An introduction to cooking pastry. How to make 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.

Other pages in our pastry section

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)?

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.

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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.
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