Ultimate guide on how to make shortcrust pastry
Okay it’s here, my ultimate guide on how to make shortcrust pastry. How many of you, myself included fall into the lazy trap of always buying your pastry? You’re not alone with this, with pre made pastry being so redily available it’s hard to resist grabbing a pack of ready rolled or even a pre made pastry case. It’s just so easy! But for those of you who want to delve a little deaper into the recipe book and want to learn the art of making your own pastry, sit down, grab a drink, a notebook and get ready for my ultimate guide to how to make shortcrust pastry.
Lets start with the basics, shortcrust pastry is a combination of flour, water, salt and fat. Sometimes sugar is added to make a sweet shortcrust for desserts but this is not nessesary for your average shortcrust recipe. When you bake your pastry you are looking for a flaky pastry not crumbly or soggy.
The temperature of pastry is cruicial, we need to ensure everything is cold. Cold fat is essential in the pastry making process, the fat needs to melt in the oven and not before. As the fat heats and starts to melt in the oven it produces steam which creates little pockets in the dough which helps to make the pastry flakey. To keep the fat cold you should also only use ice cold water to make the dough. Keeping the fat in the fridge, using ice cold water and not using your hands to mix the dough too much all work together to help keep things cold.
Cut don’t mix
Keeping the butter cold is one of the main reasons that you want to cut the butter into the flour and not mix it. When the pastry is over processed, that is, mixed too much the butter coats the flour and prevents it from absorbing any liquid. Think of it as a waterproof seal. This is the main reason that shortcrust cannot be made with oil. Pastry made with fat that is too warm is crumbly not flakey. For this reason I always make shortcrust pastry in a food processor, the blades cut the butter into the flour quickly with minimal need for handling.
Add the flour, salt (sugar if making sweet shortcrust) and shortening to the foor processor and pulse until the mixture is sandy in texture. Next add the butter until you have a fine crumb with no bits of butter larger than a pea. Tip the mixture into a mixing bowl and add the ice water, it can then be folded together with a rubber spatula. Many recipes call for you to add the water straight to the food processor but I find that this often results in using more water as bits of dough at the bottom of the blender have not incorporated.
Chill your pastry dough
The secret to that perfect flakey pastry? Chill your dough! Once you have brought the dough together, wrap it in clingfilm and pop it in the fridge for at least an hour, two hours is better, before you roll it out. Again you need to keep everything as cold as possible. Many professional bakers invest in a stainles steel or a marble rolling pin to keep the pastry as cold as they can. Once you have rolled the pastry out and transfered it to your tin, you guessed it, chill again, I find an hour in the fridge is sufficient to chill the pastry enough. This helps keep the pastry from shrinking in the tin when cooked. Pastry shrinks because adding water to flour causes strands of gluten to form which get stretched when rolled. These strands essencially snap back into shape when baked. Popping your pastry in the fridge relaxes this gluten so that it doesn’t shrink back when baking.
Freezing your dough
When you roll out your pastry and transfer it to the tin, if you place this in the freezer straight away, it technically should speed up the process of relaxing the gluten right? Wrong! This actually has the opposite effect, the water in the pastry freezes traping the gluten in place so it doesn’t have the time to relax.
However, dough and fat have different heat tolerances. The dough cooks in the oven quicker than the butter can melt. Essentially the dough has started to set in place when the butter starts to melt and release steam and the layers of pastry start to seperate due to the steam. If you just refridgerate the butter melts more quickly before the dough has started to set and the soft dough settles into the air pockets created.
The verdict. Pop your pastry in the fridge for and hour to relax the gluten then into the freeze for half an hour to freeze the butter.
Blind baking is essential for making a good pie or tart. Once you have transfered your pastry to a tin and chilled, line the tin with baking paper and fill with baking beans, rice or dried beans. This stops the pastry from puffing up too much in the oven and helps it keep its shape. Once the sides have started to turn a golden brown, remove the beans and paper and let the bottom of the pastry brown.
The great fat debate
For as long as people have made shortcrust pastry people have been debating which fat is best to use. All butter pastry tastes great as butter adds fantastic flavour, but it lacks the flakey, fine texture that shortening produces. Vegetable shortening on the other hand produced beautifully flakey pastry but they lack flavour. Animal fats like lard produce flakey pastry but it is very strongly flavoured, so should only be used for savoury dishes. I do not generally recomend lard, it is something our grandparents used because it was cheap and easily accessible, its not great for your health or your pastry. Vegetable shortening is a much better alternative.
So whats a baker to do?
There is a lot of debate int he baking world as the best ratio of shortening to butter in pastry making but I genrally go for 40% shortening to 60% butter. Don’t ask me the science behind it, its just what I have personally found is best. Its enough shortening to produce flakey pastry whilst still having enough butter to lock in all that flavour. Feel free to experiment yourself with different ratios of shortening to butter.
My Ultimate shortcrust pastry recipe
- 190g plain flour
- 1tsp salt
- 115g vegetable shortening, cubed, cold
- 170g butter, cubed, cold
- 6-8tbsp ice water
- optional – 2tbsp sugar for sweet shortcrust
- In a food processor, I use this Kenwood food processor, add the flour, salt and sugar if using. Pulse for a few seconds to combine.
- Add the shortening and pulse until the mixture is a sandy texture.
- Scatter the butter over the mixture and pulse again until you have a coarse crumb texture.
- Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl and add 6 tablespoons of water. Fold with a spatula to combine the mixture.
- Use the flat of the spatula to press the dough down and stick it together.
- If the dough will not come together add the remaining tablespoons of water.
- If you are using the dough straight away, roll in cling film and chill in the fridge for at least an hour before rolling.
- Alternativley you can freeze the dough for later use.
And there you have it, my ultimate guide on how to make shortcrust pastry. Remember to show me your bakes by tagging @whatseatingmancheseter in your social media post!
If you would like to test out your new mad shortcrust skills why not check out these recipes.