General tips on preparing pastry
Cool hands, a cool pastry board or worktop, and water as cold as possible help to produce the best results. Also make sure the ingredients are kept chilled.
Use self-raising flour for short and ‘ruff puff’ crusts and plain flour/cake and pastry flour for flaky, hot water crusts and choux pastry. I used to use plain flour for short crust pastry but have just tried it using self-raising flour and was impressed with the result. The pastry was very light and the mixture was easy to work with.
The best combination of fat to use is half butter and half lard.
Use the fingertips as they are the coolest part of the hands. Lift the flour well out of the bowl to incorporate as much air as possible when rubbing in the fat. Always mix with a palette knife. Sprinkle the water evenly over the flour to prevent blistering when cooking (1 tsp per ounce of flour plus 1 tsp, as a rough guide). Avoid adding more flour after the water.
Shrinking is caused when the pastry is overstretched when rolling out or when making in a food processor. If using a processor, once the water is added, pulse the mixture just until the mixture comes together, then knead lightly by hand. I have tried using a food processor to make pastry but personally prefer making it totally by hand. The pastry just seems to be lighter.
Pastry needs chilling twice to relax it, for 20 minutes each time. Wrap the pastry in clingfilm to stop it getting too firm and put in the fridge for 20 minutes. This will make it easier to roll and it is less likely to shrink and crumble after baking.
Lightly dust the work surface with flour to prevent sticking. Be careful not to use too much flour though as it will dry out the pastry and lead to cracking when rolling it out. Use a straight rolling pin and palms of the hand and fingers to guide the pin so that the pressure is even and light. Dredge the pin with flour, not the pastry, then roll out the pastry quickly and lightly starting at the middle and roll up and then from the middle and roll down. Turn the pastry, not the rolling pin. Roll evenly and do not roll over the ends of the pastry. If the pastry is rich (for example, if eggs were used) roll it between greaseproof or parchment paper. It then needs to be chilled again for 20 minutes before going into the oven.
Pies, tarts, pasties and turnovers should be brushed over with a suitable glaze before baking.
Preparing different shaped pastry cases and toppings
For crunchy results, always blind-bake a pastry case until it is fully dried out and beginning to turn golden brown.
First, roll pastry out to about 5cm/2 inches larger than the tin or dish to be used. Using the pin, lift the prepared pastry into the tin by lifting half over the rolling pin first. Metal tart tins give the crispest results, either fluted or plain. A tart tin with a removable base, or a shallow sponge cake tin, are ideal as they make it easier to turn out the pastry case. The main advantage of ceramic or Pyrex dishes is that they look better on the table. If using this type, preheat a baking sheet in the oven and place the dish on this to bake the pastry. It will help to crisp up the base. Ease, never stretch the pastry into the tin, allowing excess to overlap the edges.
To achieve a high rim on a plain tin that doesn’t shrink back in baking, press 1.25cm/½ inch of excess pastry back over rim to inside.Press down gently. Trim neatly and finally, using forefinger and thumb, pinch edge up to stand in a rim above the tin. If using a fluted edged tin, press the pastry against the edge then run a rolling-pin over the top to cut the pastry level with the rim. Let it rest again for 20 minutes in the fridge before baking. To speed this up the pastry can be lined and put in the freezer for 10 minutes.
Prick the base to allow air trapped underneath to escape. Prepare a paper lining and weigh this down with baking beans, making sure they reach the edges of the tin. Place tray above the centre in a hot oven (200°C/400°F/gas mark 6) and bake for 12 minutes. Remove centre paper and return pastry case to the oven for a further 5 minutes to crisp. It is then ready to fill.
To make individual tarts follow the method above and bake in a hot oven (200°C/400°F/gas mark 6) for 12 minutes. Remove the lining paper and return to the oven to become crisp.
Individual Pastry Shells
Follow the method above for making the pastry and mould the pastry over fluted or small, shaped baking tins by using a plain cutter about 2.5cm/1 inch larger in diameter than the tin and stamp out rounds of the pastry. Mould the pastry over the outside of the tins, pressing to fit well and bring pastry up to the edge of the mould. Turn the moulds downwards on a baking tray and prick the pastry base of each one. Place just above the centre of a hot oven (200°C/400°F/gas mark 6) and bake for 12 minutes. When baked, tap each of the tins and lift the pastry away from the moulds. Carefully turn right way up and leave to cool. They are now ready to fill.
Open topped Pies
Use a shallow pie plate with a rim.
Follow the method above for making the pastry. Roll the pastry out thinly at least 2.5cm/1 inch larger all round than the pie plate. Lift pastry on to the rolling pin and unroll over the plate. Press pastry gently into place and trim excess to within 1.25cm/½ inch of the edge with scissors. Turn edge under to give a thick rim. Using knuckles and forefingers, press rim to make scalloped edge, Then pinch edges to get a sharp, ridged effect. Prick the base of the pie and bake blind if making a lemon meringue or chiffon filling. Or fill with fresh fruit or custard mixture and bake. Either way, place in a hot oven (200°C/400°F/gas mark 6) and bake for the time set out in the recipe.
Woven Topped Pie Crust
These can be woven loosely so the fruit shows through, or closely to make a closed top.
Follow the method above for making the pastry. Roll half of the pastry to a circle, lift on to the rolling pin and unroll it over a shallow pie plate. Fit pastry gently into plate and trim away any excess. Fill the pie plate with fruit.
Roll out pastry trimmings and remaining pastry and cut into thin strips with a pastry wheel. For an open weave you will need 10 or 12 strips, depending on the the size of the pie plate. For a close weave you will need 22 or 26 strips.
For an open weave, arrange about 5 or 6 strip evenly across pie in one direction. Then begin to weave pastry top in opposite direction. Lift up alternate pastry strips and place one pastry strip across. Fold back pastry strips. Lift up the other alternate pastry strips and lay next pastry strip across. Continue until top is covered.
For a close weave follow the instructions for the open weave above but lay the strips so they are next to one another without a gap.
Place above the centre of a hot oven (200°C/400°F/gas mark 6) and bake for 30–40 minutes.
Deep Oval Pie
The traditionally shaped deep oval pie dishes are never lined underneath.
Follow the method above for making the pastry. Roll pastry out to an oval shape about 2.5cm/1 inch larger than dish. Turn empty dish over on to pastry and, using a sharp knife, cut round rim about 1.25cm/½ inch away. Grease rim of the dish, lift pastry trimmings and place cut side inwards round the edge of the dish. Fill pie with fruit or meat filling and damp pastry rim. Lift pastry top onto rolling pin and unroll over pie. Press edges together with tines of a fork, make a hole in the centre and decorate with leaves cut from any trimmings. Brush meat pies with egg and milk and fruit pies with beaten egg white and sugar. Place above centre in a hot oven (200°C/400°F/gas mark 6) and bake according to recipe.