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November 05, 2010

Shortcrust Pastry

Another Saturday, another recipe. This time I'd like to show something very easy and well-known. Yes, I'm talking about shortcrust pastry. It's very easy to make and even easier to eat! Many recipes on the internet suggest using pre-made/store-bought shortcrust pastry or shortcrust pastry shell rather than making your own. My question is why? I don't know anything better than homemade shortcrust pastry and I've decided to share my know-how with you (but I think you already know most of it). So keep reading :)

The old meaning of the word short is crumbly which means the pastry has a crumbly texture. Although, it's very easy to mess it up and to get chewy and gum-like pastry as a result. But don't worry, this won't happen to you :) Shortcrust pastry is used as a basic pastry for many pies and tarts either sweet or savoury. I think it's one of the best known pastries in American cuisine. However, most people use the store-bought ones. Okay, I don't blame you, I buy puff pastry. Anyway, my suggestion is: „Make your own at least this time – just give it a try and you won't regret.“
The basic recipe for shortcrust pastry is very easy. Two parts flour, one part fat, water., salt So, this simply must be easy to make :)
I've done this pastry many times, but the first time I was quite afraid – there's no sugar. How could it be good without sugar when I'm supposed to make a sweet pie? Don't worry about that – it's fantastic. The filling is usually sweet enough (or maybe too sweet) so it perfectly complements the lack of sugar in the pastry. Well, the sugar issue has been solved.
And now here's another one. What kind of fat should you use? The traditional recipe calls for butter and lard. I know, I know. I almost always use butter in my kitchen as I hate all these „fake butter fats“, but here, please, use the lard! Without it, you won't get the right texture. The pastry will be very crispy and cookie-like, not nicely crumbly and light and, well, short. Of course, you have to use butter, too, because lard is flavourless and the pastry wouldn't be good if only used lard. So when it comes to this fat issue, use always half butter and half lard – this will create the best pastry ever!
Now it's time to share with you my tricks for the perfect shortcrust pastry. I follow them everytime I make this pastry and my reward is great crumbly pastry with the melt-in-your-mouth texture:

  1. the ratio is half fat to flour (flour:fat=2:1) – e.g. 200g flour and 100g fat
  2. fat = ideally unsalted butter and lard (butter:lard=1:1) – e.g. 50g butter and 50g lard
  3. fat should be cut into small lumps and then refrigerated for about 15 minutes (it mustn't be oily!)
  4. always use plain (or all-purpose) flour and it ALWAYS must be sifted
  5. all instruments you're about to use should be cold or cooled
  6. your hands should be cold when working with the pastry
  7. work fast – cut the fat into small cubes and refrigerate for 30 minutes or until firm and with flour using a cold knife until the texture reminds crumble or streusel, THEN use your cold hands
  8. before the addtion of refrigerated water, flour must be mixed well with fat
  9. the smaller amount of added water the better taste and texture of pastry
  10. the pastry mustn't be overworked otherwise it'd be chewy and gum-like, not crumbly and light
  11. always let the pastry rest in your refrigerator for at least 30 minutes (covered in foil) prior to rolling
  12. it should be rolled on slightly floured surface and ideally refrigerated before the baking, itself
  13. always bake in preheated oven
  14. if you use wet filling, do the blind baking (=bake only the pastry in oven for about 10 minutes)
  15. if you use moist filling (e.g. for apple pie), glaze the bottom with egg white, tit will „close“ the pastry and the moisture from the filling won't get soaked into the pastry
  16. for a nice looking pastry glaze it right prior to baking with egg wash (I use egg yolk with a little milk)

Ufff, guess that's all you need to know to make the best pie crust ever and now the promised recipe comes :) Enjoy and try! (And let me know how it worked!)

420g plain flour
105g unsalted butter, cut into tiny lumps
105g lard, cut into tiny lumps
a big pinch of salt
1 glass of refrigerated water

Sift flour, holding the sieve about 20cm above bowl. Now add salt and fat (refrigerated after cutting). Using a cold knife, cut the fat into the flour until it reminds crumble or streusel – the fat should be evenly mixed with the flour. Now use your cold fingertips and rub the fat into the flour very gently (you don't want the fat to become oily or to melt). Always lift up the pastry in your fingertips and then let it fall down again (from about 5cm above the bowl) – this way you'll incorporate more air into the pastry which is what you want. Now add 1 tbps water and use the knife again. Then your fingertips and repeat until firm and not sticky. I usually need to use 3 tbsp water. Work fast – everything should stay cold, not warm. Do not overwork or even knead the pastry! Cover in foil and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Then remove from fridge and let it come to room temperature. Roll out the pastry on lightly floured surface into any shape you desire. For example into a circle and place it into greased and floured pie form. Anyway, always refrigerate the pastry after the rolling out. Then either blind bake or glaze with egg white and fill with any filling you've chosen. Bake according to your recipe instructions.
  • If you want to use your pastry later, freeze it before you'd start the rolling-out. It'll keep for up to 3 months in the freezer.
  • You can refrigerate the pastry for up to 3 days, then either use it or freeze it.

What else can I say? I've mentioned everything I could possibly think of above. So there left just one thing: it's delicious, it's crumbly and buttery and very very tasty. In fact it's not tasty. It's divine!

And what to do with you shortcrust pastry? Apple Pie or Pecan Pie of course!

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