Make perfect pastry
Although it’s widely believed that pastry is one of the more challenging culinary techniques to master, our guide is here to show you there’s no mystery when it comes to making mouth-watering pies, pasties and patisserie treats.
The simplest pastry requires very few ingredients but, when combined and cooked correctly, they let you conjure culinary magic. Follow our simple rules and there’s no reason why you can’t create light, excellent pastry of your very own.
Using good-quality ingredients gets you off to the best possible start. Remember that different brands of flour may absorb more or less water, and lower-quality butter will more than likely have an inferior flavour and a lower melting point, making it harder to work with.
As a general rule where pastry’s concerned, the cooler the better: you want the fat to stay firm enough to work with, so your dough doesn’t turn into a paste. If you’ve ever heard it suggested that pastry be made with quick, cool hands at an open window, it’s good advice.
Remember that the more you knead your pastry, the greater the development of gluten, the protein that holds dough together. Less kneading and rolling results in a lighter dough.
Know your pastry
Not sure of the difference between shortcrust and puff? Can’t tell your flaky from your filo? If you really don’t have a ‘choux’ when it comes to pastry, our guide is here to clear things up.
And once you’ve decided to give pastry a go, our step-by-step guides are full of hints and tips to help you master the techniques right from the start.
Shortcrust pastry is the classic pastry used for pies, tarts and quiches and is made from flour, fat and salt, with water added to bind the dough. This simplest and most common form of pastry is made by mixing the flour and salt with the fat – either by rubbing in with fingers or using a food processor – adding water to make dough and then rolling out the paste. Mixing the flour with the fat at the start inhibits gluten formation and results in a ‘short’, or crumbly, tender pastry.
Sweetcrust pastry, also known as paté sucrée, is similar to shortcrust but replaces the water with sugar and egg yolks to bind the pastry.
Flaky pastry is a crisp, buttery pastry, often used for pie toppings. It’s made by leaving larger pieces of fat in the dough which, when baked, melt to create flaky layers and release steam, causing the pastry to puff up.
Puff pastry has many thin layers of butter in the dough, created by repeated rolling and folding. When the butter melts on baking, it adds crispness to the pastry and releases steam that puffs the layers up. Used to make Danish pastries, it comes out of the oven light, flaky and tender.
Choux pastry takes its name from the French word for cabbage, which shape it closely resembles after baking. The initial mix is enriched with egg that is vigorously beaten in to make a more watery mix, closer to a paste than a dough, which steams and then solidifies on baking to form a light, hollow pastry. Its texture means it can be piped into shapes like eclairs and profiteroles before baking.
Filo or phyllo is a paper-thin pastry dough that is built up in many layers, generally wrapped around a filling and brushed with butter before baking to make very delicate, flaky pastries like strudel and baklava. However, because it’s so difficult and time-consuming to make by hand, most recipes recommend using ready-made sheets, so it’s perfectly acceptable to ‘cheat’ by buying it!
If you’re embarking on a pastry-making voyage, it’s worth making sure that your cupboards are stocked with these few simple ingredients and essential pieces of equipment before you set off.
One of the great delights of pastry-making is that, as there are only a few basic ingredients, it’s relatively cheap to get started. As your skills improve, you may want to shop around, compare results and find your favourites.
Most pastry can be made using plain white flour, but it’s a good idea to have some strong white bread flour on hand to add to choux or puff recipes.
A pinch is all that’s needed to stop savoury recipes being bland. A fine-grained table salt that will blend easily into the mix is best.
Gives pastry its flavour, so it’s the most important ingredient to get right. Unsalted butters with a high melting point will stay firmer for longer, producing a less greasy pastry.
Add to shortcrust pastry for rich flavour and a crumbly texture – though, as it’s made from pork fat, it’s not suitable for vegetarian dishes.
Add flavour and colour to pastry, either in the mix or brushed on as a glaze. As a general rule, the fresher the better.
The most useful grade for pastry-making is icing sugar: its similar grain size to flour helps it to mix easily into the dough.
Technique is important when making pastry, but there are some products you will need and others that will help to make it a little easier to attain that perfect finish. (not sure how to make this a bit more exiting – maybe images of each piece of equipment?)
Pastry can be made by hand, but you can always turn to hand mixers or food processors to blend your mixes if you’re short on energy or time – just follow the directions in your recipe and be careful not to over-process.
Picking the right tin is important to a successful bake; living up to its name, our Perfobake range is perfect. Micro-perforated for increased airflow, they let more moisture escape, resulting in an even bake and lovely crisp finish… and not a soggy-bottom in sight!
Pies with a pastry top only will cook well and look great in our vintage enamelled range.
Funnels like our little blackbird support the pie lid and allow steam to escape, helping to keep pastry crisp.
Wooden or plastic, the most important thing about your pin is that it has a nice smooth surface, with no cuts or dents.
Useful tools for glazing, and for brushing the edges of pie crusts with water before sealing.
