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

What makes this subject so fascinating is that all pastries use the same basic ingredients: flour, fat, salt and liquid. It is the different proportions of these ingredients and the techniques employed that create such an impressive array of pastries for use in so many different ways, both savoury and sweet. Inexperienced cooks often shy away from pastry making, opting for ready-made products instead, but the skills required are not that difficult to master. A basic knowledge of the techniques and an understanding of the simple rules will give you the confidence to make excellent pastry.

Understanding pastry

Pastry quantities: For easy reference, the recipes in this chapter call for a quantity (or half quantity) of the specific pastry. If you are using a smaller flan ring, you will need less pastry. Don’t throw away excess pastry as it freezes well. Trimmings come in useful for patching and repairing pastry cases after baking blind.

Note that traditionally where a weight of pastry is given in a recipe this refers to the flour quantity rather than the total weight of the pastry. So if a recipe calls for 250 g shortcrust pastry, it means pastry made using 250 g flour. However, if you are buying ready-made pastry, the weight of pastry stated on the packet is the total weight, not just the amount of flour.

Gluten: Wheat flour, which is most commonly used for pastry, contains gluten, which begins to develop as soon as flour comes into contact with liquid. When making shortcrust pastry you need to restrict the development of gluten, in order to keep the pastry short and tender. This is in contrast to making bread, where the aim is to develop the gluten to create an elastic texture and tough crust, achieved by adding plenty of water and vigorous kneading. Layered pastry requires some gluten development to strengthen the layers.

There will always be some gluten development in pastry, just by adding liquid to flour, but the extent can be controlled if you have an understanding of the process, employ the correct pastry-making technique and remember to rest the pastry to prevent shrinkage. The most important point to remember about gluten and pastry making is that overworking (or kneading) the pastry will continue to develop the gluten and result in tough pastry, as will adding too much liquid.

Fat: Although there are some types of pastry that are made using oil, the fat used in traditional pastry is one that is solid at room temperature. These include:

–Lard: An excellent fat for creating shortness, such a prized quality in pastry. However, it is relatively tasteless, so a combination of lard and butter is often used in shortcrust pastry. White vegetable shortening is a suitable vegetarian substitute for lard.

–Butter: The perfect fat, as it provides both shortness and flavour. Many chefs prefer unsalted butter, as it has a fresher, purer flavour, but salted butter can be used in all recipes. You will need to adjust the amount of salt added to the pastry according to the type of butter used.

–Margarine: This will produce a short pastry. However, it softens very quickly and doesn’t provide the same rich flavour that butter does.

Making pastry in a food processor: The rubbing in can be done in the large bowl of a food processor. It is important to make sure the butter is fully rubbed in, so look for a uniform coloured crumb with no lumps of butter within the flour. It is best to then transfer the crumb to a bowl and add the liquid by hand, to avoid overworking and adding too much liquid.

Chilling pastry: Fat softens as it is incorporated into flour, so pastry needs to be chilled to let the butter firm up and prevent the pastry from becoming greasy. Chilling also relaxes the gluten, slowing continued gluten development that can make pastry tough.

For layered pastry, the fat must be kept cool to avoid it melting into the layering dough, which would seal the layers together and prevent the pastry from rising. For hot water crust pastry, which use melted fats, the chilling is essential in order to be able to mould the pastry into shape.

However, the most important time to chill pastry is once it is shaped and before it is baked. This firming of the butter sets the pastry case into the desired shape so that when it is baked, the butter melds with the flour immediately to create a bond. If not sufficiently chilled, the butter will melt and the result will be greasy, misshapen pastry.

To chill pastry, wrap closely in cling film or a plastic bag to prevent the surface from drying out. Most pastries need at least 30 minutes in the fridge to chill until firm to the touch. Some, such as pâte sucrée and hot water crust that use soft or melted butter, will need to chill for longer. If you are short of time, you can chill pastry in the freezer.

Rolling pastry

An efficient rolling technique helps to ensure pastry is not stretched or overworked (which can cause excessive shrinkage during baking). It also helps to prevent the pastry from warming up during the shaping and lining process, which makes it difficult to handle and can result in greasy pastry.

