Homemade Pastry – kids, have you forgotten how good it tastes?
A quick and simple guide to making pastry.
Pastry is the first grown up thing I can remember making. The delight of rubbing the cold hard lumps of fat into the flour to create a light, crumbly sand texture, with mum, sits with me still. Why make your own I can hear you groan, because kids, it has a certain crumbly deliciousness that is hard to replicate in bulk. Eaters always ask oooh yummy did you make this pastry, I rest my case. I make mine in the food processor now, it lacks the romance of making by hand, but I am time poor. Processor pastry tastes almost as good as mum’s buttery crisp crusts and is cheaper and tastier than the bought, so I am happy to pass this method on, in case you have forgotten my early teachings, and want to show your own children, just once, please!
Basically, the recipe for shortcrust pastry is half fat to flour, stuck together with a little water. Ta-dah. There are many variations, Shortcrust (pie), sweet crust (tarts), choux, brioche, croissant, danish, puff, strudel and filo, and many, many recipes to discover, I love them all, everything is better wrapped in pastry, but back to basics, shortcrust.
If you make sure the fat, your hands and any surfaces or equipment used for rolling are cool and remember that too much water makes your pastry shrink, you will not go wrong.
I love pastry and am about to go on a bit so skip straight to the METHOD below if you want.
Plain white flour is probably the best for shortcrust pastry, self-raising will make it cakier, in my opinion, but I know many who use it. Wholemeal flour can sometimes make the pastry harder when eating and a little stiffer to work with; a mix of wholemeal and white self-raising at about 50/ 50 is the way I go, but it really is up to you.
Fat can be all block margarine, all butter which I use, all lard (good for pasties etc), half lard and half butter (like mums’) or half lard and half block margarine but never soft margarine it is not suitable. The fat ratio can move up, the more fat the more lip sticking crumbly, or short, your pastry will be, or down. Basically, the pastry is not that fussy, it just likes to be cool and rested, like my menopausal self. Each combination will give you a different taste and texture, there are technical reasons why, which I will skip, just give it a go with what you have in stock.
If making by hand, you must rub small cubes of butter or lard into the flour using your fingertips, being as light and gentle as possible. As you are doing this lift your hands up over the bowl letting the mixture fall back down to catch as much air as possible, a perfect excuse to pause your life for a bit. Good to do with your children too, currents make wonderful eyes for your pastry creatures.
Baking blind is also something that feels frustratingly unnecessary but worth it if you do not want to coin a phrase ‘a soggy bottom’, and is used mainly when the filling does not need much cooking. You do not have to use speciality baking weights, I use dried rice, lentils, chickpeas, whatever is to hand, the weight will stop the pastry from rising and the paper from overcooking, it is worth the extra effort and can be cooked ahead of time waiting patiently for its’ filling.
As a guide pastry made with 120g of flour and 60g of unsalted butter will yield enough pastry for a 22cm tart tin. 190g flour 80g butter will cover a 30inch tin. I use 220g of flour to 100g of unsalted butter for most things as I like to muck around with lattice tops and double crusts. I still sometimes have bits left over for decoration or feeding the birds who love it. Alas so do rats.
SHORTCRUST PASTRY (needs to rest of 30min)
- 220g plain white flour
- 100g cold unsalted butter cubed
- Pinch of salt
- 3 tbsp cold water
Sift the flour and a pinch of salt into the food processor and add the butter. Run the machine until the mix is like sand maybe 30 seconds. Add the ice-cold water through the funnel one tablespoon at a time, as the machine is running, you will have to judge how much to use, it depends on the flour, so anything between two and a half to three tablespoons works for me, you might need a little more, but remember the more water you use the more your pastry will shrink. Stop the machine as soon as the mixture has collided into a ball.
Sieve the flour and salt into a roomy bowl. Add the butter. Rub the fat into the flour with your fingertips, sort of lifting it high and letting the crumbs fall like rain into the bowl before starting again. This will get air into the mixture. When the fat is evenly distributed and it looks like sand you are done. Do not over mix. Add the cold water one tablespoon at a time, sprinkle this over the mixture and cut in with a round-bladed knife to start with, you will have to finish off with your hands to bring it together into a ball. Do not overwork.
