Shortcrust pastries

Shortcrust pastries

Leiths School of Food and Wine
14 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
Peter Cassidy

Shortcrust pastries have a tender crumbliness and are used in sweet and savoury recipes. The most important stage of the process is rubbing the fat into the flour properly. The fat acts as a waterproof coating around the flour grains, thus preventing them from absorbing too much liquid. In turn, this helps to stop the gluten in the flour developing, which would make the pastry tough. Once the butter is rubbed in, sufficient liquid is added to bring the pastry together, but not too much or it will toughen the pastry.

Making a short pastry always involves a compromise between a tender, crumbly pastry and a pastry that contains more liquid and is easy to work with. A crumbly pastry may tear when you try to line a tin, but you can easily push torn pieces together and repair holes with pieces of uncooked pastry, patchwork style. The result should still be deliciously tender.

A note on making short pastries by machine...

Food processors and food mixers (of the Magimix/Kenwood/ KitchenAid type) are very effective for the rubbing-in stage of pastry making. Add the flour, pieces of cold fat and any salt and flavourings, and process by pulsing the food processor or using a low speed on the mixer with the ‘K’ beater until the butter and flour have reached a ‘breadcrumb’ stage. Stop mixing before the dough clumps together or you won’t be able to add enough liquid into the dough to hold it together when rolling it out and once it is cooked it will crumble. We would recommend you then remove the crumby mixture from the machine and add any sugar and the liquid by hand, according to the recipe; it is very easy to make the mistake of adding too much liquid or overworking the dough when you continue adding the liquid by machine.

Rolling out pastry

First, make sure the pastry is the right consistency to roll. It needs to be pliable but also firm enough not to ‘squidge’ down as soon as the rolling pin is pressed onto it. If the pastry is too soft it will stick to the rolling pin and the work surface, so chill it sufficiently first. Pastry that has been in the fridge too long will be solid and it will crack when you try to roll it, so leave it out of the fridge until it has started to soften.

Marble is the perfect surface for rolling pastry, as it stays cool and is completely smooth. Stainless steel or smooth plastic surfaces are usually better than wood, with its textured surface.

It is often a good idea to ‘ridge’ the pastry before starting to roll it out. This helps to start flattening a cold pastry without tearing, and it keeps an even thickness. It also helps to preserve any layers in the dough.

Lightly flour the work surface and the rolling pin. It is better not to flour the pastry itself as it is easy to press too much flour into the dough and end up with a grey, dry crust. Move the pastry around slightly on the work surface between every few rollings to ensure it is not stuck, and use a palette knife to slide underneath and release the pastry if it sticks a little. Sprinkle a little more flour on the work surface if it has stuck.

Pastry often has to be rolled into a circle. Only roll straight, forwards and backwards away from and towards your body. Move the pastry circle round after a few rolls, 45° or so, always moving the pastry and not changing the direction of your rolling pin. This will mean the pastry is rolled evenly from all angles and not stretched one way and then the other, and therefore will set evenly without shrinking back in every direction when it bakes. Also by constantly moving the pastry, you are ensuring that it has not stuck to the work surface.

Don’t turn the pastry over when rolling; just roll one side. The side that has been in contact with the rolling pin is the ‘best’ rolled side so can be used as the presentation side.

A good rolling pin is one that is long enough to accommodate the pastry width as well as your hands either side. At Leiths we prefer to use a straight rolling pin without handles to ensure even pressure.

Pastry can also be rolled out between two sheets of cling film or silicone paper or baking parchment, which can then be peeled off before use. This is particularly useful when pastry is crumbly and prone to falling apart when being rolled out.

First ‘ridge’ the pastry disc: hold the rolling pin in both hands loosely and tap it lightly over the entire surface of the pastry a few times. Turn the pastry 45° and ridge again. Repeat until the circle has at least doubled in size. Don’t turn the pastry over; it is unnecessary and can result in overworking.

Once the circle has at least doubled in size, start to roll it. Use 3 short, sharp strokes of the rolling pin, rather than one long roll. Turn the pastry 45° after every few rolls.

Once the pastry is rolled to the required thickness (usually about 3mm), the pastry should be an even thickness and circular in shape with no excessive cracking at the edges.

A note on ridging…

Ridging is much gentler on the pastry than rolling, so continue to ridge as long as possible before starting to roll. If the pastry starts to crack a little at the edges, stop ridging and seal the crack with your fingertips.

A note on rolling…

Use a loose grip on the rolling pin and avoid applying too much pressure when the rolling pin comes into contact with the pastry; you just need a light pressure to encourage the pastry gently to expand, not stretch. Also be aware that your dominant hand may push down a little more firmly than your other hand; even pressure is important for the end result.

Lining a flan tin or ring

We recommend using a loose-based metal flan tin or flan ring (without a base) for any pastry case that needs to be removed from the tin before serving. It is possible to use a solid metal tin, but it can be tricky to remove more delicate pastry cases; crossing 2 long strips of foil on the base of the tin makes it easier to lift the pastry case out.