After chilling the pastry in the fridge, remove it when it is cold and firm to the touch, not completely hard or it will crack when rolled; it should be just pliable. If it has been chilled for more than 2–3 hours, remove from the fridge and leave at room temperature for 5 minutes before rolling, to soften it slightly.

Use only as much flour on the work surface as you need to prevent the pastry from sticking, and no more (although a little more is useful when rolling out layered pastries). Flour the rolling pin too, but avoid sprinkling flour over the pastry itself, or it can result in grey, floury patches.

1. First ‘ridge’ the pastry disc: hold the rolling pin in both hands loosely and tap it lightly over the entire surface of the pastry once or twice. Turn the pastry 90° 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.

2. 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 90° after every few rolls.

3. 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 try to continue as long as possible before starting to roll. Ridging layered pastry helps to preserve the layers, and is also a useful technique when you are trying to roll out fridge-cold pastry. More often than not pastry has to be rolled into a disc, so turning the pastry 90° every few ridges and rolls will help to keep the pastry in a circle. Avoid twisting and turning the rolling pin as this will stretch the pastry unevenly. If the pastry starts to crack a little at the edges, stop ridging and seal the crack with your fingertips.

A note on rolling…

Always turn the pastry rather than the rolling pin. 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 will be stronger and 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

When making a pastry case, for ease of unmoulding we generally use a loose-based metal flan tin or flan ring (without a base) placed on a baking sheet. If you do not have either of these, use a solid metal tin, or if none of these is available, a ceramic flan dish is the next best thing. Most of the recipes in this chapter were made using a 24 cm diameter flan ring, 2.5–2.8 cm deep.

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. Tear a small piece 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.

5. 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.

6. 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

When a pastry case is filled with a custard or liquid filling, it is difficult to get the pastry cooked through by the time the filling is set. Pre-baking or ‘baking blind’ ensures that the pastry is cooked properly. Most, but not all, tarts call for this.

Before baking blind, chill the pastry case for at least 30 minutes, to firm the butter so that the pastry will hold its shape. Heat the oven to 200°C.

1. Make a cartouche of greaseproof paper, 8–10 cm 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.

2. Bake for 15–20 minutes in the upper third of the oven until the sides are set. To check, remove from the oven and carefully pull the cartouche away from the pastry. If the pastry is holding up and looking less translucent and grey, remove the beans and gently tweak out the cartouche.

3. 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 cartouche first, before unfolding it, helps to get it into the edges of the pastry case, ensuring the sides are well supported by the beans. If you are blind baking individual tart cases, use small dried beans or rice.

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.

Using 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.

Layered pastries: rough puff, flaky and puff

Layered pastry consists of layer upon layer of very fine leaves of pastry created through a rolling and folding technique. It starts off by using the same method as shortcrust, but with less butter and more water to make the base, known as the détrempe, which is softer, stickier and less short than shortcrust. This is because some gluten development is needed to strengthen the layers. This base is then rolled out, fat incorporated, depending on the method, and the pastry folded and turned, with the process repeated to create layering. The aim is to create layers without allowing the incorporated fat to soften too much, and to trap as much air in the layering as possible. As the pastry bakes, the water turns to steam, helping the layers to separate and rise. The butter melts and is absorbed into the pastry layers.

You need to begin with cold or chilled ingredients and equipment. An efficient rolling and folding technique with short, quick strokes helps to keep the butter cool between the layers, which is crucial for a good, even rise. Maintaining shape and a uniform thickness is also important for even rising. If the pastry feels as though it is warming up and becoming elastic through overworking, chill it in the fridge. This will help to keep the butter firm. By resting it for a while, you are also helping to relax the gluten that has developed, making the pastry easier to roll.

Layered pastry needs to be cooked at a high temperature, to encourage rapid expansion of the air trapped between layers, to quickly separate and raise the layers, and to seal the butter into the pastry.

The layering technique: The objective is to incorporate the butter into the layers of détrempe (the pastry base) as thinly as possible, without allowing the butter to become greasy or melt.

Once the layering technique is mastered, you can make puff, rough puff or flaky pastry. The difference between these classic pastries is the quantity of fat used and at what stage the fat is incorporated, which helps to determine how high the pastry rises. The layered pastries are generally interchangeable between recipes, with puff the richest with the highest rise, followed by flaky, then rough puff.