However the pastry is made, wrap it in Clingfilm and put in the fridge for about half an hour. Doing this will make rolling out easy and will also stop the pastry from shrinking, a pain I know but you must do this. I am not sure if you are supposed to but I have left mine in the fridge for a couple of days and it has been absolutely fine. You will need to take it out and leave on the side for half an hour though if you do this. This pastry dough freezes well too for up to three months but you must let it defrost naturally.
When you are ready to use your pastry throw some flour onto your rolling surface, the rolling pin and dust your hands too. When you first put the pastry on the surface it is a good idea to shape it roughly, circle or oblong. When rolling out, turn the pastry a quarter turn after each couple of rolls, keep everything dusted with flour to keep from sticking and use short, sharp rolls of the pin. Keep the dish or tin close so you can work to a size. To lift the finished sheet simply roll onto your pin and unroll onto the flan dish or pie top or whatever. Do not stretch and if you have the luxury of time leave it to rest in the dish especially if making tarts.
SWEET CRUST PASTRY (needs to rest for 30min)
- 220g plain white flour
- 85g softened unsalted butter
- 50g icing sugar
- 1 egg yolk
Using a large bowl and wooden spoon and plenty of elbow grease or a stand mixer and k beater, cream the butter until soft. Sift the icing sugar into the butter and beat until pale and fluffy. Add the egg yolk (slowly at first if in a mixer) until combined when you can shoot the flour in all at once. Mix until the flour has been incorporated. You can now gather the pastry into a ball, using scant flour to prevent sticking, wrap in Clingfilm and rest in the fridge for 30mins. Again, this pastry dough freezes well too for up to three months but you must let it defrost naturally.
If you do not think it is worth the effort making pastry when you can buy it fair enough, but cheese pastry is another matter. The little effort is worth it. You’ll see.
BEST CHEESE PASTRY
- 100g cold butter cubed
- 100g grated tasty cheese, the best you can afford
- 1 cup flour
- ½ teaspoon of salt
Put all the ingredients into the food processor and run until the mix forms clumps around the blade, no water needed here, gather into a ball and sprinkle with flour. This rich pastry freezes well raw and can be used to make cheese straws, flan bases- spectacular with just a tomato and mustard topping. You can wrap it around olives, cocktail onions, my favorite mozzarella, sundried tomatoes, feta, caperberries…whatever you can think of, as long as the filling is dry. To do this pull away a small ball from the main piece, roll it slightly to a uniform shape, poke your finger into the middle, insert the filling and close, molding to make sure there are no gaps or pockets of air. Put the stuffed pastry onto a baking tray and freeze for half an hour. Bake off in a preheated oven at 180 c for about 15 to 20 mins, turning once so they don’t burn and keep their shape. Serve still warm as nibbles.
You can also make a cheese pastry with
- 240g plain flour
- ½ tsp salt
- 60g of cold unsalted butter cubed
- 30g of vegetable shortening or lard
- 60g of grated tasty cheese
- 2-3 tbsp cold water
This pastry is not as rich but is fabulous for turnovers. Make as for shortcrust but stir or mix in cheese before the water is added.
To make the turnovers, roll the pastry out, cut round a saucer to make disks, the above will make 8, place cold filling on one side of the round, brush edges with water and fold over in half. Press the edges lightly with a fork to seal them. Place the little parcels on a lined baking sheet, egg wash and sprinkle with sesame, fennel, cumin seeds if you like, and cook in a preheated oven at 200 c for about 20 mins. Serve warm for lunch with a salad, as supper, cold in lunch boxes………Make smaller ones for nibbles.
I have made individual turnovers filled with pretty much everything from spicy pork mince, left over spag bol, spinach and ricotta, potato and sour cream to apple and blackberry – yes it works-. Just go for it as long as the filling is pre-cooked, is not sloppy or hot. USE YOUR LEFTOVERS. I will stop now, as I can feel a long list of tart fillings queuing to be heard.
Everything is better wrapped in pastry.