Margaret Fulton
74 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
Vanessa Levis

Hints & tips

Most pastries are a mixture of flour and fat bound with liquid, but variations in ingredients and in ways of mixing and cooking produce different results. A good pastry should be light, tender, crisp and somewhat flaky. Success in pastry-making is really a matter of practice. Certainly there are those whose delicate touch contributes to the lightness and tenderness of the pastry. But by following a few simple rules, anyone can make good pastry.

Start with simple pastries such as shortcrust, sweet flan or sour cream pastry, or use commercial brands that make it easy and foolproof to produce home-baked pastries. Supermarkets carry pastry mixes, packaged filo, ready-rolled frozen shortcrust or puff pastry, and ready to bake vol-au-vent cases.

Short pastries

Most short pastries are made by mixing fat with flour and lightly stirring in just enough liquid to make the mixture hold together. There are several types of short pastry:

Plain shortcrust, known in French as pâte brisée, this pastry does not contain sugar. It is used for savoury pies and pastries. It can also be made in the food processor.

Rich shortcrust (pâte brisée à l’oeuf) is enriched with egg yolk. This pastry is crisper than plain shortcrust.

Sweet flan pastry (pâte sucrée) contains sugar and egg yolks. It is fine and crisp, and used for delicate sweet tarts.

Making short pastry

Have ingredients and equipment cool before starting, so that the fat will remain in tiny pieces without melting into the flour.

Handle the pastry quickly and lightly once the liquid is added to avoid overdeveloping the gluten (elastic strands formed by the flour protein and moisture), which makes pastry tough and causes it to shrink when baked.

Chill pastry for at least 30 minutes after mixing and before rolling out, and again when it has been shaped, before baking. This relaxes the gluten so that the pastry will be tender and won’t shrink when baked. The longer the chilling time, the better – overnight is ideal – but be sure to remove it from the fridge at least 1 hour before shaping or you will be obliged to overhandle it.

Lining a flan tin

Use a loose-bottomed flan tin, or place a flan ring on a baking tray. If the pastry you are using contains sugar or egg, lightly grease the sides and base of the tin or ring – this is not necessary for plain pastry.

Roll pastry out to a circle about 3 mm thick and about 4 cm bigger than the tin or ring. Lift the pastry over the rolling pin, then lift and lay the pastry over the tin or ring using the rolling pin. Ease the pastry carefully into the ring, without stretching it, then, with a floured forefinger or a small ball of pastry, press the pastry into the angle round the base. Use floured fingertips to press the pastry firmly against the sides of the tin or ring. If using a loose ring, steady it with the other hand while you do so.

Roll across the top of the tin or ring with the rolling pin to trim off surplus pastry. Press the pastry gently around the top edge to work it very slightly above the rim of the tin or ring, then work around the top, gently thumbing the pastry a fraction away from the tin or ring. Rest for 30 minutes before baking as recipe directs.

To release the baked shell or tart from a loose-bottomed tin, place the tin on a jar and allow the sides to fall down. Slide the tart off the base onto a serving plate, or leave it on the base to serve. To release the shell from a flan ring, slide it off the tray onto a serving plate and lift the ring off.

Baking blind

Flan cases and tart or tartlet shells are often baked ‘blind’, meaning without filling. A case or shell may be baked completely if the filling is not to be cooked with it, or partially baked to colour and crisp the pastry before adding the filling and finishing the cooking. Care must be taken to see that an empty case or shell doesn’t puff up unevenly or buckle as it cooks. Oven temperatures used for baking blind vary with the type of pastry being used (see recipes). To bake tartlet shells blind, prick lightly all over the base with a fork, bake for 6 minutes then check. If any have puffed up, press down gently with a spoon then finish baking.

To bake a larger pastry case blind, line it with crumpled baking paper and fill with rice, dried beans or baking beads (available from kitchenware stores). For partial pre-baking, bake the case for about 8 minutes or the until sides are just coloured. Lift out the paper with the rice, beans or beads, return the case to the oven and bake for about 5 minutes more to dry and colour the base. If the sides of the case are over-browning, protect them with foil. Remove from the oven, add the filling and finish cooking.

To pre-bake completely, bake for 10–15 minutes after removing the paper and rice, beans or beads, or until shell is golden. Remove from oven and cool before filling.

To moisture-proof a pastry case that will have a juice or liquid filling, brush the inside of the cooked case or shell with lightly beaten egg or egg white or warm jam and place in a hot oven for 2–3 minutes to set.

Flaky pastry

These pastries are made by folding together layers of pastry dough with butter or other fats in between. When baked, the pastry puffs up into separate thin, crisp ‘leaves’. The basic dough for flaky pastries is damper and more elastic than for short pastries. This allows the pastry to stretch when it is folded, and also allows for taking up the extra flour needed for dusting.

Making flaky pastry

So that the fat will remain in firm layers, separating the pastry layers, have ingredients, equipment and your hands cool before starting. Chilling the pastry at intervals during preparation is also designed to keep fat layers firm.

To roll flaky pastries, first beat the pastry lightly and evenly with the rolling pin from front to back of the pastry, then bring the rolling pin down firmly on the pastry, give a short, sharp back-and-forth roll, lift the pin and repeat. The idea is to roll the pastry more thinly without pushing the fat about so that it breaks through the surface. Work your way from the front to the back of the pastry with these short, quick rolls, but stop just before you get to the back edge so that the pastry is not pushed out of shape. If fat does break through, sprinkle it with flour, refrigerate pastry for 10 minutes then continue. Keep corners square and edges straight. Correct the shape by pulling corners out gently rather than pushing the sides in.

Fold the pastry exactly in three with the edges level. Use a ruler as a guide and mark thirds with a fingertip on a long side before folding. Whatever shape you want to make from flaky pastries, always roll them straight along or straight across, keeping the rectangular shape.

If making rounds, ovals and other shapes, they must be cut from the pastry, not shaped by rolling. Cut cleanly with a sharp knife, and avoid the edges when glazing, so that the layers can separate as the pastry rises.

Choux pastry

Choux pastry is made by a different method than other pastries; flour is added to a mixture of water and melted butter and the resulting paste is cooked on the stovetop until it thickens, then eggs are beaten in.

Making choux pastry

Use baking paper as a funnel to pour flour into the boiling liquid.

Beat in the eggs gradually, using a wooden spoon, until the paste is well combined, shiny and smooth.

To form puffs, use a pastry bag and plain tube, or use two spoons to make well-shaped mounds of pastry on a tray.

To form éclairs, use a pastry bag and plain tube to pipe fingers of pastry on the tray.

Choux pastry stores well in airtight containers. Do not fill until ready to serve. The pastries should be crispish; if necessary, recrisp them in a preheated 180°C oven for 5–10 minutes, cool on wire racks, fill and serve.

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