The gluten development needed to strengthen the layers, protect the butter and help keep the layers separate does need to be limited and controlled, to ensure the pastry remains light, tender and does not shrink excessively.

Guidelines for making layered pastry

–Keep the ingredients cold at all times, particularly the butter and pastry, which should remain cold but pliable, when rolling and folding, and shaping. If the pastry warms too much, the fat will begin to melt and stick the layers together.

–Work efficiently, keeping an awareness of the temperature of the pastry at all times. Two sets of roll and folds should take no longer than 5 minutes.

–The détrempe should be soft rather than dry, and should be worked sufficiently to make it smooth and uniform in colour. Excess working will require a longer relaxing time for the dough.

–Develop an efficient ridging and rolling technique. Keep checking for straight sides and square corners and avoid creating ridges at the ends of the pastry. Also avoid rolling over the edges. Uniformity will ensure an even rise.

–Relaxing of the détrempe, and the pastry between roll and folds, will prevent overworking, stretching and shrinkage. Relaxing in the fridge will help to maintain the cold but pliable quality of the pastry, but if the pastry is left in the fridge too long then the butter will firm up too much and may break through the layers when rolled again.

–When relaxing pastry in the fridge, wrap it closely in cling film to ensure it doesn’t dry out, and always make a note of the number of roll and folds that you have done, as it’s easy to lose track.

–Avoid rolling the pastry too wide or long – it will become too large to manage easily and will become too thin, which will destroy layering. Conversely, avoid leaving it too thick – in this instance, the butter will not thin out enough so the pastry will be too heavy to rise properly and will bake to a greasy mass.

Shaping hot water crust for a raised pie

While the pastry is chilling, prepare the mould for the raised pie. Traditionally, a wooden mould is used. A large 400 ml soufflé dish, 12.5 cm in diameter, works well. (Individual pies can be raised without moulds.)

1. Cut a disc of greaseproof paper for the outside base of the dish and a band to go around the outside walls of the dish. Stick the greaseproof paper to the outside of the dish using sticky tape. Now place the dish on a large sheet of cling film and bring the cling film up the sides of the dish and down into it, pulling the cling film so it is taut. The soufflé dish is now ready for the pastry.

2. Remove the larger disc of pastry from the fridge; it should be firm, but pliable. Turn the soufflé dish upside down and lay the pastry across the upturned base. Gently ease the pastry down the sides of the dish. The warmth from your hands will help to soften the pastry a little and make it easier to mould. Avoid pushing too firmly or the pastry will crack. Roll a rolling pin lightly across the top of the dish or use your hands flat against the top, to encourage the pastry to expand and ease down the sides of the dish.

3. With your fingers flat against the side of the dish, gently ease the pastry down. You need to work on the top and sides alternately to coat the dish all over in an even layer of pastry. Avoid using your fingers over the corners of the dish as this can easily create a thin layer of pastry. Place uncovered on a tray in the fridge for 5–6 hours, or ideally overnight, for it to firm even more and dry out.

Note: The aim here is to make a watertight container in which meat is cooked in the oven with just a band of baking parchment around the sides as support. The pastry must be thick enough to withstand the weight of the meat, but not so thick that it is unpleasant to eat. It must not have any weak points, or be too thin, or the pie will collapse. It is therefore important that the original shaping of the warm pastry into a disc creates no pleats, and that when shaping round the dish it is not forced or pushed too hard, which could cause it to crack or break.

Lining a pudding basin with suet pastry

1. Divide the pastry into 2 unequal pieces, two-thirds and one-third. On a floured surface, pat out the larger piece into a circle about 2 cm thick and 15 cm in diameter. Flour one half of the pastry circle (to stop it sticking together) and fold the pastry over to form a half-moon shape.

2. Place the pastry fold side towards you and ridge it lightly with the side of your hand so that the straight side becomes curved and the whole rounded again. You will need to use your hands to encourage the open sides away from you.

3. Open the pastry out like a purse, roughly the shape of the pudding basin. Use it to line the basin, easing the pastry where necessary to fit, and trimming off the top to leave a 1cm ridge that sits proud of the top.

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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