Back to Basics with Shortcrust Pastry

Shortcrust pastry may be one of the first and basic cookery lessons we learn, but even though there are few ingredients in it, it can easily go wrong and you can end up with a frustrating pile of pastry in the bin! The key to good pastry is the balance – not too wet so it shrinks and becomes hard & tough then on the other hand not to have it too dry so it ends up falling apart. Once you have cracked it – you will make it again and again. The most common errors that go wrong are;
– Not using the right flour, which should be plain flour. Self-raising will make it tougher and harder.
– Not using cold butter or other fats. Cold butter, cold water & cold hands!
– Over handling/mixing/kneading the pastry which can stretch the gluten in the flour and make it tough and hard. It’s not bread dough!
– Adding too much water which ends in a sticky wet mess and then more flour is added to compensate. Too much water will make it shrink while cooking.
Pastry works best at cooler temperatures with the minimum amount of handling – especially if you have warm hands. For my shortcrust pastry I use just 3 ingredients and I use this for both sweet and savoury dishes. I use slightly more than half fat to flour so for 200g flour I use 125g butter. Here are some of my tips to make delicious homemade shortcrust pastry every time;

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• Use plain flour.
• Fat – I use salted butter, but you could use a mix of butter and lard. Whatever you use, use it straight out of the fridge, at its coldest.
• Use cold water to bring it all together.
• Don’t handle the fat too much with your hands as it will start to melt and you want to keep it cold and firm. Cut it into small chunks.
• If you have a food processor, use it to whizz up the flour and butter until the butter is broken up into the flour – about 10 to 15 seconds. If you don’t have a food processor, use your fingertips to lightly break the fat into the flour – don’t overdo it though!
• Continue using the food processor and pour in a little cold water at a time so the pastry starts coming together. Don’t add too much water – you want just enough for it to start coming away from the sides and start forming into one piece, but still be a bit crumbly. If you haven’t got a food processor use your hands or if you have warm hands use a knife to mix it to prevent the fat melting.
• Tip the mixture onto a work surface and gently use your hands to finish off bringing it all together. Don’t overwork it or be too rough with it! It should just come together into a smooth dough without being too dry and crumbly or too wet and sticky.
• Wrap the pastry in cling film and pop it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before using.
• Roll the pastry out on a lightly floured surface and flour the rolling pin – adding too much flour at this stage will incorporate more flour into the pastry which can make it go dry and tough.
• Only roll out the pastry once or twice – anymore than that will make it tough and cause it to shrink as it has been stretched too much.
That’s it! You could add a tablespoon of icing sugar to the flour mix to make it sweet pastry or grate in an orange or lemon zest for a twist. Add a few herbs as a twist for savoury pastry.

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