An introduction to cooking pastry including techniques for making the perfect pastry.

pastry guide
There are many people in our modern times who either have the time to cook, but have just never learnt, or who may know how to cook, but just don't have enough time.

As a result, some people always cook the same dishes that they are able to manage, rarely experimenting in the kitchen with new ingredients or different techniques, whilst others, rustle up dishes that are quick and easy to prepare or buy the ever so convenient ready-made meals that you just throw into the oven, saucepan or microwave in order to heat up.

When was the last time you baked a delicious homemade steak and kidney pie or presented your family and friends with a huge piece of mouth-watering homemade apple pie covered with warm, thick and creamy custard (homemade too, of course)?

Our pastry-related articles

Cooking is considered by some to be an art, although it is a creative activity that doesn't have to be reserved for the minority. It has also been said that a great chef is one who has mastered the technique of making pastry.

For some, making pastry is deemed too time-consuming, and by others, too complicated and strenuous. However, this doesn't have to be the case. Only a few ingredients are needed to make all types of pastry and once the techniques and secrets to good pastry making have been learnt, you could be churning out tasty pies, quiches and tarts several days a week.

Pastry is basically a dough, made from flour, fat, salt and water that is then rolled out and used as a base, cover or envelope for sweet or savoury fillings.

The most widely used pastry is shortcrust pastry, which is used in recipes such as cherry pie, pumpkin pie, quiche and banoffi fudge pie. Shortcrust pastry melts in the mouth, is rich in flavour and is delicious in sweet or savoury dishes.

As well as shortcrust pastry, there are also many other types of pastry, which are suited to different types of dishes and recipes.

Other types of pastry are:
  • Puff pastry
  • Rough puff pastry
  • Choux pastry
  • Filo pastry
  • Flaky pastry
  • Hot water crust pastry
  • Suet crust pastry
  • French flan pastry
  • Rich flan pastry (pate brisée)
  • Rich short pastry (pate sucrée)
Each pastry has a different method of preparation, may very slightly in ingredients and quantities and has a completely different texture when baked. There's no doubt that some types of pastry are more difficult to make and will take much longer to prepare.

Pastry ingredients

Flour
All types of pastry are made with flour, the main ingredient, which is almost always plain flour, giving the pastry a crisp and light result. With pastries that require the addition of yeast, then self-raising flour is likely to be used.

Shortening
The other main ingredient in all types of pastry is shortening or fat. The fats that are used to make pastry are generally butter, margarine, lard, suet, vegetable fat or a combination. Many recipes call for half butter and half lard, but an all butter pastry will be much richer in flavour and taste.

Liquid
Liquid is added to the flour and fat to bind the ingredients together and convert them into a pliable dough. Usually water is the liquid agent although other ingredients such as milk, cream, eggs or buttermilk may be called for. Sweet dishes such as fruit tarts or flans will normally contain whole eggs or just egg yolks rather than or as well as water.

Salt
All pastry dough contains salt, usually just a pinch but sometimes up to 1 teaspoon. Salt is added to enhance the flavour of the other ingredients.

Sugar
Sugar is used to sweeten some of the pastry mixtures that are intended for the sweeter types of tart and flan.

Flavourings
Ingredients such as herbs, spices, nuts or cheese may be used to flavour shortcrust pastry for that extra something required to give a plain recipe a nice kick.

Pastry blender

A pastry blender can be a useful tool for making a perfect pastry. One of the secrets to a good pastry is that there should be minimum handling of the dough before baking.

A pastry cutter is a tool, consisting of strips of wire, positioned in a semi-circular shape, with handles at each end to hold. The instrument is used to cut into the fat once it has been added to the dough and start the blending process off.

Pastry glazing

The tops of pies are usually glazed with certain ingredients to give a shiny and attractive finish. The glaze also aids to seal the surface of the pie covering and is applied using a pastry brush. To glaze pastry dough a number of ingredients may be used, including lightly beaten egg yolk for the shiniest finish, beaten egg white and sugar, milk or a beaten whole egg.

Tips for a perfect pastry

  • Keep all ingredients and utensils as cold as possible. Do not let the fat melt as this can lead to a tough dough once baked.
  • Wash hands under a cold running tap to keep them cool as well.
  • Handle the dough mixture as little as possible.
  • Add the liquid a little at a time. Too much liquid creates a tough dough, whilst too little gives a crumbly result.
  • Mix the dough together, working as quickly and lightly as possible.
  • Wrap the dough in cling film and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before rolling out, otherwise the pastry could shrink during baking.
  • Use a lightly floured clean surface and rolling pin to roll out the dough.
  • Roll the dough in one direction only, rotating to get an even shape.
  • Bake the dough "blind", quickly in a hot oven before adding any filling.

Pastry techniques

Making pastry may require some effort just until you get the hang of it, but some of you may wonder what to do with the pastry once you need to roll it out and line your pastry case or pie dish.

These are some of the questions that you may be faced with once you have your ball of dough and pie dish sitting directly in front of you, read on and these questions will be answered.