Try to fit the pastry into the flan tin without stretching it. Pastry can be quite elastic, so if you pull it in one direction when lining the tin it is likely to pull back in the other direction while it cooks, resulting in an unexpected final shape! Also make sure the pastry goes right into the corners of the tin or it will fall into them as it bakes, again giving a very uneven edge.

Roll the pastry to a circle large enough to line the bottom and sides of the flan tin or ring. You can work out the diameter of pastry needed by measuring the tin or ring from side to side with a piece of string and checking this against the rolled out pastry. However, with practice it is easy to measure by eye.

Carefully wrap the pastry once over the rolling pin to support it and place it over the flan tin or ring set on a baking sheet, with the side of the pastry that was uppermost when rolling now against the baking sheet.

Gently lift the overhanging pastry up a little, encouraging the pastry inside the tin or ring to fit snugly, right down to the corners. Now start to lift the edges of the pastry out and over the edge of the tin or ring.

Tear a small piece of pastry from the excess and use it to push the pastry well into the corners. (You could use the side of your knuckle instead.) Ensure the pastry is smoothed up the sides of the flan tin or ring and folded over the edge.

Using a rolling pin and starting from the middle of the flan tin or ring, roll away from you and cut through the pastry, removing the excess. Turn the baking sheet around and repeat. Wrap any leftover pastry and trimmings in cling film and chill.

Working your way around the edge with your thumbnail, release the pastry a little from the flan tin or ring, then neaten and smooth the top rim of pastry. Cover the pastry closely with cling film and chill until ready to use.

A note on lining…

Avoid stretching and pulling the pastry as you line the flan tin or ring. Note that it is important to get the pastry well into the corners, or it will fall into them as it bakes and cause uneven shrinkage around the top edge.

Baking pastry blind

A pastry case often needs longer to bake than the filling inside, so to make sure both are perfectly cooked, the pastry is baked (i.e. blind baked), so that it is dry and set before the filling is added.

The pastry is first covered with greaseproof paper and baking beans which stop it over-browning and prevent the base from rising up and the sides collapsing during this first cooking. The paper and baking beans are removed before the pastry is returned to the oven to dry out a little before the filling is added.

The pastry case should be chilled before blind baking, and the oven preheated to 200°C.

Cut a round of greaseproof paper (a cartouche), 8–10cm bigger than the tart tin. Scrunch it up, then unfold it and use to line the pastry case. Add a layer of dried beans or ceramic baking beans and fold the edge of the paper over the edge of the flan ring.

Bake for 15–20 minutes in the top third of the oven until the sides are set. To check, out of the oven, lift the paper away from the pastry. If the sides are holding up and the pastry looks less translucent and grey, remove the beans and paper.

Return the pastry to a lower shelf of the oven for about 5 minutes, or until the base of the pastry looks dry and feels sandy to touch, but has not taken on any colour. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before using.

A note on baking blind…

The dried (or special-purpose ceramic) beans help to support the sides and edges of the flan case and weigh down the base to prevent it from rising in the oven. Scrunching up the paper first, before unfolding it, helps to get it into the edges of the pastry case, ensuring the sides are well supported by the beans.

Blind baking individual tartlets

If you bake small tartlets in bun tins (the kind of tin tray with 12 hollows, often used for making Yorkshire puddings) or small individual tartlet tins, it is easiest to use muffin cases to line them and to hold the baking beans, rather than having to cut out lots of circles of greaseproof paper.

Sealing pastry with egg white

To provide a protective seal between the blind baked pastry and a wet filling, so the pastry won’t turn soggy, you can brush the pastry with lightly beaten egg white and return it to the oven for 3–4 minutes. This will also seal any very small holes.

A note on cooking pastry...

Pastry needs to cook at a high enough temperature for the pastry to set before the butter melts and runs out. In gas ovens, we would recommend most pastries are cooked in the top third of the oven.

Make sure the shelf is at the right height when you put the oven on to heat, as leaving the oven door open to change the shelves around just before cooking can mean a significant loss of heat.

Sweet pastries brown faster and more deeply than savoury pastries, as the sugar caramelises during the cooking process. Once the pastry has set into shape, it is often a good idea to lower the oven setting slightly for the rest of the cooking time, so the outside edge of the pastry is not over-browned by the time the middle is cooked, or to move the pastry to a lower shelf in a gas or non-fan assisted electric oven.

Repairing holes or cracks

If you are adding a liquid filling to a pastry case it must be watertight. After baking blind, check the pastry carefully for little holes at the edges or cracks up the sides, which can cause leakages. To repair these, soften a little of the leftover pastry in your fingers and plug the holes, or lay a strip of raw pastry over a crack, being very gentle with the pastry case. Return the repaired pastry to a lower shelf of the oven for 5–10 minutes to cook the raw pastry.

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