How to make: Shortcrust Pastry by Hand
Making shortcrust pastry by hand is easy, just follow a couple of simple tips I’ve listed below and you’ll see how gratifying it is to make. I have a very detailed post already on how to make shortcrust pastry with the food processor. The post details how to roll it, chill it, blind bake, under-baking, problems with shrinkage and the right tins to use, and differences in shortcrust pastries, so check it out if you haven’t already, it’s one of my most googled posts: Why does my pastry shrink? Step-by-step guide to shortcrust pastry.
In the previous post I wrote how to prevent the pastry from shrinking, all pastry will shrink to some extent because it contains liquid and liquid will evaporate as the pastry is baking, hence the shrinkage. How much a pastry shrinks can be manipulated as I have shown in that post, like not cutting the pastry until it after baking the tart. What I noticed last year working in a cafe and making pastry both ways, with food processor and by hand, was how there is much less shrinkage with handmade pastry.
Why pastry by hand shrinks less
I won’t go on into too much detail on why pastry made by hand shrinks less but it’s to do with how much the flour is worked. The gluten-forming protein in flour will kick-in as soon as flour comes into contact with liquid. The more the flour is worked the more you’re helping the flour’s tiny particles come into contact with liquid, and these gluten-forming proteins start to develop, giving their elastic quality to the dough which is not what you want in pastry.
Fats are there for taste but primarily to make things like pastry softer. Fat coats particles of flour, not all particles in the flour but enough of them to prevent those particular particles from coming into contact with liquid. Think of rubbing butter on your skin and then taking a shower the water would bounce off it, and that’s what you have with coating some flour particles. Please don’t cover yourself with butter and take a shower.
Coating the flour with butter by hand well first before adding further liquid (there’s some liquid in butter) prevents too much gluten-forming proteins to develop in the dough, the dough is also worked less. These two things contribute to less shrinkage once baked because there is less “elasticity” in the dough to spring back.
The joy of making your own pastry is the ability to add flavourings to it. Here I’ve made one plain and one adding some vanilla paste to go with the Easy Peach Tarts recipe in the next post.
I’m giving here the easiest pastry to make because it’s not too delicate, half fat to flour ratio (by weight) so easy to remember, you can make your own quantities. Pastries with higher fat or egg yolks are softer and harder to handle. You can replace half the amount of butter with vegetable shortening to give you a flakier feel.
This amount will line a large 10 inch (26cm) tart. To make a savoury version leave out the sugar.
- 250g plain (all purpose) flour
- 125g slightly salted or salted butter, cut into small cubes (if using unsalted add 1/4 teaspoon of salt even if making sweet version)
- 25g or 2 tablespoons sugar (omit if making savoury)
- 1 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla paste or 1 teaspoon of vanilla pure extract (optional for sweet pastries)
- 3 – 4 tablespoons of milk or water
In a large bowl add the flour, sugar and cubed butter.
If the butter is hard straight from the fridge, cut it, put in the bowl like this and leave it for 10-15 minutes.
Add your flavouring if using…
…here I’m adding vanilla paste.
Now you have to pretend I’m using both hands…
Start rubbing the cubes of butter into the flour mixture.
You’re only using your fingertips.
Keep picking up bits of the butter and rubbing well into the flour.
Time yourself because this process should take a good 3-5 minutes of rubbing.
All the time you’re breaking down the butter into smaller pieces and covering those bits with flour.
And eventually you should end up with sandy bits of flour, all flour covered completely.
These sandy bits should feel moist from the butter when pressed.
….leaving an indentation.
Adding the liquid
Now ready for the milk or water. This amount of flour will absorb between 3-4 tablespoons, it will depend on the flour you’re using and also how hot the weather is.
For the two doughs I made here, one I added 4 tablespoons and the second batch I added 3 tablespoons, you can see the difference in the dough’s wetness further below.
This batch was the one I added 4 tablespoons and ended up being 1/2 tablespoons too much, but it’s still workable.
The pastry is on the too damp side…
…but don’t be tempted to add more flour if it’s like this, after refrigeration it will be fine.
Form into a ball gently, don’t worry about making into an amalgamated dough…so long as it comes together nicely. You’re trying to avoid over-handling the dough.
…all you want is for it to come together and pat it into a disk shape.
The dough on the left is the one above the wetter dough with 4 tbsp of milk, on the right it has 3 tbsp of milk…
…and as you can see up close it’s a drier dough, a tad too dry for my liking.
I’m left with a much drier hand than in the previous batch.
Now I know this flour in this quantify should take 3 1/2 tablespoons of liquid.
Put the dough in the fridge for 30 minutes. You want to cool it down to enable you to handle it when rolling out because right now it’s so soft as the butter has been rubbed well.
If the dough is left in the fridge for a long time then it will be rock hard as the butter will solidify again. In this case leave the dough for 20 minutes out to soften slightly before trying to roll it out, and then use all the muscles in your arms to press it out hard with the rolling pin.
Below is the drier batch of dough…
The drier dough has the tendency to crack around the edges.
Check out my other post on how to roll it out and fill in tart tins.
Cut your pastry as you need it, below it’s for the Easy Peach Tarts which will be baked flat.
…or as for my Ewe’s Fresh Cheese tart, and line a tin.
To show how little it shrinks…
…after blind-baking with the baking beans, but not yet baked through properly.
…now fully pre-baked ready for the filling.