A really good homemade shortcrust pastry is the secret to a really fabulous pie or tart, and it really is easy to achieve. So stash the packet of frozen pastry, follow my tips and make your own.
1. Keep cool
Always keep everything as cool as possible – ingredients, utensils and hands. If you have warm hands (lucky you in this weather), you’ll need to put them under cold running water for a minute before rubbing in the butter. On warm days, before you roll your pastry, it’s a good idea to chill your benchtop – place a freezer bag filled with ice cubes on it and leave for a couple of minutes before wiping dry and lightly flouring the surface.
2. Don't get too involved
Handle the pastry as little as possible when mixing and rolling. Overworking the pastry will develop the gluten in the flour, which will make the pastry hard to roll. Overworked pastry is also more likely to shrink during cooking and to be tough once cooked.
3. Give your digits a workout
Use your fingertips when rubbing in the butter by hand. Don’t use the palms of your hands, as this this is the warmest part and will melt the butter. Also, keep the palms of your hands facing upwards as you lift the flour when rubbing in the butter, as this will help give the pastry a lighter texture.
4. Each batch is unique
Different batches of flour will absorb different amounts of liquid. You may need to add a little more water, or sometimes a little less, than the recipe states, as the quantity needed will vary slightly depending on the batch of flour and how absorbent it is.
5. Always rest the pastry
Place the pastry in the fridge, both before rolling and before baking to help any gluten that has developed during mixing relax, and to set the butter. This, in turn, will make the pastry easier to handle when rolling, less likely to shrink during baking, and lighter in texture (less tough). Remember, though, no amount of resting can fix dough that has been overworked.
6. Roll in one direction
Roll the pastry in one direction at a time, starting near the centre, to prevent it from being overstretched (which will cause it to shrink considerably when baked). Also, turn the pastry a quarter turn after every roll so that it is rolled evenly and doesn’t stick to the benchtop.
7. No grease needed
There is no need to grease your tin before baking. The high butter content in the pastry will stop your tart or pie from sticking.
8. Blind bake to prevent soggy pastry
Wet fillings will stop pastry from cooking through and becoming crisp. Partially or fully blind bake your pastry case (depending on the recipe) before adding any type of wet filling.
9. Add some weight
Use pastry weights, dried beans or uncooked rice grains when blind baking. The weight of any of these will help to stop the pastry base from lifting away from the base of the tin, stop the sides from shrinking and give the case an even shape.
10. Practice makes perfect!
The more you do it, the more you’ll get a feel for the texture and consistency of good pastry. So keep on rolling.
Shortcrust pastry recipes
3. Lemon tarts
Anneka's mission is to connect home cooks with the magic of baking, and through this, with those they love. Read our interview with her or for hands-on baking classes and baking tips, visit her at BakeClub. Don't miss what's coming out of her oven via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.
Photography by Alan Benson. Styling by Trish Heagarty. Food preparation by Wendy Quisumbing.
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