Pastry-Making Basics

New to pastry-making? It’s easy to be bewildered by the different types of pastry out there: puff and Danish, short and wholewheat, choux pastry and hot water pastry, Pâte Brisée and Pâte Sablée – and those are just the beginning! To keep it simple, we’ll focus on making shortcrust pastry here. We will be adding articles on pastry all year, so keep checking back. Here’s a quick run-down of the most popular types of pastry used in baking.

Puff Pastry:

Rich, buttery pastry that rises in characteristic layers. They’re made by rolling the pastry out thinly and then folding it like a letter, rolling again and folding, and so on. It’s used for sausage rolls and some pies, galettes, and free-form tarts.

Choux Pastry:

Another pastry with a bad reputation – but it’s actually quite easy to use (see our recipe for éclairs!). Choux pastry is made with hot water and melted butter that’s poured onto eggs and flour, then piped into shapes for a puffy, airy finish. It has specialist uses including gougeres, profiteroles, and Eclairs.

Hot Water Pastry:

Like Choux, this pastry is made by adding hot water and fat to flour and salt. Unlike Choux pastry, this pastry tends to be harder and firmer – that’s why it’s used for pork pies!

Pate Brisee:

This is simply the French term for Sweet Shortcrust Pastry, which is widely used in America. It is used for all kinds of things, from savoury straws to tarte tatin, pies and handheld pasties.

Pate Sablee:

This pastry is a French speciality; it’s a very rich and sweet form of ordinary sweet shortcrust (usually with extra egg yolk and icing sugar for a sweet, crumbly texture). It’s used in fruit tarts like the ubiquitous strawberry tartlets in French patissieres.

Tips For Making Perfect Shortcrust Pastry

Don’t be afraid to try making your own pastry – it’s a skill that needs a little practice. Here are our top tips.

  • Cold kitchen, cold hands, cold bowls… The most important thing to remember is that pastry likes to stay cool. If it warms up, the butter starts to melt and it won’t stay in lumps, which provide those nice pockets of air for crumbliness. Try opening your kitchen window, if it’s cold out – your hands will get cold quickly, which gives your pastry a good start! It’s a sacrifice but give it a try. You’ll soon warm them up again on a radiator when you’ve finished.
  • Cold butter… Following on, it also helps to keep your ingredients cold. So weigh out your butter, lard, or vegetable shortening before you’re ready to start the recipe. Cut it into pieces, put it into a bowl, and pop it in the freezer for 20 minutes.
  • Want crumbly pastry? Of course you do. Although butter gives pastry the best taste, you can substitute half of it for shortening, such as vegetable shortening, or lard. Both these improve the pastry’s ‘shortness’ (or crumbliness) – but they don’t taste of much, so they’re best used in combination with butter. You can swap in shortening using any shortcrust recipe.
  • Rubbing or Processing… You’ve weighed the ingredients. Now you need to rub the butter (or lard or shortening) into the flour. If your hands are cool, use your fingertips to do it – but not too much. You don’t want sand; you want a porridge texture, with some good-sized lumps of butter. Processing means your ingredients will stay a little cooler, but it’s easy to over-process, so keep a close eye on the bowl.
  • Skimp on the liquid. Even if the recipe says ½ cup, stop pouring the second your mixture just starts to come together. With practice you’ll recognise this stage in pastry-making – there will be plenty of scraps and dry bits, but you can pull them in with your fingers. You want to use as LITTLE liquid as possible. Too much liquid will give you a rock-hard crust.
  • Now don’t touch it too much! Once you’ve added your cold liquid, gently pull in the dry scraps and pat the dough into a round, wrap in clingfilm, and refrigerate. Overworking the dough activates the gluten in flour, which makes the dough heavy.
  • After the final relaxing in the fridge, put the crust directly into a preheated oven. Good luck!

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