The key to success is being gentle with the pastry dough.

Covering a pie dish

If you are making a pie with pastry covering the top only, you will need to follow the following instructions. These instructions are to line a pie tin that is 2 inches deep.

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In this case, the filling will be placed directly into the bottom of the pie dish and the pastry will be placed over the top as a cover and sealed.
  1. Roll the pastry out evenly on a lightly floured surface. Use the inverted pie dish as a guide to measure an extra 2 inches all the way round the tin.
  2. With a knife cut a 1 inch strip of pastry from the edge, in the same shape as the pie dish.
  3. Place the pie dish the right way up and moisten the edge or rim of the dish with a little water. Taking the 1 inch strip of pastry, position it on the rim of the dish and press it down gently into place. Brush the strip with water.
  4. Place the sweet or savoury filling inside the pie dish, piling it up around the middle of the pie, so that when the pastry cover goes on, it will sit lightly on top of the filling.
  5. Wrap the pastry in one piece loosely over the rolling pin, lift the rolling pin up and position it over the pie dish and unroll the pastry so that it falls into position over the dish, centring it as much as possible.
  6. Press the edge of the pastry cover down onto the rim of pastry put into place earlier, sealing the edges together firmly with your fingers.
  7. Trim any excess pastry away from the edges with a sharp knife, holding the knife at an angle away from the pie dish. Cut a slit or small hole in the top of the pastry to allow the steam to escape during cooking.
  8. To seal the edges firmly so that they do not come apart during cooking and allow the filling to leak, tap the pastry edges all the way around the dish with the blunt edge of the knife held horizontally.
  9. Use the back of a floured fork to press down on the rim of the pastry for a decorative finish.

Making a two-crust pie

What could be better than not just one layer of melt in the mouth pastry covering a deliciously sweet or temptingly tantalising savoury filling, but two layers of pastry with a steaming filling hidden inside?

For a two-crust or double-crust pastry, firstly you will need 50% extra pastry. Then, you will need to separate the pastry into two chunks, one slightly bigger than the other.
  1. Take the larger portion of pastry dough and roll it out on a floured surface to a size that is 1 inch wider than the inverted pie dish. Use the inverted pie dish as a guide.
  2. Wrap the rolled out pastry very loosely around the floured rolling pin and position it above the dish. Lay the pastry down into place so that it lies loosely over the centre of the dish.
  3. Ease the pastry into the bottom of the tin by lifting it upwards and then gently lowering it into position. Press down into place with your fingertips along the bottom and sides of the dish.
  4. Trim any excess pastry from the rim of the pastry dish.
  5. Fill the pie case with the filling, piling the filling up high towards the centre.
  6. Brush the pastry edge with water.
  7. Roll out the smaller piece of pastry so that it is about 1 inch bigger than the rim of the pie dish. Lift it up with the rolling pin and unroll it over the top of the dish.
  8. Press the two edges together and cut off excess pastry but leave ½ inch (2cm) hanging over the side. Fold the overhang of pastry neatly under the rim of the dish and press the edges together again making sure that the pie is fully sealed.
  9. Cut two slits into the top of the pie and glaze with a beaten egg or milk. Use any excess pastry to cut out shapes and decorate the top of the pie.

Lining a flan tin or flan ring

You would use a flan tin for sweet flans or tarts and quiches.

Flan tins are not very deep and they do not have a rim, and their sides are smooth or fluted.

The handiest tins have a base that you can take out, which makes removing the finished dish very easy.
  1. Roll the pastry out on a floured surface to 2 - 3 inches larger than the actual flan case.
  2. Lift the pastry and lightly drape it over the tin.
  3. Lift the edges of the pastry upwards and ease the pastry into position. Press the pastry firmly but gently into place with your fingertips, ensuring that there are no gaps between the pastry and the tin.
  4. Turn any excess pastry outwards and then roll the rolling pin over the top of the flan case so that any extra pastry is cut off.
  5. Smooth any rough edges with the side of a blunt knife.

Baking blind

Baking blind is also known as pre-baking. Basically, what this means is that you partially or fully bake the pastry shell before adding any filling.

This may be done for several reasons.

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Firstly, if the filling does not need any baking or not as much baking time as the pastry does, then you would need to partially bake the pastry and then finish off the baking time once the filling has been added.

Secondly, if the filling is added before the pastry has been baked, it could make the pastry soggy or wet, depending on the type of filling.
  1. First of all, prick the base of the pastry all over with a fork.
  2. Line the pastry case with a piece of greaseproof paper or aluminium foil.
  3. On top of the greaseproof paper, add a layer of dried beans, lentils or pulses.
  4. Bake the pastry for 15 - 20 minutes if partially baking in a preheated oven set to 400°F (200°C). If you are fully baking the pastry, bake for 5 - 10 minutes longer or until the pastry has set and dried.
  5. Take out of the oven and remove the greaseproof paper and dried pulses.
  6. Allow to cool slightly and then add the desired filling.



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