How to master pastry
BBC Good Food’s Miriam Nice shares her favourite tips and tricks to guide you through making your own shortcrust pastry.
Make your own pastry
Key points to remember
- Memorise the rule ‘half fat to flour’ and you’ll always have a pastry recipe in your head – so for 200g flour, use 100g butter
- Whether you’re using butter, lard or dairy-free spread, it should be chilled
- Don’t add too much water – try 1 tbsp at a time
- Try to knead the dough as little as possible – think pushing it together rather than kneading
- Chill the pastry before you bake it
Easy shortcrust pastry recipe
Makes enough for a round 24-25cm pastry case
- Chill 100g butter.
- Put 200g plain flour in a large bowl. Cube the chilled butter and rub into the flour.
- Stir in 2 tbsp cold water. Press the mixture together into one lump – like you’re making a sandcastle without a bucket.
- Roll the dough out on a floured surface so it’s 4-5cm wider than your tin.
- Drape the pastry over your rolling pin and lift it into the tin, leaving the excess hanging over the edge. Press the pastry into the edges with your fingertips.
- Chill for 30 mins.
- Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. Line the pastry with baking parchment and fill with baking beans. Blind bake the pastry case for 15 mins.
- Remove the baking beans and paper and bake for 5-8 mins more, or until golden.
- Trim the excess pastry and fill the case with your chosen filling.
FAQs when making pastry for the first time
How cold is cold butter?
Chill the butter in the fridge for 30mins or in the freezer for 15mins.
How do you rub flour and butter?
Coat the chunks of butter in flour and then squish them with your fingertips to break them into smaller chunks. This is called rubbing. Repeat this action of breaking and coating the butter in flour until the pieces are so small it looks like a bowl of breadcrumbs or crushed shortbread biscuits.
Baking beans explained
If you've got baking beans, brilliant. They're little clay blobs that weigh down the baking parchment during the first stage of baking and stop the pastry puffing up and becoming misshapen. But if you're new to this pastry lark, you may not have any. Don't let that hold you back – 175g of short-grain rice will do the same job. After baking, either keep the rice for next time in a labelled jar or use it up in this burnt butterscotch rice pudding.
Checklist for rolling out pastry
- Sprinkle your work surface and rolling pin with flour
- Turn the pastry 90 degrees every few rolls so that it stays in a rough circle
- Don’t worry if it breaks when you transfer it to the tin. Just put what you can into the tin and patch the pieces together like a jigsaw, pushing the pieces together with your fingertips
I think the term 'blind baking' sounds misleadingly difficult – almost like you've got to bake it while blindfolded and guess when it's ready just by sound or smell. This is obviously not true and incredibly dangerous. To blind bake, simply scrunch up a piece of baking parchment, then smooth it out and place it into the tin on top of the uncooked pastry. Top with an even layer of ceramic baking beans or 175g short-grain rice. The beans/rice weigh the pastry down so it stays flat, and the paper means they can be lifted out easily.
What should I fill the pastry case with?
A layer of whipped cream or crème pâtissière topped with sliced fruit is pretty classic. Alternatively, chop 100g dark chocolate and 100g milk chocolate and put in a bowl. Heat 75ml double cream with 150g full-fat cream cheese in a pan until simmering, then pour it over the chopped chocolate. Leave to stand for 1-2 mins then stir until smooth. Pour into your pastry case and top with fresh raspberries, if you like.
Lots of commercially made pastry is vegan – just check the packaging if you’re not sure. But if you want to make your own, you'll need a vegan alternative to butter. Vegan margarine-style products do exist but aren’t in all stores, so if you want or need to make your own, here’s how I do it.
Makes approx. 250g
Whisk 175g coconut oil with electric beaters until smooth and light. Add 50ml oat milk, a bit at a time, whisking after each addition. Now whisk in 2 tbsp sunflower oil and ½ tsp sea salt. Dollop onto baking parchment, roll up into a log shape and pop in the freezer to chill quickly. It'll be ready to use in about 15 mins for making pastry.
Don’t waste the off-cuts
Mix 1 tsp crumbled baked shortcrust pastry pieces together with 1 tsp grated cheddar cheese and pile into a little 4cm mound on a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Repeat with however much pastry you have – you should be able to get up to six on a tray, leaving plenty of space around each one. Bake at 200C/180C fan/gas 6 for 10-12 mins or until the cheese has melted and become lacy. Leave to cool completely before lifting off the paper. This makes a great pre-dinner snack.
How to crimp
Crimping is the snazzy wiggly edge that makes a pie look extra super – not only that, it also ensures the filling is kept snug inside. There are a few ways to do this but the classic one goes as follows: Imagine the top of your pie is a clock face. Put your index finger at 3 if you're left-handed or 9 if you're right-handed, pointing outwards. With your other index finger and thumb, pinch the pastry around the finger already on the pie. Move your pinching hand along so the index finger sits where the thumb was and repeat all the way around, rotating the tin if that's easier, until you have a neat wavy zig-zag edge. Go over your work again for a more defined finish.
Watch our video on how to crimp a pie:
Patch it up
If the pastry tears, use your fingers to push the pieces back together (it will fuse back together neatly in the oven).
Use a food processor
If you have one, making your pastry in a food processor is a very good idea, especially if you’re making enough for more than one recipe. You just pulse the flour and butter until it becomes crumb-like, add a little water and pulse again just until it starts to come together. Job done – and much less chance of the pastry heating up or becoming overworked and tough.
Watch our video on how to make shortcrust pastry:
Don’t confine all the flavour to the filling – there’s no reason the pastry has to be just a bland vehicle for what’s inside. Just remember to avoid altering the liquid/fat ratio. These additions all work a treat:
- seeds from 1 vanilla pod
- 2 tbsp cocoa powder or crushed nuts such as hazelnuts (just take out 2 tbsp flour before you start)
- zest of ½ an orange or lemon
- 1 tsp dried herbs like rosemary or oregano
Square the circle
If you don’t own cookie cutters, don’t panic. To line a bun or muffin tin for little tarts or pies, you can cut the pastry into squares. Not only is it easier, it also cuts down on waste. Just line the tin or tray with squares of pastry, put the filling in the middle and fold the overhanging corners inward to form a lid.
Watch our video on how to make the easiest ever mince pies:
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