Although you can buy very good ready-made pastry, it’s worth knowing how to make your own. Here’s how to make homemade pastry the easy way.
At its most basic, pastry is a combination of flour, fat and water. These simple ingredients come together to form a soft, pliable dough that can be used in many different ways. There are lots of different kinds of pastry; shortcrust, puff, dessert, choux, filo, and hot water crust. They all have their uses in modern-day cooking.
But where did pastry originate? Who made it first?
The history of pastry can be traced back to ancient Egypt. A mixture of flour and oil was used to make a type of filo pastry, which the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans used to make sweet treats full of nuts, honey and fruit.
Later on, the Romans made up a flour, water and oil paste to wrap meat in before cooking it. This was meant to keep the meat moist and stop it from burning. It was removed and discarded after cooking.
Pastry is mentioned in the first English language cookbook, The Forme of Cury, which was written towards the end of the 14th century. By the 17th century, pastry had become very fashionable and was enriched with egg yolks and coloured with saffron. British bakers took pride in their creations and were further inspired by the French patisseries.
Around 1645, Claude Gelee was credited with inventing the first puff pastry. He accidentally created a laminated dough and decided to go with it. This ‘mistake’ brought us such delights as Mille-Feuille and Tarte Tatin
The British loved to show off their own beautiful creations, often elaborately decorated and considered fine dining at the time. But many of our pastries and desserts that are enjoyed today are a result of French ingenuity.
So how do you make pastry? It needs a light touch, as too much handling can make the dough tough. If you make it by hand, your hands should be cool; hot hands will melt the fats and make the pastry oily.
The type of fat used is dependent on which recipe you’re following. Puff pastry should be made with all butter, but savoury shortcrust is traditionally made with a mixture of butter and pure lard. Although you can replace the lard with vegetable shortening if you prefer.
Other alternatives to lard or butter include vegetable oil, coconut oil, mashed banana, and avocado. These are great for making vegan or vegetarian pastry, as there are no animal fats present.
Here are some quick and easy pastry recipes to get you started on the basics. Making pastry is not difficult, as long as you follow some simple ‘rules.’
- Always sieve the flour into the bowl to get as much air into it as possible. This makes for a lighter pastry
- Weigh out your ingredients accurately – don’t just guess!
- Make sure that your hands are clean and cool. Run your hands under a cold tap for a few minutes if necessary
- The fats should be at room temperature. Hard fat will be difficult to rub in and overly soft fat will make the pastry oily
- Handle the pastry dough as little as possible
- Chill the dough in the fridge for 30 minutes wrapped in cling film, before rolling it out
The easiest pastry to make is a basic shortcrust, so here’s how you do it.
A good shortcrust pastry should be golden, crisp, and melt-in-the-mouth. It’s the most popular pastry for making pies, quiches, and tarts. This makes enough pastry for a double crust pie to serve 6 people.
300g plain flour
A pinch of salt
150g chilled butter or 75g each of butter and lard, diced
3 – 4 tablespoons of very cold water
Sieve the flour and salt into a large bowl. Add the fats and use the tips of your fingers to lightly rub the fat into the flour, until you have a mixture that looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add some water (you might not need all of it) and stir with a knife. Add a little more water if there are dry crumbs in the bottom of the bowl.
But be careful – too much water and your pastry will be sticky and difficult to roll out. Not enough water and it will be dry and crumbly and crack when you try to roll it.
Use your hands to bring the dough together into a ball. Handle it as little as possible at this stage. Wrap the pastry in cling film and pop it into the fridge for 20 minutes to chill.
Put the ball of pastry onto a floured board or work surface and dust the rolling pin lightly with flour. Cut off two-thirds of the dough for the base and the other third will be used for the lid. Start rolling by applying gentle pressure and moving the rolling pin in a back-and-forth motion. Give the dough a quarter turn and continue rolling until the pastry is a rough circle in shape and is about 2 – 3 mm thick.
Lift the sheet of pastry by draping it over the rolling pin then unroll it over the top of your prepared pie dish. You do this by placing the rolling pin in the centre of the pastry and lifting the front edge, folding it gently over the rolling pin, then you lift the rolling pin so that the pastry is draped over it. Take it over to the pie dish or tin.
Allow the edge of the pastry to slide off the rolling pin and into the pie dish, then gently pull the rolling pin out from underneath and the pastry should drop into the pie dish. Press it down firmly and chill for 15 – 20 minutes before adding the pie filling – which should be cold.
Never attempt to fill a pie while the filling is still hot as the fats in the pastry will melt and it’s likely that your pie will break apart. You don’t want that to happen!
