Sunday, March 22, 2009

Shortcrust pastry

Rather than writing out the recipe for this every single time I post a recipe for a quiche, tart, pie, etc., I thought I'd write it out just once here and then refer back to it in a link as needed.

Shortcrust pastry is a very basic foundational sort of thing that everyone should know how to make - it takes less time and work than bread dough, and it always turns out wonderfully. I use this recipe for both sweet and savory dishes; I know lots of people like to add sugar when they make something sweeter, but for fruit tarts and pies, I prefer to let the filling provide all the sweetness. I might add sugar to something like a chocolate or custard tart, but that's about it - for everything else, this recipe works perfectly for me.

After much experimentation, I've decided that it really doesn't matter too much how much butter you use - the more you use, the flakier and richer your pastry will be, and as you use less, the pastry becomes more bread-like and solid. Though most people probably don't want this, I actually really like the crust you get when you use less butter (about 20-30 g for 100 g flour). Here I've given a recipe that calls for 1 part butter to 2 parts flour, which is pretty standard, though I've seen recipes that go as far as using equal parts butter and flour. For less flakiness, simply use less butter and a bit more water.

Flaky pastry vs. Non-flaky pastry

One last note I have is that I like to use unsalted butter and add the salt separately. Though you could just use salted butter, then you wouldn't really have a way of controlling how much salt goes into the pastry, and it's difficult to know just how much salt was already added to the salted butter.

150 g pastry flour
125 g unsalted butter
A small spoonful of salt
A bit of very cold water

If you really want a flaky crust, it's important to keep the butter very cold. This is to ensure that it doesn't melt until it gets in the oven - if it melts even a bit after it's been mixed with the flour into the dough, you won't get the nice layers of butter and flour that result in flakiness. If you're aiming for a breadier crust, you don't have to be as careful since it doesn't really matter if the butter melts a bit.

Sift the flour with the salt. Take the butter out of the refrigerator and chop it into smallish chunks, then use a pastry cutter or blender or any other implement that will work to mix the butter in with the flour, until the flour is all crumbly and you can't see any bits of butter. Again, if you don't care about getting a flaky crust, you can simply use your hands to mix in the butter - if you do care about flakiness, this is definitely not a good idea as your hands are probably the hottest thing the butter will come into contact with. If you don't have a pastry cutter, I highly recommend you get one - they're not very expensive and even though this is really the only job they can do, they do it wonderfully!

Add some very cold water, a bit at a time, just until the dough comes together. Quickly form it into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and leave to refrigerate at least half an hour to an hour before using. You can keep the dough in the refrigerator for a few days if necessary, and you can also freeze any excess dough to use later.

When you do want to use your dough, prepare whatever fillings you need beforehand and then butter all surfaces of the pan the dough will go in. Roll out the dough on a well-floured surface and then lay it in the pan and poke holes all over with it a fork. When I make tarts and quiches and things, I like to pre-bake the crust as this keeps it from getting soggy. I stick it in the oven for about 10 minutes, then take it out, add in the filling and then put it back in the oven.

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