I have observed two types of cooks: those who like to wing it in the kitchen and the others who trust recipe books. As a general rule, the former seem to excel with cooking main meals, while the latter tend to specialize in desserts and, you guessed it, anything to do with pastry.
Pastry is the ultimate cook’s mind-game: A few standard ingredients (flour, butter, water, eggs…) which create infinite possibilities. The path to success with pastry though is a fairly strict set of rules and an emphasis on precision. Intuition and knowledge in equal parts.
While shortcrust pastry is probably the most common and versatile pastry out there, it’s actually with the much thinner (and trickier) filo pastry that the history of this essential element of baking seems to begin.
All throughout the Mediterranean, the paper-thin and multi-layered pastry was being used to make baklava and other impossibly sweet desserts. Filo pastry then made its way up to Northern Europe, brought back by the crusaders and most likely used to start making the classic strudel. It’s the French and Italian chefs of the renaissance that we can thank for perfecting the art of puff and choux pastries, which led to more recipes than one can care to count: brioche, eclairs, cream puffs, mille-feuilles…
In this guide, we’ll tell you about how to make all kinds of pastry from scratch, but while shortcrust pastry is always worth the trouble, no one will point the finger if you would rather buy puff pastry so we’ll talk about that too…
Making shortcrust pastry from scratch is always worth it! It is a simple pastry to make, especially in a food processor, hardly takes any time at all and is perfect for a whole range of sweet and savoury dishes: tarts, quiches or pies…
- Measure carefully: this applies to every type of pastry really. Getting the right ingredients and in the right quantities will ensure you get the right result for your troubles.
- Cool is best: try and keep your work environment nice and cool. If you can, work your pastry on a cool marble / granite board and keep your hands cool. If your pastry is too warm to roll out, then put it in the fridge for a few minutes and start again.
- Less is more: shortcrust pastry doesn’t like to be overmixed. If you mix it too much, it will get stiff and shrink when baking. The more relaxed you are with your pastry, the more relaxed it will be.
- Let it rest: Once you have mixed your pastry, it’s great to make a ball with it, wrap it in gladwrap and let it rest in the fridge for at least 1/2 hour. If you don’t have time to do that, roll it out and let it rest in the fridge while you get your fillings organized.
Savoury shortcrust recipe:
- 180g unsalted butter
- 240g plain flour
- A pinch of salt
- 1/4 cup water
Remove butter from refrigerator 30 minutes before making pastry. Sift flour and salt onto a marble pastry slab or workbench. Chop butter into medium pieces and toss lightly in flour. Lightly rub to combine partly. Make a well in centre and pour in water. Using a pastry scraper, work water into flour until you have a rough heap of buttery lumps of dough. Using the heel of your hand, quickly smear pastry away from you across the bench. Gather together, then press into a flat cake and dust with a little flour. Wrap pastry in plastic and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes. When required, roll out pastry, line tin and proceed as indicated in recipe.
If making in the food processor, start by mixing dry ingredients, then add butter until you get a crumbly texture. Add water last and stop mixing when the dough forms a ball.
Sweet shortcrust recipe (a foolproof recipe I learned when working with friend and amazing cook Rosa Jackson) :
- 175g plain flour
- 45g icing sugar
- A pinch of salt
- 90g cold butter
- 1 egg yolk
- 2tbsp cold water
Mix flour, sugar and salt in the food processor. Add butter chopped into small pieces and mix until you get a fine crumbly texture. While mixing, add egg yolk and water. Stop mixer as soon as the dough forms a ball. If it isn’t too hot in the kitchen, roll your pastry out and place into your lightly buttered pastry tin (preferably with a removable base). Try not to stretch the pastry when pushing it down into the tin. Trim the edges by rolling over the top with a rolling pin. Place the tin in the fridge to rest for about 1 hour. This pastry doesn’t usually need to be blind-baked. When putting it into the oven, rather than placing it on a rack, place it on one of the trays which will spread heat on the bottom of the tart tin.
Nothing quite compares to home-made puff pastry. Unfortunately, the light flaky buttery layers that just melt in the mouth require quite a lot of effort. However, I will share a simplified version if you feel inclined to give it a go. It’s pretty sensational.
- Cold is best: start with cold butter and icy water to keep the dough as cold as possible while you are working with it. Try and work quickly to avoid the butter melting into the flour.
- Go light on water: Puff pastry recipes tend not to use much water so resist the urge to add more than indicated, unless you feel it is absolutely necessary. The more water you add, the less it will rise.
- Use a pastry scraper: This simple metal tool will allow you to cut the butter into the flour to quickly achieve the right consistency.
- Let it rest: Resting your puff pastry will help mean you get a flakier pastry and a great buttery rise.
- Freeze it: Puff pastry freezes really well so make lots and keep it in the freezer for next time.