Once you’ve added the filling, roll out the rest of the pastry in the same way and dampen the edges with water. Place the lid on top and press down firmly around the edges, making a tight seal. Use the prongs of a fork to mark lines all around the edge and brush the pastry all over with milk or beaten egg. Cut out shapes from the pastry scraps to decorate the pie if you want.
Make 2 holes in the crust with a sharp knife, which will allow steam to escape during cooking. Your pie is now ready to bake.
Quick Flaky Pastry
Making puff pastry is a time-consuming process; you have to keep rolling, folding and re-rolling the dough and chilling it in the fridge in between. But there is an easier way to make it. This method was invented by TV cook, Delia Smith. Enough for 6 servings.
175g plain flour
A pinch of salt
2 tablespoons very cold water
First of all, weigh out the butter, wrap it in foil and put it in the freezer for 30 – 45 minutes. It needs to be quite hard so that you can grate it. If it’s too soft you will end up with an oily mess.
Sift the flour and salt into a bowl by holding the sieve up high and shaking it gently from side to side. Take the butter out of the freezer and fold back the foil. Put a box grater into the bowl of flour and grate the butter on the coarse side of the grater, holding it by the foil. This will protect it from the heat of your hands and stop it from melting. Dip the butter into the flour frequently to make the task easier.
When all of the butter is in, take a palette knife and start to mix the butter into the flour. Sprinkle the cold water evenly over the flour and butter mixture and bring it together with your hands. You may need a tiny bit more water but make sure you don’t add too much. If you do, add a bit more flour to compensate.
Wrap the pastry in cling film and chill for 30 minutes. Your pastry is now ready to use. This won’t rise like puff pastry, but the texture is nice and flaky and buttery so that makes up for it.
This is the real thing – crisp, light, flaky and buttery. It takes a while to make but the end result is so worth it. This is a project for a rainy Sunday afternoon when you have time on your hands. Makes 500g.
225g plain flour
Half a teaspoon of salt
140g softened butter, diced
150 ml iced water
Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl then place the bowl in the fridge for 10 minutes. This helps the pastry to form better layers. Use a palette knife to stir the butter into the flour, making sure every piece is coated in the flour. Pour in the water and stir everything together quickly to form a rough dough.
Turn the dough out onto a floured board or work surface and flatten it out into a sausage shape. Wrap it in cling film and chill for 15 minutes.
Roll out the pastry to an oblong that’s 3 times longer than it is wide. Use your hands to pat the edges of the pastry and keep it as straight as possible.
Lift the bottom edge of the pastry and fold a third of it up towards the middle. Bring the top third down to meet the bottom edge. Press the dough down firmly with the rolling pin, keeping the corners as square as you can. The size isn’t too important.
Now turn the dough so that its open edge is facing to the right, like the pages of a book. Press down on the edges again to ensure they’re sealed.
Now re-roll the pastry and repeat the folding and pressing down of the edges. Repeat this process 4 times altogether, so that you have a smooth dough with visible buttery streaks in it. This process is known as ‘laminating.’ Chill overnight in the fridge before you use it.
This light, puffy pastry is used to make things like eclairs and profiteroles. The puffiness is down to the high water content in the pastry; water creates steam, which causes the pastry to expand. Enough for 18 profiteroles or 8 eclairs.
150 ml cold water
50g butter, diced
60g of strong plain flour
1 teaspoon of caster sugar
2 medium eggs, well beaten
Put the water and butter into a medium-sized pan and leave to one side. Sift the flour with the sugar and tip it onto a sheet of greaseproof paper. This makes it easier to add the flour to the pan all in one go. Heat the water and butter over a moderate heat until boiling, then tip in all of the flour. Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until you have a smooth paste.
Now add the eggs a little at a time and beat well between each addition. You should end up with a golden, glossy paste. Your choux pastry is now ready to use.
*This recipe is for sweet choux pastry. If you want to make something savoury, add salt and pepper to the dough instead of sugar.
Hot Water Pastry
This is quite an easy pastry to make, the method is very different from making other kinds of pastry. This is used to make ‘raised’ pies, such as pork pie. Enough for a pie to serve 6 people.
575g plain flour
200g lard, diced
220 ml water
Heat the lard and water in a small pan until almost boiling. Sift the flour into a bowl and pour in the hot water and lard. Mix with a wooden spoon until you have a rough dough. Working quickly, while the dough is still very warm, knead briefly then cut off a quarter of the dough, wrap and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes
Use the rest of the dough to line a 20 cm spring-form pie tin; the dough is still warm at this point and pliable so it should be easy to work with. When you’re ready, add the pie filling, roll out the small piece of pastry to make the lid, and press down firmly, pinching the edges with your thumb and fingers. Now your raised pie is ready to bake.
I hope that you found this article interesting. Why not have a go at making your own pastry? If you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.
For more information on how to make pastry go to how to make homemade pastry
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