Perfect Pastry

Everyone loves a delicious melt in the mouth homemade pie or tart.  Whether a classic zesty lemon meringue or a decedent rich chocolate tart, sweet shortcrust pastry is one of the simplest and quickest pastries to make. Shortcrust pastry (or pate sucree) is one of my favourites and works well with any sweet filling. It can be made ahead of time, frozen in blocks or lined and ready for baking, so why is everyone scared off and why so many fails in the kitchen?

There is certainly a stigma around pastry making possibly brought about by the recent MasterChef revolution and of course due in part to the fact that we no longer bake at home due to busy chaotic lives, work commitments and lack of knowledge. These skills are not passed down through the generations like they used to be. We are doing ourselves a real disservice by choosing convenience over homemade in more ways than one and our children really are missing out.  So forget MasterChef, you really don’t have to be a top chef to produce a good pastry at home and believe me, the satisfaction you will get from your finished creation will be well worth the effort.  Just purchase the ingredients in your weekly shop and set aside an hour one weekend to give pastry making a go. So long as you follow some simple, practical steps every time and you plan ahead it’s really as easy as pie. (Pardon the pun).  Be sure to follow these four practical rules for successful pastry making every time:

1. Why is flour type important?
 If you want that classic delicate crust and crumby texture you need to use flour low in gluten. The general bulk of the problems we encounter with pastry preparation are solely because we overwork the pastry, therefore working the proteins strands through pressure and manipulation.  To keep it simple, the best type of flour for the job is plain old white flour from the supermarket. In the commercial kitchen we call this ‘all-purpose flour’ if you can find ‘cake flour’ even better but it’s not essential.

2. Temperature
The one thing I must stress and repeat over and over again is to keep everything COLD. It’s a great idea to keep the flour in the fridge.  Cold kitchens, cold work surfaces and cold equipment. Start your pastry first thing in the morning before the day warms up for best results.

3. Rest the pastry
Always rest your dough for at least 30minutes after making it. This again helps the pastry to relax and remain short and crumbly. You will find the less you do to it the better it will be. I like to rest the pastry for another 30min after lining my tart base and before baking. A good 30min in the fridge or freezer will work wonders.

4. Tread softly
We must treat our dough with care, be quick, be gentle and take care. Don’t overwork it, or warm it too much with your bands. Just be light and nimble fingered. Don’t stress out. Let the dough relax and relax and enjoy the process.