How To Make Shortcrust Pastry (aka Pâte Brisée) The Quick Way

“We had a cook, but she has gone away,
She was too good, too beautiful to stay –
Beautiful in her art I mean to say.
There is no book
That can expound the sorrow of the thing
When a light hand with pastry taketh wing;
We can but sit and weep, remembering
How she could cook”

E V Knox, from Thestilis, 1924

It’s called ‘shortcrust’ because it has a high butter content  – ‘shortening’ is another name for fat which is solid at room temperature and used to give pastry a crumbly texture. In the same way ‘shortbread’ also has a high proportion of butter. This is the recipe for a light, buttery pastry, rich with flavour (enhanced by the egg yolk) – ideal for sweet pies.

For a post on how to make pastry with olive oil (surprisingly good), follow this link.

The high butter content gives it a rich, crumbly texture.

You can also make shortcrust pastry with half lard and half butter which will result in a very crumbly, light pastry but with a bit less flavour. This works well for savoury pies where a lot of flavour is in the filling.

If the pastry seems a bit too crumbly you can add a splash of water. The white of the egg helps to give the pastry more strength.

Two good techniques for people without much time

  • shortcrust is one of those types of pastry where the quicker you make it the crumblier and melter-in-the-mouther it will be.
  • if you have an Aga or Rayburn you obviously don’t have to bake blind when it comes to baking the pastry which involves messing about with baking beans etc. But people without Agas can replicate the same conditions. To find out more go to Do you have to bake blind?

Good to know re freezing shortcrust pastry

Shortcrust pastry freezes well so you could make double quantities if you are the type of person who won’t forget that it’s lurking in the freezer. It freezes better if you roll it out first. Allow plenty of time, several hours, or overnight, for it to unfreeze. If you start doing execrable things in the microwave in an emergency attempt to defrost you will find the pastry starting to cook before it should, the whole exercise could turn messy!

If you don’t have time to make pastry get in a good supply of Dorset pastry (Ocado stocks this) and freeze it.

Additions to savoury shortcrust pastry

You can make savoury shortcrust pastry a bit more interesting rolling in:

  • chopped herbs – thyme, rosemary or oregano
  • chopped nuts
  • grated Parmesan

Recipe for the perfect shortcrust pastry

This makes enough for a 22cm tart

Ingredients

  • 225g/8 oz/2 cups plain flour
  • 115g/4 oz/half a packet of chilled ordinary salted butter; or if you have the time, seek out Echiré – both Waitrose and Marks & Spencer stock this butter, with has less water content and no salt. It’s worth the additional cost, since there is so much butter in this recipe. Then add ½ tsp salt. You can even use frozen butter, and grate it in to the flour.
  • 1 medium egg, beaten
  • 1 tbsp ice cold water – or an ice cube or two
  • pinch baking powder if it’s easily to hand
  • if it’s a sweet tart you can add two tbsp caster, or three icing, sugar
  • if it’s a savoury tart you can substitute half the butter for cold lard (or Trex which produces a very light pastry – it’s  non-dairy and suitable for vegetarians – use 20% less than the stated amount of butter) which makes the pastry a bit crisper

Method

  1. Take the ice cubes out of the freezer, and into a small cup to begin to melt. You can use cold water if you are in a rush.
  2. Cut the butter into dice.
  3. Mix in with the flour. Add the ice cubes. They will begin to melt as you work the pastry. If you are using water, do this later.
  4. Rub in delicately, using your fingertips, until it starts to look like breadcrumbs.
  5. Slowly add the egg, and then the water, moulding together with your hands still, remembering THE QUICKER YOU DO THIS THE BETTER.
  6. The pastry should be dry enough to leave the sides of the bowl, it should be starting to clump together, it should NOT form a solid lump.
  7. Roll the pastry out, put it in a glass pie dish (why glass? follow this link to find out), prick it several times with a fork (this helps to prevent bubbling). Remember, when you roll out, to change your direction by 45°, to allow for the fact that your arms will have different strengths.
  8. Add the filling, you do NOT need to bake blind, especially if you have an Aga or Rayburn.

“He had never written it down, he said. But a few days after that first bite, I received handwritten instructions on a white piece of paper, labeled simply “Pastry.” It included the following directions: 3 ice cubes—crushed in heavy plastic bag with mallet 2 tbs frozen lard (optional but excellent addition) There were copious notes about the importance of keeping the butter, the lard, and even the mixing bowl as cold as possible. It was imperative that I put everything—the mixing bowl, the flour, and any baking tools I was planning to use—in the freezer before proceeding with the recipe. He also insisted that I use a cheese grater to grate a frozen stick of butter into the flour mixture. I could deal with the grated butter and the frozen bowl, but later, when I tried to duplicate Edward’s pastry, I would find it almost impossible to work the crushed ice into the pastry dough. The ice simply wouldn’t hold the flour and butter together. Maybe it needed to be turned into slush?”

Isabel Vincent, Dinner With Edward
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