Every single chef worth his or her salt will provide a recipe for perfect pastry. I have tried about 50 different recipes and methods, and whilst the ratio of flour and butter (one of the main variations in recipes) is open to personal preference, the tips that below for handling the pastry are really useful to ensure a good result. So do review before starting out.
A word about the percentage of fat. British recipes typically call for 50% fat to flour. This is an easy pastry to work with, although it lacks the richness and buttery mouth feel of French (pate brisée) and some American pastry recipes. At the bakery we used 70% butter, and Pierre Hermes (the doyen of French pastry) used 75% in his recipe. Short crust pastry can be made with just flour, butter and water. But I do like Herme’s addition of egg yolk, so I have provided 2 recipes, use whichever you prefer.
- First one with a lower percentage of butter and no egg;
- A second richer version with egg yolk and more butter.
Choice of fat – In my mother’s generation, shortening or lard used to be the fat of choice, as the pastry has a better structure. However, the flavour of butter is much better, and I don’t stock shortening at home, so I always use butter. Another option is to combine the butter with a little lard, (if you are non-vegetarian) and that acts like shortening in making for a flakier, crisp pastry.
Shortcrust pastry or Brisée
Quantity – Recipes often underestimate you how big a tart tin you can line with the pastry, and I hate waste, so I have honed the amounts and the following is a guide. You will need some maths to work out the amounts for different sizes!
I recommend 450g for a large 11” round tart tin and 270g for a smaller 9”round tart tin.
Option 1 - Pierre Herme inspired Brisee or rich shortcrust (enough to line one large 11” tart tin)
Option 2 - Standard short crust pastry (enough to line one large 11” tart tin)
Method for making both: Place the flour and salt (and sugar if using) in a food processor fitted with the steel blade or a large bowl. Cube the butter and add.
For the food processor, pulse the flour, until you have a mixture that resembles coarse breadcrumbs with no large lumps of butter remaining. If using hands, use your fingertips to rub the butter into the flour, until you have the same texture. Don’t let the mixture get greasy, so work quickly.
Pour the liquid ingredients in and pulse until the mixture just comes together. If using a bowl, stir to bind the dough together.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured counter and give it 3-4 quick rounds of kneading to bring it together. Scrape it together onto a cling film.
Wrap the dough in cling film and flatten into a disc. Chill for at least 30 minutes before using.
The dough can be frozen at this point. Just pop it into a zip lock bag and defrost in the fridge before using
Rolling the dough – Most recipes suggest using a floured counter to do so. I find it much easier to sandwich the pastry in cling wrap (I use the wrap that I stored the pasty in) or use baking sheets. This method avoids adding too much flour to the pastry.
Take out the pastry from the fridge about 15-30 min before using. It should still be quite hard. Give it a few bashes with a rolling pin to soften it a bit and then use 2 sheets of baking paper or cling wrap, to roll it evenly thin. If you can use a rolling pin without handles as these encourage you to press down at the ends, which leads to thin edges and a thick centre. Aim for an even thickness of 3-4mm, and ensure that the size is right to come up the sides of the tart tin.
I find it easiest to invert the pastry by lifting bottom sheet of wrap onto the tart tin, and gently easing the dough in. Never ever stretch the dough, it will shrink right back whilst baking and leave you with a very shallow base to fill. Pierce the bottom several times with a fork, and chill in the fridge for another 30 minutes or longer before baking or using. There will be some left over scraps. Keep those; you might need them later as you will see.
Several recipes call for the crust to be baked blind, i.e. without the filling to ensure the base is crisp and cooked through.
Preheat the oven to 180C / 160CFan. Place a sheet of baking paper (use the same one you used for rolling) or aluminium foil, over the dough and weigh it down beans. The beans need to fill the crust. The idea behind using these “weights” is to prevent any bubbles forming on the crust that would result in it baking unevenly. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes with the beans, remove the beans, and then bake until golden at the edges, another 15-20 minutes more.
Take out of the oven and check for any cracks. Use the left over tart dough to “patch up” the cracks, as the filling may leak out if you don’t. The crust will be warm, so the raw dough will meld easily into any cracks. Then brush the base and sides immediately with some beaten egg. This is the “waterproof” coating, and prevents a soggy bottom, especially when using liquid fillings. Return to the switched off oven for a 2-3 minutes for the egg to set. Remove from oven and use as needed.
If your kitchen is hot:
- Chill everything in the freezer – the flour, butter, milk/water, and egg. - Work quickly and avoid using your hands, as the fingers warm the dough. A food processor or a stand mixer is the best.
- Use the pastry direct from the fridge and work quickly to roll it out. This is the trickiest so if you have aircon in the kitchen use that! Else if the pastry starts softening too much and becomes unmanageable, place an ice tray or ice pack on top (separated by a cling wrap or baking paper). That will cool & harden the pastry down so you can continue working with it.
- Make the standard pastry dough, as the pastry easier to handle.
There are some excellent blogs on making pastry if you are keen to hone your skills further. http://www.ironwhisk.com/2013/07/perfect-shortcrust-pastry-pie-dough/