rarely make puff pastry as it’s so much easier to buy a good all-butter puff ready-made (although I do make rough puff). But making shortcrust is quick and easy, especially if you have a food processor, and it tastes so much better than shop-bought.
* I’ve amended this post slightly to reflect my increased experience since I first wrote it, so if you’re returning to it you may find a few minor changes.
The types of flour and fat you use will make a big difference to the finished product. Plain flour is usually best for shortcrust but I usually follow Katie Stewart’s advice when I’m making quiche and use self-raising flour as the raising agents give it a lighter crust. This is a handy tip too for anyone who’s a bit heavy-handed when it comes to making pastry (that’d be me).
The general rule of thumb is half fat to flour. I use butter and white cooking fat or lard in equal measures for a basic shortcrust. The butter gives it flavour (although you can substitute margarine if you are vegan) and the white cooking fat keeps it short and crisp. All pastry ingredients should be kept cool, including the fats, but they will blend into the pastry better if you take them out of the fridge 10 minutes before you want to use them.
If you’re not using a food processor, work on a cool surface, quickly and lightly. If you overwork the pastry it’ll be hard. For larger amounts, increase the ingredients in proportion.
Chill the pastry for at least half an hour after you’ve made it, and if you’re lining a flan or pie tin, chill it again afterwards. This helps prevent shrinkage when it’s baked.
Basic Shortcrust Pastry
240g plain or self-raising flour
Pinch of salt (about 1/4 tspn)
60g white cooking fat
2 or 3 tbsp cold water
If working by hand, sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Cut the butter and cooking fat into small pieces and add it to the flour. Rub it in using your fingertips, lifting it up and letting it fall back into the bowl. Continue until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs, with no loose flour left in the bowl. Sprinkle over the water and cut it through the dough with a table knife, until it all clings together and the mixture leaves the sides of the bowl.
If you’re using a food processor, put the sifted flour and salt into the bowl, add the cubed fats, clamp on the lid and process briefly until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Turn off the machine, add the water through the hole in the top and pulse until just before it comes together into a ball..
In either case, turn the pastry onto a lightly floured board and knead briefly to remove any cracks. Allow the dough to rest for 15-20 minutes before rolling out, or form into a flattened ball, wrap tightly in clingfilm and refrigerate.
Take it out 20 minutes before you want to use it and bake at 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6 unless otherwise indicated in your recipe.
Enriched shortcrust (makes about 375g): 225g plain flour, 1/2 tspn salt, 110g butter, 40g white cooking fat, 1 egg plus 1 egg yolk. Sift flour into a bowl, add salt, and rub in the two fats as above until you have a breadcrumb consistency. Beat the egg and extra yolk with 2 tbsp cold water and blend into the pastry, kneading it in the bowl until it leaves the sides clean. Form into a disc, wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour before using.
Sweet shortcrust (makes about 365g): 225 g plain flour, pinch of salt, 100g butter, 15g white cooking fat, 25g caster sugar, 3 tbsp cold milk. Proceed as in the basic shortcrust recipe except mix the sugar into the milk and add it in lieu of the water.
My latest go-to flour for pastry is wholemeal spelt. Please don’t wince. I don’t wear sandals (not THAT sort of sandal anyway) or ethnic beads, but I do think spelt makes a really tasty characterful pastry, and light in a way that wholmeal wheat flour isn’t. I’m glad you buy puff pastry too. It makes me less inadequate …
It’s a rare chef I’ve seen who makes his own puff, although who knows what they do in the privacy of their own kitchens? I’ve just bought some spelt flour to experiment with (I’m a bit behind the times here) so it’s interesting to hear your views on it, thanks.
I like the idea of ‘Basics’. Keep at it.
Aye aye, Cap’n. Any suggestions?