When baking blind, any uncooked, dried beans, peas or rice will help weigh down your pastry, but ceramic ones are really easy to use – and last longer.
Non-stick parchment is ideal for lining trays and cases before baking blind.
Your questions answered
Do I have to mix pastry by hand?
All shortcrust pastries can be mixed using a food processor. Place the flour and salt into the bowl with the butter, then pulse until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add just enough water to bind to a soft but not sticky dough, and make sure you do not over-process the pastry. Kneading the pastry has to be done by hand.
Do I have to use my pastry as soon as it’s been made?
All of the pastry recipes given (with the exception of the dough recipe for the pissaladière) can be made up to three days in advance and stored in the fridge. They can also be frozen for up to three months.
I don’t think my hands are cool enough to make good pastry – do you have any tips?
To chill your hands down, try running them under cold water for a minute. Make sure you dry them thoroughly before making the pastry and always use your fingertips only to rub the fat into the flour – this helps keep the mixture as cool as possible. You can also keep your mix cool by only adding cold or chilled water and, on hot summer days, it’s worth chilling the bowl and the flour in the fridge for half an hour before you start.
My pastry always turns out too tough – what am I doing wrong?
Knead your pastry just lightly enough to ensure it is smooth. If you knead any longer, you’ll overwork the pastry and it will become tough on baking.
How can I stop my pastry shrinking when I bake it?
Pastry must always be chilled in a fridge after making. This helps it to relax which in turn will help to prevent it shrinking on baking. Additionally, instead of trimming excess pastry from a tart case before baking blind you could also leave it overhanging the tin. Once the pastry has been baked blind you can then simply trim the excess using a sharp knife for a perfect finish.
How do I avoid soggy-bottomed pastry?
Follow our instructions for baking blind.
This ensures your pastry is cooked through before adding the filling for recipes such as tarts and quiches, reducing the likelihood of a soggy-bottomed disaster.
How do I stop air bubbles forming and damaging my pastry?
Pricking the pastry base lightly before baking blind prevents it from bubbling up on cooking – but be careful to ensure that the fork does not go all the way through the pastry.
What can I do to keep the base of my pastries even?
Adding dried beans, peas or rice, or ceramic baking beans to weigh pastry down during baking blind ensures an even rise.
How to… Make Shortcrust Pastry
The preferred method for many pastry-makers, as you can ‘feel’ the pastry coming together.
Sifting isn’t essential, but most pastry-makers do sift their flour and salt together at the start of a recipe. Use a wide-topped bowl and, if it’s a hot day, chill both bowl and flour before use.
2. Rubbing in fat
Chop your chilled fat (usually butter, though your recipe may also use lard) into 1cm cubes. Add these cubes to the bowl and toss to coat them in flour. The fat must be cold when you add it as it needs to be rubbed into the flour without melting. Using your fingertips – the coolest part of your hands – rub the fat into the flour. Lift your hands out of the bowl to rub and then drop the crumbs back into the bowl; repeat until your mix has the texture of breadcrumbs.
3. Adding liquid
If the recipe calls for it, add lemon juice to water before adding to the pastry mix. Mix in using the fingertips of one hand, to avoid overworking the dough. Very cold water is best – chill in the fridge or freezer beforehand. Use the amount stated in your recipe, but you can always add a little more if necessary: you should have just enough liquid to moisten the dry ingredients.
When the dough sticks together in small clumps, form it into a ball. Turn it out onto a cold surface then knead very gently until the ingredients are gathered together and almost smooth. Be careful not to overwork the dough. Test by rolling a small piece of pastry out – if it cracks easily, it will need a little more kneading to develop the gluten.
It’s important to rest and chill your pastry dough for about half an hour before baking: this firms up the fat and lets the strands of gluten relax, both of which will improve the end result. Pat it into a flat shape, wrap in cling film and place in the fridge. If it’s left for longer than 30 minutes it may be hard to roll out – in which case just let it stand for a while at room temperature to soften and then try again.
Using a food processor
Food processors are useful as they help save time and effort when mixing the ingredients together, but you will still have to knead your pastry be hand.
Add the dry ingredients to the bowl and then the fat, cubed as above. Pulse until the fat has barely cut through the flour. Do not leave the processor on unattended as this will overwork the dough and bring the ingredients together too soon.
2. Adding liquid
Add liquid to the bowl and pulse again until the ingredients have been mixed into a ball then remove the dough from the processor.
3. Kneading and resting
Knead the dough as in step 4 of the ‘By hand’ method, and then rest in the fridge as before. Don’t worry if your processed dough looks smoother than handmade: this is because the processor distributes the fat more evenly through the flour.
How to… Make Flaky Pastry
1. Preparing initial dough
Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl. Dice butter (and lard, if your recipe calls for it) into small cubes 5-10mm square and place in a separate bowl. Add one quarter of the diced fats to the dry ingredients and rub in with your fingertips.
