Pastry tips and tricks to success

Pastry with Allan Campion

Pastry-making isn’t an art; it’s about having the knack. Some people just have that knack and others don’t, but fortunately it can also be learned.

Making pastry is one of those steadfast cooking methods that never changes; it’s been made one way for generations, and probably will be so for generations to come. So why not learn it and pass it on?

Pastry-making is simple chemistry. A mixture of flour, butter and water is always the basis; it’s what you do with these ingredients that makes the difference.

Here we cover how to make basic pastries, such as shortcrust and sweetcrust, and give instructions for puff pastry, choux pastry and hot water pastry.

Many people swear by food processor pastry recipes and if you have one that works well for you, congratulations. We’ve never been that keen on the food processor way, so we stick to the tried-and-tested rubbing in method. Which, we have to point out, takes the same time as the food processor but with less washing up, so why bother?

Good pastry takes a bit of time and there are no shortcuts: it needs to be rested for at least 20 minutes every time it has been worked, or it will shrink during cooking.

Things you need to know about pastry

Making pastry is like riding a bike: make it right once and you’ll have the knack forever

Climate will affect pastry. If you live in a small, stuffy space where the average temperature on any given day in summer exceeds 30°C, you’re not going to have too much luck. Keep ingredients and your work area as cool as possible.

Practise making pastry; after all, practice makes perfect.

Always dust your work surface and rolling pin with flour to stop the pastry sticking. Try to keep this dusting light, though; too much flour will affect the quality of the pastry.

Try not to roll pastry too thin; 3 mm (1/8 in) is perfect.

To check that you have rolled your pastry to the right size, place your tin on top of the pastry and allow an extra 2–3 cm (1 in) for the sides.

To line a pastry tin, place your rolling pin on top of pastry at the edge closest to you. Pick up the edge of the pastry and roll the pin, bringing the pastry with it. Transfer the rolling pin to the edge of the tin and unroll pastry onto tin. Push pastry down into tin and push edges over it. Roll rolling pin across the top to trim off excess pastry. Lastly, work your fingers around the side of the tin, making sure the pastry is pushed down into the corners. Trim any excess off the top using a small knife.

Pastry is often cooked in the oven before any filling is added. This is known as blind-baking. Prick pastry base with fork and rest for 30 minutes. Line pastry with greaseproof paper, then baking beans, pastry weights or rice and bake blind for 15 minutes in preheated oven

While all of this may sound like a lot of work, there is nothing – and we mean nothing – that even comes close to the taste and texture of homemade pastry.