Easy recipes for the newbie cook, the beginner in the kitchen, the nervous novice: we all had to start somewhere, and you can start right here.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Easy Shortcrust Pastry Recipe

This is a very easy and very useful pastry: I use it for savoury and sweet dishes – pies, pasties, tarts, quiche, etc.  It is quick to make and easy to roll out.  The quantities are very easy to adapt for larger or smaller dishes: it’s simply one part fat to two parts flour.  You can use any solid fat or shortening you like.  I prefer not to use margarine, due to the likelihood that it will contain hydrogenated fats and other unpleasant substances, so I usually use butter, dripping, lard, or a combination – half lard and half butter gives a very crispy and tasty result.

Shortcrust Pastry Recipe and Method

Ingredients (enough for a typical pie, base and top, for 4 – 6 people):

12 oz/340 g plain flour (NOT self-raising)
6 oz butter, dripping, lard etc, very cold, chopped, diced or grated as small as you can.
A good pinch of salt
A good pinch of ground white pepper (you can leave this out for sweet dishes, if you like, but it adds a nice spicy warmth)

Some ice-cold water


You can make this pastry by hand, but a food processor or electric hand mixer certainly makes the job a lot easier.  Mix all the ingredients except the water until well blended.  If doing it by hand, try to use only your fingertips – you want to keep the mixture as cold as possible so that the fat doesn’t run.  Most recipes tell you that the mixture will take on the texture of breadcrumbs when it is ready: it usually does, but not always, due to variables such as the softness of your fat, the humidity, how dry your flour etc.  Don’t worry if the “breadcrumb” stage isn’t achieved, as long as everything is very well mixed, it’ll all turn out fine.

Begin to add the water, a mere dribble at a time, mixing thoroughly as you go.  The more water you add, the harder and tougher the pastry will be, but if you don’t use enough the pastry will be very difficult to roll out without splitting.  Test a piece of the dough between your fingers and thumbs – if it pulls and stretches a little without breaking, then you have got it right.

Put the pastry in a covered bowl, a bag, or wrap with clingfilm, and refrigerate for at least half an hour, OR allow to “relax” for half an hour or so after rolling.  Either of these methods reduces the amount of shrinkage when cooked.

When ready, roll out the pastry on a lightly floured board, using a rolling pin, and dust the top of the pastry with flour as you go.  Ignore anything you’ve heard about only rolling in one direction: I’m sure some will disagree, but I don’t believe it makes any difference.

You can use the pastry for a “top only” pie, with your filling in your pie dish or tin, topped with the pastry,  or you may wish to make a complete pie, in which case you will probably want to “blind bake” the base so it stays crisp.

To blind bake pastry: Grease all round the inside of your pie dish or tin with a little fat, then add a spoonful or two of plain flour; shake the dish around so that the flour sticks to the fat, then tip out the excess flour - this process gives you an excellent non-stick surface.  Line your dish or tin with the rolled-out pastry, leaving good margins hanging over the sides – you can trim neatly once it’s cooked.   Patch any holes with little bits of leftover pastry.  Prick the pastry all over with a fork, and place aluminium foil or greaseproof paper over the pastry – it is not necessary to weigh this pastry down with baking beans.

Place in a medium oven gas mark 4/180C/350F for about twenty minutes, remove the paper/foil, then continue to bake for another ten minutes or so until the pastry is dry and firm to the touch.

You can do this ahead of time, let the pastry go cold, then return to it when you are ready to make the pie.  If you have done this, re-warm the pastry again in the oven for ten minutes or so, otherwise the base will go soggy when you put the filling in, and thus defeating the whole object of your blind baking.

For pastry tops: if making a “top and bottom” pie, brush the edges of the base with beaten egg or milk, then lay on the pastry lid and pinch around the edges to seal it to the base.  Again, leave a margin hanging over the sides.  Pierce a few holes here and there to let the steam out as it cooks.  “Paint” the top with an eggwash (more beaten egg) or with milk, then bake at a slightly higher temperature than for blind baking – gas mark 5/190C/375F.  It will take around forty minutes, depending on the size of your pie.  Is is ready when the top is golden brown.

I’ll give you a full recipe for a tasty Steak and Ale pie tomorrow, but why not experiment with your own fillings?

Leftover raw pastry trimmings?  Use this quick and easy Cheese Straw recipe.

Either in a machine, or by hand, mix in some grated cheese (parmesan is ideal, but whatever you have) and a pinch or two of cayenne pepper to your leftover pastry.  Roll out as thinly as you can, then cut into long srips.  Twist the strips into spirals, (if they keep uncurling, leave the pastry to relax for 20-30 minutes, then twist again) put on a lightly oiled baking sheet and bake at gas mark 5/190C/375F for around fifteen to twenty minutes.

Once cold, they keep well in an airtight container – that’s if there are any left; they are very more-ish.

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