Making shortcrust pastry for a tart or quiche requires more time and work than buying pre-made, but the end product is well worth the extra effort. To me, homemade pastry has a taste and beautiful short texture that supermarket bought just doesn’t match. Making good shortcrust pastry is an art however! There are many pitfalls with this type of pastry; the crust can easily become crumbly rather than flaky, it can be prone to splitting when rolling out, and it can be tough if overworked. Many, many curses have been uttered when making shortcrust pastry in my house!
However, tips in the ‘How to squeeze a lemon: 1,023 kitchen tips, food fixes, and handy techniques’ book have really helped me to improve my shortcrust from a jigsaw patchwork of tough pastry that I’ve had to piece together in the tin to a consistent sheet of flaky pastry that melts in the mouth.
Below is the method I have found produces the best results, and techniques I have learnt along the way.
Makes enough to line a 23cm tin:
- 250g plain flour
- Pinch of salt
- 140g chilled butter, cubed
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 – 2 tbsp chilled water
To make the pastry:
The trick to making shortcrust pastry is to keep your ingredients and equipment as cold as possible, and keep handling to a minimum. I use a food processor to make the dough, in order to minimise contact time with my hands.
- Prepare your ingredients:
- Cube the butter beforehand and keep it in the fridge.
- Use cold eggs, stored in the refrigerator. Cold eggs are also easier to separate.
- Chill your water briefly in the freezer or store a small bottle beforehand in the fridge.
- Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl, and then tip it into a food processor.
- Add the chilled butter to the flour and salt in the food processor and blitz briefly.
- Add the 2 egg yolks and blitz until everything is roughly combined. Finally, add 1 tbsp of water to the mixture and blitz again. Note: try to be as sparing as you can with the water; it’s always better to add less rather than more as adding too much liquid can make the pastry tough.
- Tip the mixture out onto a countertop (unfloured) and knead briefly so the dough has a consistent texture.
- Pull the pastry together with your hands, shaping it into an even, flat disc, about 10cm in diameter and 1.5cm thick. Do this as quickly as possible, without overworking the pastry, which makes it tough.
- Wrap the pastry in cling film and chill for half an hour in the fridge before rolling out. This will relax it and prevent too much shrinkage, as well as firm up the butter. If the dough is too warm and soft when you try to roll it out, it will stick to the rolling pin and your work surface, forcing you to add too much flour as you work it.
Rolling out your pastry:
- Remove your pastry from the fridge and allow it to warm up slightly. Dough that’s too cold and hard will resist rolling and crack if you try to force it.
- While you wait, lightly grease your tin.
- Lightly flour your worksurface and a rolling pin. Place the disc of pastry on the floured area of your bench. To roll out:
- Start with the rolling pin in the centre of your dough disc. Roll towards 12 o’clock, easing up on the pressure as you near the edge, to keep the edge from getting too thin.
- Pick up the pin and return it to the centre. Roll towards 6 o’clock. Repeat this motion towards 3 and then 9 o’clock, always easing up on the pressure near the edges and then picking up the pin rather than rolling it back to centre.
- Continue to roll around the clock, aiming for different “time” (like 1, 7, 4, 10) on each round until the dough is the right width and thickness.
- Turn the dough and check often for sticking. After each round of the clock, run a palette knife underneath the dough to make sure it’s not sticking, and re-flour the surface if necessary.
- Once the pastry is rolled out to the desired width and thickness, use your rolling pin to get the pastry off the bench, by loosely rolling the pastry up over the pin. You can then transfer the pin over your tin and ease the pastry into the tin.
- Cut off any overhang with a non-serrated paring knife. You can use part of the excess pastry to patch up any cracks (to prevent leakage while the tart bakes) and also press the pastry shell down so that it lies flush against the tin.
- Prick the base of the pastry with a fork, which will allow steam to escape, then put the tin with its pastry into a non-perforated plastic bag and put in the fridge for 20 minutes. Chilling the pastry shell before blind baking it is important to stop the edges from retreating or slumping over the edge of the pie tin, as piecrusts baked right after shaping are warm enough for the butter to melt quickly in the oven.
- Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 160°C / 140°C fan / Gas Mark 2 ½.
- Blind bake for ~20 minutes, or until the pastry is just starting to turn golden.
On blind baking:
Blind baking means baking an empty piecrust before adding a filling. This gives the crust a head start, allowing it to firm up before the filling is added and preventing sogginess. Here are a few tips for getting the best results:
- Weight it down: ceramic baking beans will help the crust to keep its shape. Without them, the crust will rise and puff on the bottom or slide down the sides under the weight of the pastry. If you don’t have ceramic baking beans, you can use dried pulses or rice.
- Crumple a sheet of baking parchment before putting in your pastry shell to hold baking beans: A crisp, new sheet of parchment doesn’t fit into a pie or tart shell neatly when you need to blind bake, but if you first crumple the sheet into a ball and then unfold it, it should fit easily.
- Protect your piecrusts with a foil shield: To keep the edges of your piecrust from browning too quickly, you can wrap little strips of foil around the rim of the pie.
I hope the above helps anyone who has had the same amount of trouble I’ve had when it comes to making shortcrust pastry. Happy baking!