How to cook with pastry
From hearty shortcrust to crispy filo and buttery puff, pastry is a kitchen essential and a sound foundation for countless baking recipes. We show you how to make your own and put it to use in delicious sweet and savoury dishes.
Versatility, a buttery flavour and pure indulgence are three things we look for in an ingredient, so it stands to reason that pastry is a big favourite of ours. Its simplicity makes it a blank page to be filled with all manner of tastiness, and while rolls of pastry from the chiller cabinet are a thrifty buy, making your own is even more cost-effective. Moreover, the simple ratio of butter and flour can be tweaked to create different styles of pastry. Follow our user guide, have a go at making your own and try out a new recipe idea.
Six types of pastry to try...
1. Shortcrust pastry
Ideal for wintery pies, savoury quiche and open tarts, shortcrust is the most simple pastry to make yourself. If you own a food processor it's even easier to achieve, and you’ll save pennies too. As with all pastry, it’s important to use super-cold butter directly from the fridge, and avoid handling the mix too much as you’ll melt the butter and risk spoiling the end result.
It’s also easy to adapt - add sugar at the start if you’re making a dessert recipe, or try using citrus peel, vanilla or cheese. Semolina can also be added to achieve a rustic crunch. Use egg yolk to enrich the flavour, and be delicate when adding the liquid binding agent – the less liquid used, the more crumbly, buttery and ‘short’ the pastry will be. If you’re concerned by the calorific potency of shortcrust, try rolling it really thinly and blind baking until patisserie-crisp.
Shortcrust pastry recipes...
2. Filo pastry
Paper-thin Greek filo pastry is perilously fine and requires a delicate touch. It comes in rolls or folds and is a tricky pastry to make at home.
When working with filo, the golden rule is to keep it hydrated with a damp tea towel to stop it becoming dry and brittle. Use the sheets one by one to build up layers and brush a thin sheen of butter or olive oil over each layer. Use the filo to top a pie, or in wrap form – we like triangular Indian samosas and Greek spanakopita-style parcels. Seal carefully and don’t forget to coat every part of the pastry with butter before baking.
Filo pastry recipes...
3. Puff pastry
For all the time spent folding, patting, rolling and chilling, you may prefer to plump for a packet of supermarket puff pastry. All-butter versions are rich, tasty and can last almost a week, with frozen versions having even more longevity, making it a wise item to keep in the cupboard.
If you're dedicated and patient enough to make your own puff pastry, make sure you check out this video guide before starting - it’s a time-consuming, butter-heavy process. Or meet somewhere in the middle – rough puff pastry is a little less maintenance.
Puff pastry recipes...
4. Choux pastry
Chewy choux pastry starts life as a kind of paste, before eggs are used to create an enriched smooth, golden mix that’s then piped into rounds or fingers. Used extensively in French patisserie cooking, it’s actually relatively easy to make at home. And who can resist a profiterole?
Choux pastry recipes...
Salted caramel popcorn crumble choux buns
Raspberry, white chocolate & pistachio profiteroles
Mini Paris-Brest with white chocolate
Strawberry gâteau St Honoré
Fruit-filled choux buns with caramel sauce
5. Danish pastry
This light and airy pastry – known as ‘wienerbrød’ in its native Denmark - is yeasted, hence its billowy stature. The texture is layered and buttery, similar to puff, but it has a more robust, dough-like texture. Once you have the pastry made, experiment with fruity fillings, such as traditional raisins in a swirl pattern, nuts, jam, custard or even savoury goodies. Caraway and cardamom can also be added to the pastry for an extra authentic flavour.
Danish pastry recipes...
6. Hot water pastry
Traditional pork pies are encased in a very unique ‘hot water crust’. Lard is used in place of butter – it’s melted in water and brought to the boil, before being stirred into flour and worked into a pliable ball. Traditionally, the pastry is ‘hand raised’ from the bottom of a pie tin to the top, with a delicious mix of pork shoulder, belly and bacon within.
Hot water crust pastry recipes...
Four pastry skills to master…
1. Rubbing in butter and flour
Unless you’re lucky enough to own a food processor, combining butter and flour to a fine crumb requires a swift and deft touch – too much handling and the fridge-cold butter will melt. The trick is to use the very tips of your fingers to gently handle the mix.
Whichever kind of pastry you use, you’ll need to roll it out evenly. Firstly, ensure your surface is adequately floured, then use your rolling pin to press it out. Then roll, before flipping it over your rolling pin. If you feel the pastry getting a little too hot at any point, pop it into the fridge to firm up again. Another good tip is to use a little ball of pastry to nudge the main sheet into the nooks of the tin.
3. Blind baking
Achieve a crispy pastry base by blind baking it before pouring in the filling. Neatly arrange the pastry in the pan, then prick the base with a fork to stop any air bubbles forming. Stop the pastry from rising during baking by adding baking beans or dried pulses, like chickpeas, before trimming off any excess pastry and filling with a sweet or savoury mix.
Finish your pie in fine fashion with a simple design around the edge. The most simple technique involves using a fork to make a ridged pattern, or exercise more flair by using your finger to create a scallop or wavy edge, or go all out by making a graphic folded edge.
Three sure-fire ways to a perfect finish
Whichever kind of pastry you’re using or dish you’re making, brushing butter, whisked egg or cream on top of the uncooked pastry will leave you with a lovely glossy finish. Double-glazing a pie – once before cooking and once again as it comes out of the oven – might seem keen, but it will add real razzle dazzle to your dinner table.
Add a sprinkle of sesame seeds after egg washing your pastry – this works with little parcels and triangles, larger tortes and traditional pies alike. Coarse black pepper and dried herbs also work as toppings.
Once you’ve trimmed and defined your pastry into the desired shape, you’re likely to have some leftover scraps. Roll them out thinly and cut into shapes– leaves, hearts and initials look particularly charming. Don’t apply them too heavily though – the lid underneath needs to cook too!
Explore all of our pastry recipes and share your own ideas with us too...