Philippa Sibley's expert guide to sweet pastry

Philippa Sibley
24 February, 2014

Master of the dough Philippa Sibley shares her step-by-step guide to making sweet shortcrust pastry, taking you through everything you need to know to perfect the art of peerless pâte.

This sweet pastry is your dessert workhorse. Not only is it a delicious support act to many other ingredients, the pastry itself is not too 'short', so it’s easy to work with. Short refers to the texture of the pastry. The more butter it has, the shorter or more delicate and crumbly it becomes. I use this pastry in my Lemon Tart and Fruit Tartlets. Make the full quantity because you can always freeze the portion you don’t use. This recipe makes 1.1 kg (enough to line 2 large tart rings).


  • 360 g butter, softened
  • 150 g pure icing sugar, sifted
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 50 ml cold water
  • 500 g plain flour, sifted
  • a pinch of cooking salt
  • 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten, for brushing


  • sieve
  • electric mixer
  • palette knife or scraper
  • rolling pin
  • tart ring/s
  • baking tray
  • uncooked rice (for baking)
  • pastry brush

Making the dough

1. Place the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Work the butter on low speed until smooth and the same texture.

2. Add the icing sugar and mix together on medium speed until combined, taking care not to aerate too much — you don’t want it pale and fluffy.

3. In a separate bowl, combine the 4 egg yolks and water. While still mixing, add to the butter mixture bit by bit. At this stage the mixture may look as though it has separated, but once the flour is added, this will be rectified.

4. Now turn off the mixer, then tip in the flour and salt. On low speed, work in the flour and salt until the mixture comes together and is crumbly. Do not overwork at this stage as the gluten in the flour will activate and the pastry could become tough.

5. Tip the contents of the bowl onto a work surface and, using the heel of your hand, smear the mixture away from you until it looks smooth and no patches of butter remain.

6. Using a palette knife or scraper, scrape the pastry together into a mound. Divide the mound of pastry in half and pat each half into about 3 cm-high rounds — you don’t want a big boulder otherwise it will make it harder later to achieve the right temperature to work the dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled all the way through.

Working the dough

7. Once the dough has chilled, remove it from the fridge and place on a work surface lightly dusted with flour. Chop the dough into manageable bits and smear each bit with the heel of your hand to get the dough going. If you missed any bits of butter before, make sure you smear them out this time.

8. Once the pastry is all the same texture, bring it all together again.

9. Shape the pastry back into a ball, ready to roll out.

10. Gently but firmly tap the pastry out slightly with your rolling pin to get things going.

11. Roll the pastry quickly so it doesn’t warm up too much and become soft and unmanageable. Roll evenly and make a one-quarter turn every couple of rolls to keep the shape.   


Lining the tart ring

12. Line a baking tray with baking paper and place a tart ring on top.

13. Roll the pastry out to a thickness of about 5 mm. The pastry should feel supple and roll out easily without cracking.

14. Roll up the pastry onto the rolling pin and gently unroll over the tart ring.

15. Ease the pastry into the tin, taking care that there are no creases or cracks. Just smooth out any cracks or creases with your fingertips.

16. Do not trim the excess pastry but leave it overhanging. This ensures that the edge of the pastry will be still perfectly flush with the ring even if the shell shrinks. Reserve a little of the dough scraps for patching up the shell later.

17. Freeze the tart shell until very firm.

To blind bake

18. Preheat the oven to 180ºC.

19. Carefully line the chilled tart shell with foil, smoothing out any wrinkles and pressing the foil over the edges.

20. Fill with uncooked rice all the way to the top. I prefer to use rice instead of dried beans or baking weights because the rice creates a uniform mass that doesn’t have any gaps.

21. Bake for 20 minutes for a large tart (or less for smaller tarts) or until the tart shell is golden brown all over.

22. Remove from the oven, then tip out the rice (allow to cool and use again as baking weights) and remove the foil. Return to the oven for 5 minutes to dry the pastry completely.

23. Remove from the oven and while the tart shell is still hot, patch up any holes or cracks with a smear of the reserved pastry scraps. You will only need to do this for large tart shells as they tend to crack.

24. While still hot, very lightly brush the potentially leaky parts of the shell or miniscule holes with the beaten egg yolk to seal. This is an important step if you are filling the tart with a liquid mixture. The tart shell is now ready to use.

This is an edited extract from Philippa Sibley's PS Desserts.


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