6 Ways to Make Perfect Pastry
Does your shortcrust pastry shrink or crack when baked?
Are you the victim of a regular soggy bottom?!
Here you’ll learn how to make pastry including shortcrust, sweet and choux.
Firstly though, here’s how you can stop your pastry shrinking when baked.
How to Make Pastry Perfectly
Pastry can be used for one of three things; as a vessel for other ingredients, as a compliment to a sweet recipe or as a food item buy itself such as biscuits or Danish pastries.
Here’s a list of 6 things you can try to stop your pastry shrinking:
- Cut back on liquids
- Use high quality ingredients
- Do not overwork
- Rest the dough
- Work only with really cold pastry
- High heat to bake
Let’s Get Technical – What is Pastry
In its simplest form, pastry is a mix of flour, liquid and fat. Glutens in flour tend to stretch when being worked and contract when baking thus causing pastry shrinkage.
These glutens are created when the flour is mixed with liquids. They become strands, which provide you with the elasticity needed to form pastry dough. But they can work against you if they become overstretched and will shrink back to their original size if overworked or baked incorrectly.
Which is why pastry shrinks when baked.
Cut Back On Liquids
Baking causes the liquids in pastry to evaporate and can cause pastry shrinkage. The more liquid you add during mixing the more likely your pastry will shrink during baking, so be very careful when the recipe says “add X amount of water to bring the dough together”.
If you just add a tablespoon of liquid at a time this will help you get a feeling for how the pastry is forming into a dough, so you may not have to add the whole quantity it suggests in the recipe.
Use High Quality ingredients
Using a good quality butter will also help reduce shrinkage.
Because poorer quality bars have a higher percentage of water, which, as we have seen, will add to your problems. Remember, less liquid means less evaporation and shrinkage.
Do Not Overwork Your Dough
Gluten produces the elasticity in dough and if you overwork your dough during the kneading process it will create too much stretch. It’s a bit of a false illusion really because you think you need your dough to be smooth and pliable and easy to work with but this means you may have overworked it. When baked that elasticity will cause the pastry to recoil resulting in shrinkage.
So, smooth and supple is not always the desired effect you are after when working with pastry.
Just bring it together to form a relatively smooth dough and do not knead it like bread.
Rest The Dough Thoroughly
Once you have formed your dough, let it rest. Preferably leave the dough in the fridge for as long as possible. Some recipes call for 30 minutes, but even longer will help reset the elasticity you developed during the forming process. So aim for at least an hour in the fridge.
Work Only With Cold Pastry
Once chilled, roll out your pastry on a cold surface with a cold rolling pin and in a cold room.
Not much to ask is it!
Work quickly and do not overwork your pastry when rolling it out. Once you have lined your tart cases and they are ready for baking, whack them back in the fridge or freeze them until needed. This will again relax the elasticity and help reduce shrinkage.
Remember: Cold is key!
Bake On A High Heat From The Start
Blind baking gives you more control of the structure of your pastry cases. If you bake it on a high heat from the moment it enters the oven you can guarantee a crust which will help the case keep its structure. If you bake your pastry too low and slow the liquid evaporates and the butter melts slowly causing the whole structure to shrink, but by giving the pastry a quick blast of heat you are forming a crust and protective shell.
Usually, 15 minutes is all that is required on a high heat, but for larger cases reduce the heat after that period and bake for longer as the structure will have already set. Sometimes it is better to leave a short overhang of pastry so you can neatly trim your pastry lining once it has baked. This will help you get a neat even finish and allow for a small amount of shrinkage.
What Type of Pastry Should I use?
There are many types of pastry that can be used but each has its own unique characteristic that makes them perfect for certain jobs.
Here is a list of the most common pastry types and their uses:
- Shortcrust Pastry
- Sweet Pastry
- Choux Pastry
How to Make Shortcrust Pastry & Shortcrust Pastry Recipes
Shortcrust pastry is mainly used for savoury dishes such as quiches because it doesn’t add too much flavour but forms a lovely strong casing for your other ingredients.
To make a rich shortcrust pastry substitute the water with an egg yolk whisked with a tablespoon of water. Do not include the egg white. Egg white acts as a raising agent and will result in your pastry “bubbling” in the centre and not having a smooth baked finish.
You can also add lemon zest, herbs or sun dried tomatoes to add extra flavour and depth to savoury tarts. Just be aware of the extra liquid these ingredients add to your mix.
