I well remember the first time I made good pastry, that is pastry that added pleasures of taste and texture to the tart as distinct from just holding up the filling. I threw the wholemeal flour in the bin, got out a book and read about pastry. This told me what I was supposed to be trying to do, what I didn’t want to happen, and gave a basic set of quantities. It worked, and afterwards I felt like I’d made a quantum leap out of a cooking corner. With a little information, pastry is about confidence, definitely something you can’t do in fear. While pastry doesn’t have the sensual pleasures of bread making, there is the smug satisfaction to be had, at each stage, of sensing that everything is going perfectly. In a way, pastry makes itself in the sense that it would be perfect if you could bring the ingredients together in the shape you want at the first stroke. The difficulty for a cook is to avoid damaging it along the way. Kneading, rolling and, handling of any kind is not adding to the quality of the pastry, only changing its shape, and should be done as quickly, efficiently and calmly as possible. The main dangers to your pastry are putting too much water in, which makes it easy to roll but evaporates in the cooking, causing shrinking; using butter which is not cold enough or warming it in the process by over handling or taking too long in a warm environment, which will mess with the texture and give you dense or cardboard-like pastry; any kind of overstretching while rolling or pressing the pastry into the case - it will look all right but revert and shrink to its natural shape in the cooking. Once you’ve made pastry that is crisp, flaky and melts in the mouth a few times, it becomes second nature and would require a crisis of confidence to take it away.
SIFT THE FLOUR AND SALT, then cut in the butter until you get a breadcrumb-like texture. This much can be done very efficiently in a food processor. The rest is best done by hand so tip the ‘crumbs’ into a bowl, make a well in the centre and pour in the water. Quickly mix it in with a few strokes of a wooden spoon. When it has roughly come together, use your hands to knead the dough very briefly to get a smooth ball. Wrap and chill this for at least half an hour. If you chill it for much longer, allow it to sit at room temperature for a little while before rolling it.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to fit the tart case comfortably. I turn the pastry through 90 degrees after each roll and I think this helps to get an even thickness and to avoid the pastry sticking and thus stretching or tearing. Lay the rolled pastry into the case and gently nudge it into the edges, without stretching the dough. Trim off the excess dough and prick the base a few times with a fork to liberate any air bubbles you may have missed. Wrap the pastry again and chill for a further half hour. At this stage, it also freezes well and can be used straight from the freezer. To ‘blind’ bake the pastry, line the base with baking parchment, cover this with some dried beans, and
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