My advice is to follow your recipe very closely
There are a few golden rules when it comes to working with pastry in the kitchen.
Most people nowadays buy their pastry ready-made and there’s some very good ready-made pastry out there. If you do make your own pastry, then that’s fantastic.
When making pastry, my advice is to follow your recipe very closely and measure accurately – this is the time to get your kitchen scales out. As I often say, baking is chemistry, so you need to keep the ratio of fat to flour right to get the desired effect.
Types of pastry
There are many types of pastry which the home cook can use.
Shortcrust: Which I’ve used in my Steak and Ale Pie, is a good everyday, easy-to-make pastry with a crumbly texture. In classic French cuisine, basic shortcrust pastry is enriched by adding more butter and whole eggs or yolks. When used for sweet baking, shortcrust can be sweetened by adding caster sugar.
Puff: Has crisp, delicate layers and a rich taste. This is very much a luxurious pastry, used in French cookery to create treats such as vol-au-vents. Making your own puff pastry is time-consuming and tricky, so my advice would be to buy it ready-made.
Filo: This fine, paper-thin pastry is used in Greek and Middle Eastern cookery, layered up to create a crisp texture in both sweet and savoury dishes such as spanakopita (spinach pie) and baklava (syrup-laden nutty pastries). Again, buy it ready-made. It’s sold in thin sheets, so you don’t even need to roll it out, which makes it very easy to use. The thing to remember when handling it is that it dries out fast, so keep any pastry you’re not handling covered with cling film.
Hot water crust pastry: This firm-textured pastry is traditionally used for making raised pies such as game pies or pork pies. It is made by adding hot water to the pastry mixture to bind the flour, fat and eggs together, and must be used straight away while it’s still soft and pliable.
Rest your pastry
Once made, always let your pastry rest in the fridge for 30 minutes as this allows the gluten in the flour to ‘relax’ – preventing the pastry from shrinking when baking.
When it comes to handling your pastry, it should always be well-chilled to start with. If, however, the pasty has been in the fridge for longer than 30 minutes, you need to bring it out to room temperature for 15 minutes before you start rolling it out to stop it cracking.
Dust a little flour onto the surface and rolling pin to prevent the dough from sticking to it. As you roll out the pastry, keep rotating the pastry so that you roll it out evenly. Press lightly and firmly as you roll. The secret is to work quickly and not to over-work the pastry, as this will make it tough and hard.
The most important thing to remember is that pastry needs to be handled gently.
Using dishes with pastry
If you’re making a pastry-lined dish, such as a flan, then the secret to getting that nice crisp pastry crust rather than a soggy crust is to ‘blind-bake’ the pastry case first before adding ingredients.
Simply roll out the pastry and use it to line the dish or tin, prick the base all over with a fork to prevent it from rising, then place baking parchment on top of the pastry and fill it with either ceramic baking beans or dried pulses such as lentils.
The next step is to partially bake it in an oven that has been pre-heated at 200˚C/Gas Mark 6/392˚F for 15 minutes. Lift out and remove the baking parchment and baking beans and bake the case for a further 5 minutes. Remember you’re not totally cooking the pastry, so you want the pastry just to be very pale gold in colour. Remove from the oven.
The part-baked pastry case can then be filled as you wish and baked until totally cooked through, crisp in texture and a rich, golden colour.
Encasing with pastry
When using pastry as a container, for example as a pie lid or for pasties, my finishing touch is to brush the pastry evenly with an egg wash made from beaten egg yolks. When baked this gives a lovely shiny golden glaze to the pastry, making it more attractive and all the more appetising.