Perfect Pastry Tips
Have you ever ditched an exciting looking recipe as soon as you realised you’d have to make your own pastry? Or maybe you head straight to the supermarket for shop bought. Tons of people avoid making pastry from scratch because it has a reputation for being a real pain. In this post I really want to help boost your pastry making confidence because with trial and error (yes - error is the path to success!) you will be able to nail perfect pastry every time. Like with a lot of tricky but satisfying recipes - pastry just takes time and practice - and even when it goes wrong you still have a tasty snack on your hands!
There are three main types of pastry that you will come across in pastry recipes: shortcrust, puff and filo.
Shortcrust pastry is dense, holds together well for pies and tarts, and is crumbly in the mouth. It can be used for sweet or savoury recipes as it has a rather neutral, creamy flavour, but you can also add flavourings. Shortcrust recipes often need twice as much flour than fat which helps with the density and dough stability. It really only involves rubbing the fat into plain flour to create a loose mixture, before bringing it together using cold water, and rolling out. It is often considered the easiest pastry to make and is incredibly satisfying (people always ask ‘did you make the pastry!).
Puff pastry (often considered to be French) is where things start to get tricky. There are even mathematical equations for exactly how many layers a recipe will have - sometimes adding up to the thousands (check out our mille fueille recipe). The layers can be created in various ways, but one way is to have a ‘beurrage’ layer (a rolled out layer of butter or solid fats) and a détrempe layer (your pastry). The butter is rolled out larger than the dough, the dough is placed in the middle, and the butter folded over it. This is then rolled lengthways - which can take a lot of work! The pastry is then folded in again from both ends (creating three layers). The pastry has to rest in the fridge for a couple of hours between rolls and folds, and the process is repeated several times to create hundreds of paper thin layers.
Filo pastry originates from Greece (the name means ‘leaf) and is the cousin to puff. You’ve probably seen filo in things like baklava, spanakopita, or mushroom and spinach pies. Made from flour, water and oil, it is probably a little easier than puff. The dough requires rolling and stretching to create extremely thin sheets of pastry. Unlike puff, where the layers are combined, when you come to bake with your filo, you will manually layer it and coat every 1-2 layers with oil or butter to help separate them, creating those lovely, crisp individual leaves.
Those three types of pastry are wildly different, and within those three types of pastry there are hundreds of variations and methods. Like with bread baking, that’s where it can get a little overwhelming, but here’s a bonus tip - when you start out with pastry, keep it simple. You can create delicious and impressive pastry recipes without having to invest days into figuring out the instructions.
But when it comes to keeping things simple, are there any pastry tips that are useful for all types of pastry preparation? Absolutely! Let’s get started with some top tips for almost any kind of pastry:
Cold means cold! Cold butter! Cold water! As cold as you can and try not to handle pastry with your fingers to avoid melting the butter. If you do have to handle the pastry, try running cold water over your hands, or holding a tea towel with ice in to help bring your hand temperature down
Try rolling your pastry between two layers of parchment paper to avoid using flour. Flour works great at preventing sticking, but it also gets incorporated into your pastry and ends up drying it out, causing cracking during baking
Do not overwork or knead your dough. You do not want to overwork the gluten, making a tough pastry. If you’re making a puffy pastry - overworking the dough will also compress the beautiful fluffy layers you’ve been trying to create, and your pastry won’t rise.
Always rest your pastry in the fridge after you make it, this will help to set the fat in the dough and cause less shrinkage during baking.
Bringing your pastry to room temperature after resting it in the fridge can make it easier to work with - especially if you are trying to make a complex recipe or drape pastry in a fluted tin. But everything else - your work top and hands - should stay as cold as possible
On that note - chill your fillings too! Chilling fillings prevents soggy bottoms! Hot fillings can do exactly what we’ve been trying to avoid and heat up the fats in the pastry, creating a moist and floppy bottom to your recipe. Sadness!
Preheat your oven and only pop your pastry in at the temperature in the recipe. You don’t want to make your pastry and have it sit around waiting for the oven to warm up, especially if it has a filling. You also don’t want to put your pastry in too early - if the oven is too cool you can end up melting your fats, leading to some separation and another soggy bottom! If your oven is too hot of course you’ll end up with dry, overcooked or dark pastry.
Cook pastry on the middle shelf in your oven. If you are newer to pastry - it can be easy to think you can chuck it in anywhere. But pastry is not forgiving like an oven pizza which will cook in just about any conditions! The middle shelf allows for the most consistent airflow around the pastry, allowing for even cooking from top to bottom and outside in. Ovens really vary in their airflow efficiency and temperature accuracy - over time you will get to know exactly how each pastry prefers to be cooked in your oven, which will be useful as you try more and more complicated recipes. It also means you might be in for a surprise if you move house or get a new oven and things come out a little differently to before!
There we have it for 8 top tips for creating pastry. Let us know if you have more top tips to add, what your favourite pastry recipes are, and if you’d like to see some individual blogs on each type of pastry. Comment below!