2. Adding liquid
Add any lemon juice required by your recipe to very cold water and mix lightly into the rubbed-in mixture, using one hand, to form a very soft dough.
3. Adding extra fat
Roll the dough out into a rectangle and dot the remaining cubes of fat over two-thirds of the dough. Fold the empty top third down over the centre of the dough, and then fold the bottom fat-covered third up over it to create an envelope. Seal the edges by pressing down with your fingertips.
4. Rolling and folding
Turn your dough envelope through 90° and roll out again into a similar size rectangle as before. Again, fold the bottom third up and the top third down over it, pressing the edges down with your fingers. Repeat this rolling and folding twice more. If your pastry starts to soften at any point of this process, wrap it in cling film and chill in the fridge for about half an hour before removing and continuing.
Wrap your finished dough in cling film and chill in the fridge for at least half an hour before removing, rolling out and using.
How to… Make Puff Pastry
The key to a good puff pastry is to chill both dough and butter before bringing them together. If the butter becomes too soft, it will ooze out as you roll and fold, and if the dough gets too warm it will stick and become difficult to work. Using a high-gluten bread flour will help give the pastry the strength needed to maintain all the thin layers.
1. Making the dough
Mix flour and salt in a bowl and add enough chilled water to make a tight but kneadable dough. Turn out and knead for 5-10 minutes until smooth, then form into a rectangle, wrap in cling film and place in the fridge for at least 7 hours.
2. Preparing the butter
Bash your chilled butter with a rolling pin to flatten it into a thin, roughly rectangular sheet, then wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge.
3. Combining the butter and dough
Take the chilled dough and roll into a rectangle. Lay the chilled butter sheet over the bottom two-thirds of the dough. Fold the exposed dough down over half the butter and then fold the butter-covered bottom half over the top, creating a sandwich of three layers of dough with two layers of butter. Seal the edges by pressing them together with your fingertips, wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for an hour.
4. Rolling, folding and chilling
Remove the dough from the fridge and roll it into a long rectangle, then fold the top quarter down and the bottom quarter up so they meet in the middle, then fold in half along the line where they meet. Rewrap and return to the fridge for an hour then remove, roll into a long rectangle, fold the top third down and fold the bottom third over it. Press the edges to seal. Rewrap and return to the fridge for another hour. Repeat this last stage of rolling, folding and chilling – your pastry will then be ready to use.
How to…Make Choux Pastry
1. Heating ingredients
Put your diced fat, salt and water into a large saucepan and heat gently until the butter has melted. Once melted, bring the mixture briefly to the boil. Remove the pan from the heat as soon as it starts to boil and then add the flour.
Beat the mixture with a wooden spoon until it thickens and you can form a smooth ball of dough, leaving the sides of the pan clean. Transfer into a cool bowl and allow to cool for a couple of minutes, then add beaten eggs one at a time, beating them into the dough vigorously. Stop adding egg if the mixture starts to loosen, but otherwise carry on adding until your dough forms a stiff, glossy paste.
Pipe or spoon your mixture into moulds to make puffs, buns, profiteroles or eclairs, then place in a hot oven (about 200°C) as quickly as possible.
After removing from the oven, transfer your crisp, golden pastries to a cooling rack and split one side of each open, allowing steam to escape to prevent the pastry becoming soggy. Cool on a wire rack and only add your cream or chosen filling once fully cooled.
How to… Blind Bake
If you’re making a pie with a filling that needs to be baked at a lower temperature than pastry requires, you’ll need to bake the pastry first to ensure it’s properly cooked. This is known as baking blind.
1. Roll chilled, rested pastry from the centre to the edge on a sheet of baking parchment or cling film. Rolling on a floured surface may upset the balance of ingredients by working in too much flour – and pastry is much easier to transfer to your tin when it’s on a sheet of plastic or paper.
2. Line your tin or tray with your rolled pastry, allowing the pastry to drape over the tin without stretching it.
3. Shape your pastry by gently pressing it against the inside of the tin using a leftover scrap of pastry pressed into a ball.
4. Trim any excess pastry with a sharp knife or, if your tin has a sharp edge, roll your rolling pin over the top edge to cut away cleanly.
5. Dock your pastry by pricking it all over with a fork, to stop it rising when baking.
6. Line the pastry case with a piece of baking parchment strong enough to hold the weight of beans or rice, making sure there’s enough left round the edges for easy removal.
7. Weight the parchment down with dried beans, peas or rice, or ceramic baking beans.
8. Bake the pastry cake as instructed in your recipe.
9. Air bubbles, if they develop in the first 5-10 minutes of baking, can be removed by pressing gently with a ball of scrap pastry.
10. Cover the baked base and pie filling with your pastry lid.
11. Trim the top layer of pastry using a sharp knife, always cutting downward while holding the pie at eye level.
12. Seal the edges of your pastry, glaze as directed and cut holes in the top to allow steam to escape while baking.
Inspired? Take a look at our range of pastry products.