Short Crust Pastry
Like everything in the kitchen these days, it’s very easy to rely entirely on pre-prepared pastry and never have to bother making your own. Indeed, some of the ready-made pastry isn’t all that bad, and I’ll admit to keeping a packet or two of puff pastry sheets in the freezer.
But, like everything, if you learn to do it properly for yourself, the results are just so much better. As is the satisfaction of looking at a perfect pie and knowing that it’s all your own work.
Short crust pastry is one of the easiest to make, and also one of the most versatile. It’s also a good starting point on the road to pastry making, having learnt some basic skills on this safe little beginner’s ride, you can start to expand your repertoire.
Use short crust for a variety of pies, tarts, turnovers, etc. With a little variation, it becomes rich or sweet short crust, for richer, sweet tarts and flans.
Like all pastries, short crust is basically a mixture of flour, shortening and liquid.
Many recipes will tell you to use plain (all purpose) flour and baking powder, but I find I get a much softer pastry if I use self-raising flour. I like to include at least a little milk in the liquid ingredient for the same reason (I suspect the fat in the milk is what helps).
You might be a bit flummoxed when a recipe calls for something like “1 quantity of short crust pastry”: what this means is to use the amounts of ingredients in the basic recipe. For multiple quantities, multiply the ingredients accordingly.
I find that the basic recipe here – 1 quantity – is enough to line an average pie dish. If you want to make a covered pie, add 1/2 again of the ingredients (i.e., 3 cups of flour instead of 2).
That said, I like to err on the side of generosity with my amounts. Strictly speaking, 1 quantity of short crust should be enough to line and cover an 18-20cm (7-8in) pie dish, but I find that’s only feasible by rolling the dough to within an inch of its life. I much prefer to up the quantity a little – plus then you’ve got some left over – and I’ll tell you a great use for that at the end.
Things to keep in mind
Sift dry ingredients like flour, raising agent, salt, etc., together to aerate the mix.
Keep the mix cool. Don’t be too tempted to melt hard butter – and always use butter, not margarine: the taste is far superior.
Add liquid ingredients gradually. If you add too much, the dough will be sticky and unmanageable, and you’ll end up in a vicious cycle of adding more flour, more water, to get the right consistency, and end up with a tougher pastry anyway.
Another trick I use is to make the dough in a food processor: I sift in the dry ingredients, add the shortening, and then whizz it for a few seconds until
Pastry will improve if you leave it to rest before you use it, preferably in the fridge or some cool place. What happens is that when the pastry is resting, the starch grains in the flour will absorp water and rupture more easily when its baking.
What do I need?
- 2 cups of self-raising flour
- 1/2 tsp of salt
- 1/2 cup of butter
- 1 – 1 1/2 cups of water (and/or milk)
- Squeeze of lemon juice
What do I do?
Sift the flour and salt into a bowl.
Add the shortening and rub it into the dry ingredients with your fingertips until the mixture looks a bit like breadcrumbs.
Gradually add the lemon juice and the rest of the liquid until you’ve got a firm dough that leaves the bowl clean (i.e. it doesn’t leave any flour lying around in the bowl). Don’t add so much liquid that the dough becomes sticky.
Sprinkle flour on a board or bench, turn the dough out of the bowl and knead it lightly until it’s smooth. Leave the dough to rest for 5 minutes or so.
Rub some flour on your rolling pin so the dough doesn’t stick, and roll out the pastry to the size and shape to fit the dish. Make it about 3cm (1 1/2 in) larger than the diameter of the dish.
An easy way pick up the rolled dough is to loosely roll it up around the rolling pin, and then lift it up and unroll it in place on the dish.
If you’ve made a quantity to cover the pie, divide off roughly a third of the dough and put it aside. Roll the larger amount out to line the dish, then roll out the other to make the lid. Make sure the lining overlaps the edge of the dish a little. Rub or brush a little water around the edge of the lining.
When you’ve filled the pie, place the lid on top, and press the edges of the pastry together. If you need to, trim the edges to fit. Use your thumb to make a fluted edge.
Cut a couple of slits in the lid to let steam escape. You can use some of the trimmed off pastry to make those little leaf shapes to decorate the pie with, too.
What to do with the extra pastry?
As I said, I like to err on the side of generosity with my dough mix, which means that I almost always have some left over. Instead of wasting this excess dough, use it to make some jam tarts for a simple treat.
Roll the dough out and use a glass or biscuit cutter to cut it into circles about 6cm (2 1/2in) round. Press the circles into what I’ve only learned today are called “GEM scone trays” (you know the ones, with usually 2 dozen semi-circular depressions about 6cm diameter pressed into them).
Fill each one with about a tsp of jam, and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, until they’re browned nicely.
Take the tray out, top them up with a little extra jam, and let them cool in the tray a little. When the jam’s set, turn them out onto a wire rack to finish cooling. If they last that long.