, in my humble opinion, a recipe is just a starting point and it is natural for them to evolve over time taking in new equipment and ingredients that make life just a little easier – I find the attitude “if it ain´t broke don´t fix it” slightly lacking. I test out theories in my tiny kitchen – it is well organised making optimum use of the space available. I look for new equipment that will make life easier – and I use it (useful new equipment not the sort where you use it once then toss it in the back of a cupboard).
This was the original idea - return the butter to its original wrapper, pop into the freezer and leave until firm but not frozen, remove just before required. Grate the butter into the flour (use the wrapper to hold the butter) dipping in flour all the way through. Occasionally, so I do not get a load of grated butter on top, pop hands into the flour and lightly toss to coat the butter in flour and ensure even distribution; continue grating in the butter; working very quickly.
Rub in, or not, its up to you – I have tried both methods and they work. In addition, I have a bottle of frozen water at the side of me so I can cool my hands when rubbing in, and a towel to dry them on. I also use this method for making other recipes which require the fats to be “chilled”.
Before starting, get to know your oven – buy an oven temperature gauge and use it to check your oven until you know whether it is accurate – some of the ovens I have used over the years have been way out.
- Buy good quality baking tins with a removable base – really buy the best you can afford.
- Check and ensure you have all the ingredients required.
- Ensure everything is clean and dry.
- Have the tins and other equipment required ready prepared – grease – with oil or butter (and dust with flour – though I do not always do this) before you begin.
- Check the shelves in the oven and place them where you want before switching on the oven.
- Weigh all ingredients accurately and follow the recipe.
Tips “when making”
- While many cooks feel it is no longer necessary to sieve the dry ingredients – I like to do so – again this is up to you – hold the sieve up high tapping lightly with the palm of your hand.
- Chill the fats in the freezer – either in the original wrapper or greaseproof then grate into the dry ingredients, dipping in the flour often (just roll the paper back and hold it with the paper – work quickly). Toss flour and fat to coat and evenly distribute throughout process.
- Then – rub in or not, its up to you. I use both methods but whatever method you chose it has to be “briefly and quickly”, also toss the flour about just a little as you work.
- While you should try to incorporate all the fats, do not overwork, if there are “bits showing”, this is okay.
- When the butter is incorporated, add just enough liquid – egg, water or whatever – to bring the ingredients together – measure accurately and use a fork to mix. I was looking for tips to make my pastry better – it is still work in progress. One site stated that the only liquid used must be chilled water (eggs apart) – not milk and definitely not citrus juice. I admit to breaking this “rule” making a lovely orange pastry for my mince pies and many traditional pastry recipes include milk, very rarely citrus juices.
- Tip the dough onto the work surface and bring the pastry together, pushing it into a disk, using the heel of your hand – aka the part of your hand between the bottom of your thumb and your wrist.
- Wrap in clingfilm, chill in the fridge for about an hour – opinions vary on this, some say 30 minutes, others state it should be a minimum of one hour.
- Resting both before and after rolling out is very important, many state at least one hour this allows the gluten to relax and does avoid shrinkage when baking.
- Rich pastries and those containing sugar are more difficult to roll out, more likely to crack and/or stick to the work surface or rolling pin – if the pastry gets too warm, pop it in the fridge to cool off.
- Lightly dust the work surface and rolling pin with plain white flour, that is – use just enough flour to stop the pastry from sticking – too much will make a tough pastry.
- Keep the pastry as cold as you can while you are rolling out – I use a marble work surface, but in general a good cold non-porous work surface is required, ie marble, stainless steel or plastic. While many state you should always keep your pastry cool, not roll out on wood – my Mother had no option on the latter – our table was wood, fitted kitchens with marble work tops were unknown and the only cool place we had was the pantry with its “stone”. That was where the pastry was placed while “resting”; if time was short, chilling was skipped and her pastry was always fabulous.
- Work quickly – stating the obvious – but the thinner you roll the pastry out, the quicker it will warm up
- One site I recently checked out stated that the pastry should be allowed to come to room temperature before rolling out – I assume this would make it easier to roll out.
- Roll out in one direction only give a quarter turn and repeat rolling and turning until the pastry is as thick as you want for your recipe – pastry should be a lovely circle using this method – I am told it should be one eighth of an inch – 3.125 mm but IMHO some recipes – my meat and potato pie for instance – require a thicker pastry.
- Flip the pastry over occasionally to help with the rolling and avoid cracking, use the rolling pin as an aid.
- Brush off excess flour – using a soft bristle pastry brush and use the pastry to line the dish or tin being used. I use the same method now as I used when making pastry as a child – use the rolling pin as an aid – roll the pastry around the rolling pin, position over the dish or tin, and allow the pastry to fall into the dish – gently guiding with your hands.
- Important step – avoid stretching the pastry while lining the dish.
- If the pastry cracks – not a problem – dip your fingers in a little water and dampen the pastry just a little where it has cracked, press the pastry back together or use a little left over pastry to patch holes.
- When trimming the pastry, use a paring knife not a rolling pin.
- At this point – to prick or not – opinions differ so this is down to personal preference. I have never made a quiche, baked custard or flan where the pastry has risen through the filling! If blind baking I prick the pastry case, bake blind then remove the paper and baking beans and brush with egg white then bake again for about 5 minutes. Always take time to lightly press the pastry down into the base and up the sides of the tin or dish – starting at the centre and working outwards – this works for me.
Blind baking in brief
- Place a piece of baking paper (just a little larger than the tin) into the uncooked shell, add the beans, distribute evenly over the base and blind bake. You can use many things as weights – i.e. dried beans or chickpeas, rice, actual baking beans made for the job.
- Partially cooked shell – bake at 200ºC, (392ºF, gas mark 6) for between 10 to 12 minutes – without browning too much as it will be cooked a second time when the filling is added.
- Fully cooked shell – bake for 20 to 25 minutes at 200ºC, (392ºF, gas mark 6).
- Check the pastry after the shortest time shown in the method – ovens vary.