Rough puff pastry recipe (another one from Rosa Jackson, which she recommends to use with Tarte Tatin):
- 200g plain flour
- A pinch of salt
- 180g cold butter
- 5-6tbsp icy water
In a mixer: mix flour, salt and chopped butter until you get a rough crumbly texture. While mixing, slowly add water. When dough starts to form a ball, stop the mixer even if water isn’t completely combined yet. You can do the same thing by hand.
Work the dough for a few seconds to make it nice and smooth. Let it rest on the workbench, covered with a tea towel for about 30 minutes.
With a rolling pin, roll out the dough into a long and thin rectangle. Fold it over itself into thirds. Roll the dough out again and fold it into 3 again. Flour lightly and let it rest for 30 minutes.
Repeat these steps twice with 30 minutes rest in between. When you are done, let it rest for another 20 minutes before rolling it out to place into a tin.
In its sweet form, choux pastry is most recognized for the famous croquembouche, a constructed tower of cream filled ‘choux’ stuck together with caramel. Filled with ice cream and chocolate, the simple choux transforms into the decadent profiterole and piped into a long and skinny shape, it creates the classic eclair. As a savoury treat, the choux pastry is flavoured with cheese to become a ‘gougere’. The following recipe comes from Stephanie Alexander’s Cooks Companion and is a breeze to make in the food processor.
- Cut up the butter into small pieces before adding it the pan. This will ensure it melts quickly and evenly.
- Add the flour at once: Make sure the butter and water mixture is boiling rapidly before adding the flour. This will allow the starch cells in the flour to burst open and soak up even more water. Add all the flour at once so that the paste cooks evenly, beating the mix vigorously to avoid any lumps from forming.
- One at a time: To ensure the pastry is smooth and glossy, add the eggs one at a time and ensure each is well incorporated before adding the next. Don’t worry if it looks like the first egg won’t cooperate and has turned the paste into a lumpy dough – this is completely normal. Keep mixing and it will eventually transform.
- Don’t open the door: More than with any other pastry, it’s vital that you don’t open the oven door too soon or you could end up with flat pastry. This is because the pastry needs the high heat of the oven to stay consistent in order for the water to convert to steam and cause the pastry to puff up.
Choux pastry recipe
- 60g unsalted butter
- A pinch of salt
- 3/4 cup water
- 125g plain flour, sifted
- 3 eggs
Combine butter, salt and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Add flour all at once, stirring to combine and return to heat. Stir over a medium heat until mixture dries out and starts to come off the sides. Transfer to a food processor. Add eggs one at a time, incorporating each one well before adding the next.
Spoon heaped tablespoons onto paper lined baking tray, or pipe on lengths of dough. The uncooked shapes freeze perfectly.
To bake immediately, bake at 180℃ for about 40 minutes until golden on the outside and dry in the centre (you can remove the choux when they are nearly done, pierce the base with a knife and put them back in the oven for a few minutes. This will ensure they are dry on the inside). Cool on a wire rack. When cold, fill with filling of your choice.
To cook frozen dough, take the required amount straight from the freezer into the oven. Bake at 200℃ for the first 10 minutes and at 180℃ for the next 30 minutes.
Filo pastry, paper-thin and layered to make sweet and savoury dishes throughout the Middle-East, is best left to professionals to make but here are a few tips to use easily.
- Set yourself up: As filo dries out and cracks when it comes in contact with air, it’s important to have everything all made and ready to go before you take it out of the packet.
- Cover it up: When using the pastry, cover the stack at all times, first with a sheet of foil and then a slightly damp tea towel over the top to avoid the damp tea towel coming in direct contact with the pastry.
- Use one at a time: When using the pastry, work with one sheet at a time, brushing melted butter or oil between each layer to ensure a flaky final result.
Across the pond from France, the brits have been using lard to make biscuit-like pastry with lard. This pastry is great for more wintery type pies: rhubard, apple… (from Stephanie Alexander’s Cook’s Companion)
- 200g plain flour
- 200g self-raising flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 200g lard (at room temperature)
- 3/4 cup cold water
Sift flours and salt together, then rub in lard quickly. Make a well in the centre and work in the water. Knead for 2-3 minutes until you have a springy, elastic dough. Form into a ball and chill for 20 minutes before rolling out. You can cook directly without resting the pastry again. Lard pastry is never baked blind.
If you are an enthusiastic but time-poor cook and you would rather fake it, THE ESSENTIAL INGREDIENT stocks a range of high quality CAREME PASTRY. Carême Pastry is a family run business located in the Barossa Valley, South Australia. They specialise in making a range of handcrafted, high quality, ready-to-use pastry dough.
Their premium ready-to-bake pastry dough is made using traditional methods from the finest quality natural ingredients. Their products are genuinely handmade and are free from additives and preservatives. They use only high quality unsalted butter and flour from Laucke Milling in South Australia. All products come ready rolled. On the inside of every packet you will find instructions on how best to prepare and bake the pastry.
The range includes an All-Butter Puff Pastry, a Sour Cream Shortcrust Pastry, a Vanilla Bean Sweet Shortcrust Pastry and a Dark Chocolate Shortcrust Pastry.
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