….tales of taste and food wisdom, for modern times

Making really good shortcrust pastry? Simples! November 1, 2011

Filed under: Techniques — Isabel @ 10:49 pm
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“What – make pastry from scratch?” you exclaim. “Why bother? Life’s too short – buy it from the supermarket!” you cry.

Well, sure you can.  But, given a little practice and confidence, the quality of the stuff from the supermarket cold cabinet won’t hold a candle to what you’ll produce in your own kitchen.  Home made’s also cheaper and pastry dough freezes well – so if you get yourself organised, you can knock up several batches for later.

Tips for really good basic shortcrust:

  • Pastry hates heat – make sure all your ingredients and your hands are COLD!
  • Pastry loves air –  it’s important to aerate the flour as you make the dough
  • If you have a food processor it’s easy peasy – basically, just “dump & blitz”
  • Or by hand, keep your hands cold and high and you’ll have no problem
  • The ratio of fat to flour is usually 2:1 (i.e. twice as much flour as fat)
  • Shipton Mill Organic Cake flour is really good for pastry
  • President Unsalted Butter has a low water content so makes great pastry
  • Using all butter produces the best flavour
  • Adding a proportion of vegetable shortening/lard produces a crumblier crust.  You could use all butter for a sweet crust and mix of butter and shortening for a savoury crust
  • Never, ever, ever use margarine.
  • Wetter’s not better! For a tender, crumbly pastry use only enough liquid  to bring the dough together. Sticky dough = heavy pastry
  • Gently does it.  Pastry dough isn’t bread dough – don’t knead it
  • You don’t have to use an egg but, especially for sweet pastry,  it enriches the dough
  • For savoury pastry, adding fine grade semolina to the flour gives a lovely extra “crunch”
  • Pastry needs to rest in the fridge*, so the gluten can relax before rolling it out, or it will shrink back in the oven


* If you’re making a tart case to bake blind,  resting your dough-lined tart tin in the freezer for 30 mins before you bake it blind helps prevent shrinking (see Technique: Lining a tart tin and baking blind)


Depends on what you’re making of course,  but the quantities below should give you enough for:

  • Top and bottom of one 23cm pie
  • Two 23cm tart tins or 6x 12cm individual tart tins

Savoury Crust:

  • 300g plain flour
  • 30g fine semolina
  • 130g cold butter + 20g vegetable shortening (or lard)
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp ice cold water
Sweet Crust:
  • 300g plain flour
  • 150g cold unsalted butter
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 20g unrefined caster sugar
  • I medium egg
  • 1-2 tbsp ice cold water
Hand method
  1. Sift the flour (+semolina) and salt (+sugar) together into a large mixing bowl.  Cut the cold butter into 1cm dice and add to the flour.
  2. With cold hands (or a pastry cutter), rub (cut)  the butter quickly into the flour, lifting the flour high to aerate the mix.  Stop when you have coarse breadcrumbs.
  3. Sprinkle 3 tbsp of the iced water (or whisk the egg with 1 tbsp of the iced water)over the crumbs, mixing everything quickly but lightly, with the fingers of one hand (or a palette knife) until the mixture starts to come together in clumps.
Food processor method
  1. Put the flour (+semolina) and salt (+sugar) into the bowl of the processor and blitz for a few seconds to aerate.
  2. Cut the cold butter into 1.5 cm dice and add to the bowl. Pulse very briefly and stop when you have very coarse breadcrumbs.
  3. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of the the iced water (or whisk the egg with 1 tbsp of the iced water)  over the crumbs. Pulse until the mixture starts to come together in clumps.
Either method
  • Which ever method you use add more water cautiously, if you need to.
  • Making sure your hands are cold, tip the dough onto your work surface and squeeze it gently together until it comes into  ball.  Shape it gently into a flatish round about 3cms high, wrap it in cling film and leave it in the fridge for at least 45 mins to relax before rolling out.


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