Shortcrust Pastry

Method

The basic shortcrust recipe can be varied to suit the size of the plate or tin. The usual proportion is half the amount of fat to the amount of flour but if you like a richer and more crumbly pastry, use a little more fat and decrease the amount of liquid. A mixture of butter and vegetable fat makes a very light pastry.

Remember to handle the dough as little as possible, work with well-chilled ingredients and mix them quickly. The dough does not need to be perfectly blended because if it is overworked the baked pastry will be tough and shrink during baking. It is important not to use too much water as it, too, can toughen the pastry. Pastries with a lot of fat need hardly any water and will be rich, short and crumbly after baking.

To make pastry for a 23 cm (9 in) tart tin, you will need 250 g (8 oz) plain flour, ½ teaspoon salt, 125 g (4 oz) diced chilled butter and 2-3 tablespoons well-chilled water. For an open tart it is best to use a loose-bottomed flan tin for easy removal but a ceramic quiche dish with an unglazed base to help conduct the heat works just as well.

Shortcrust Variations

If you make shortcrust pastry with soft margarine or vegetable oil, the technique is different from the traditional method. Put the fat, chilled water and one-third of the flour in a bowl and cream together with a fork, then stir in the remaining flour and lightly knead to make a soft dough.

You can make shortcrust pastry in a food processor, rather than by hand, but take care that it isn’t overworked – never let the dough form into a ball in the machine. Instead, I sometimes just combine the chilled butter and flour in the food processor until it resembles fine breadcrumbs, then transfer to a bowl and mix in the water by hand.

To make a rich, crisp cream cheese pastry, put 75g (3oz) butter and 75g (3oz) cream cheese with 250g (8oz) flour and 2 tablespoons sugar in a food processor and blend until the dough just holds together. This dough will be difficult to roll out because it is so rich, so it will probably be easiest to pat it into the container or piece together as a top crust.

Using soured cream, rather than water in the basic shortened pastry recipe (above) results in a tender pastry, ideal for wrapping pâtés en croûte or making tartlet shells.

  1. Before you begin place a small bowl of water in the refrigerator to chill. Mix the flour and salt together in a large bowl. Add the well-chilled, diced butter and cut in with 2 knives used scissor-fashion until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Alternatively, use your fingertips or a pastry blender to rub in the fat lightly.

  2. Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and add 2 tablespoons well-chilled water, quickly and lightly mixing it in with a knife. The dough is moist enough if a little of the mixture squeezed between your fingertips sticks together; if it is too dry, add more well-chilled water little by little but be very careful not to add too much water which makes the pastry tough.

  3. Press the crumbs together to form a more solid dough, picking up little flakes on the side of the bowl and gently kneading them together to form into a large ball. Only use 1 hand so you do not overwork the dough.

  4. Gently flatten the ball of dough on a lightly floured surface to a disc so it chills evenly. Wrap well in clingfilm and chill for at least 30 minutes before rolling out to the required shape. Allow to soften slightly before rolling.

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