CHEFS TIP: If your pastry cracks when rolling it usually means there is not enough liquid in the mixture, so try dipping your hands in cold water and rubbing it over the pastry after bringing it together to make it more supply.
How to Make a Sweet Pastry & Sweet Pastry Recipes
Sweet pastry is used in desserts to compliment the other ingredients like fresh fruits with a crème patisserie filling.
It is a sweeter, lighter and crumblier pastry – perfect for desserts as it just melts on the mouth.
Once created, the sweet pastry must be left to rest in the fridge to maintain its shape and structure.
CHEFS TIP: Wrap loosely in clingfilm and roll out slightly before placing in the fridge. This will help reduce overworking and make it easier for the final roll before lining your tart cases.
How to Make Choux Pastry
Choux pastry has been given a bad reputation for being difficult to make but in reality it is very simple and easy. You just have to follow the instructions properly and take your time.
Choux pastry is light and airy with a fine crust that is perfect for chocolate eclairs, profiteroles, Gateau Paris-Brest etc.
To make Choux pastry you initially stir the ingredients over heat to make a paste by cooking off the water, leaving you with a soft shiny looking dough. Then take it off the heat and beat in the egg. This dough is then piped to create the shapes required and baked.
Choux pastry is not a sweet pastry so the use of fillings and coatings add the flavour required to make these a fabulous treat. Using a mix of crème patisserie and double cream creates a lovely fresh filling for your profiteroles and eclairs.
Using whole eggs means you have a raising agent that will make your pastries puff up and allow for the filling to be inserted.
CHEFS TIP: When making profiteroles and eclairs, once baked, remove from the oven and pierce the bottom of each with a knife, then return to the oven for a further 2 minutes to dry out even more.
How to Line A Pastry Case & Blind Bake
Lining a pastry case perfectly sounds a simple process but if your pastry shrinks or cracks during rolling or baking then your finished tart will look messy and unappetising.
However line a pastry case properly and your baking prowess will still be intact.
Lightly flour your working surface.
Roll out your pastry by starting in the middle and roll away from you towards to the edge. Turn the pastry ninety degrees and repeat the process. Keep doing this until you have an even thin layer of pastry. Most cases call for a depth of approximately 3-5mm. Any thicker and the pastry will overtake the flavour of your ingredients. Any thinner and you run the risk of it splitting during baking and the liquid ingredients seeping out onto your baking tray.
Trim the pastry to make it more manageable but leave enough pastry to have at least a 2cm overhang around the edges.
Now either roll your pastry over your rolling pin or fold the corners into the centre making it easier and stronger to lift. Place on top of the case and unroll or unfold making sure not to push the pastry onto the edges of the tin as this may rip your pastry edges.
Let the pastry fall into place using its own weight.
Do not force it.
Using light finger movements, ease the pastry edges back into the tin, pushing it into the sides of the tin. Using a spare piece of pastry, roll it up and dip in flour. Use this to gently pad the edges of the pastry into place against the bottom and sides of the flan tin.
If there are any cracks or holes in your case, patch it up with extra pieces of pastry.
Trim using a sharp knife or scissors but make sure you leave a overhang of at least 1cm to allow for some shrinkage.
Cut out a circular disk of baking paper, scrunch it up into a ball, unravel and place in the centre of the pastry case. Fill with baking beads or similar heavy items to weigh the pastry down during the first bake.
Heat the oven to 170 degrees centigrade and bake for approximately 15 minutes until lightly browned.
Remove from the oven and remove the baking paper and beads. Place back in the oven for a further 5 minutes to crisp up and brown nicely.
Once baked, remove and cool completely on a wire rack.
Trim the edges using either a sharp knife or a peeling tool by scraping away at the excess pastry until you start showing the edges of the pastry case. This will give you a neat professional looking pastry case which can either be frozen till needed or filled with your ingredients.
CHEFS TIP: After baking, if you have cracks in your casing, take some baked pastry trimmed from the sides of your case and mix it with water to form a putty like dough. Work this into the cracks. Do not use raw pastry as this will differ from your finished baked case.
Best Equipment For Baking Pastry
Here’s a list of some basic equipment to help you make the perfect pastry cases.
- Rolling pin – either wooden, marble or plastic
- Pastry Cutter sets
- Pastry tart cases