Top pastry tips and tricks

Top pastry tips and tricks

by Camilla Stoddart 08 October 2015

There are plenty of dos and don'ts where pastry is concerned, and adhering to these can mean the difference between a soggy bottom and a golden masterpiece. Read on for our top tips and tricks.

Previously in-house writer and editor for Heston Blumenthal and cookery publisher at Penguin, Camilla is a freelance editor and writer who manages to combine her love of food with her love of words for a living.

Previously in-house writer and editor for Heston Blumenthal and cookery publisher at Penguin, Camilla is a freelance editor and writer who manages to combine her love of food with her love of words for a living.

Working with pastry requires patience and careful handling and each of the three main types – puff, shortcrust and filo – have their own quirks to consider. Observing a few basic rules for each type and for pastry in general will ensure the best possible results for your pies, tarts and parcels.

General tips for working with pastry

1. Bring to room temperature

If your pastry has been resting in the fridge, remove it 30–40 minutes before using to allow it to come to room temperature as it will be easier to work with. Having said this . . .

2. Keep cool

Your kitchen, worktop and hands should all be cool when handling the pastry so that the fat in the dough doesn’t become too soft.

3. Watch the flour

Don’t add too much flour to the work surface. It’s tempting to coat the surfaces and pastry with a generous dusting of flour because it makes it easier to handle but adding too much flour can cause the pastry to dry out. Always brush off excess flour before folding or baking the pastry or roll it out between two layers of cling film to avoid using flour at all.

4. Chill

Always rest the pastry in the fridge after handling it to allow the fat to firm up again.

5. Chill fillings too

Make sure your fillings are cold before pouring into tart cases, covering with pie lids or wrapping in filo otherwise the heat will cause the fat to melt and lead to soggy pastry.

6. Glaze

To add a lovely shine or deeper colour to your pastry, glaze the top before cooking. Different glazes create different effects: use egg whites for a very shiny finish, beaten eggs or egg yolks for a deeply coloured shine and milk or cream for a matt golden colour. For filo pastry, glaze with melted butter or a neutral oil.

7. Preheat the oven

Cooking pastry at the right temperature is vitally important; too cool and the butter will melt before the pastry becomes firm causing it to collapse, too hot and the pastry may burn before the filling is cooked.

8. Use the middle shelf

Placing the tart tin, pie dish or baking tray in the middle of the oven will allow the heat to circulate cooking the pastry evenly on the bottom and the top.

Tips for working with shortcrust pastry

1. Don’t overwork the dough

Roll and handle shortcrust pastry as little as possible as overworking it can produce tough and unpleasant results.

2. Use a metal tart tin

Choose a metal tart tin rather than a ceramic one to ensure the bottom of your tart is well cooked. Ceramic tart tins, though pretty, can cause soggy bottoms.

3. Don’t stretch

When lining a tart tin, be careful not to stretch the pastry as this will cause it to shrink back when cooking and could cause leaks.

4. Repair tears

If your pastry rips as you are lining the tart tin, don’t worry; simply wet your fingers or use a brush to moisten the edges of the tear and gently push them together so the gap disappears.

5. Allow a little overhang

To avoid the sides of a tart from shrinking too low and causing leaks, leave a little extra pastry hanging over the rim of the tin. You can trim it neatly with a sharp knife after it’s cooked.

6. Rest

Once you have lined the tart tin, place it in the fridge to rest for at least five minutes before putting it in the oven to allow the fat to harden before cooking.

7. Bake it blind

In most cases, pastry takes longer to cook than the filling so give it a head start by par-baking it before adding the contents. Prick the base numerous times with a fork to avoid bubbles then line it with baking paper and fill with baking beans, rice or copper coins before placing in the oven.

8. Watch the colour

If the pastry begins to colour too much before the filling is cooked, cover it loosely with a piece of foil to keep it from burning. A clever trick is to protect the edges by covering them with an upturned tart tin with the bottom removed.

9. Use a pie bird

When making a pie, allow the steam generated by the bubbling filling to escape by placing a pie chimney (also called a pie bird, pie vent or pie funnel) in the middle of your pie dish then making a slit in the centre of your pastry lid before covering your filling and pushing the pie chimney carefully through the slit. Not only does it allow the steam to escape easily preventing soggy pastry, it also provides support so your lid will not sag in the middle. If you don’t have a pie chimney, cut a vent in the pastry lid with a sharp knife.

10. Sprinkle with sugar

Finish sweet pies with a dusting of caster sugar for a pleasing crunch.

Tips for working with puff pastry

1. Less is more

Don’t overwork the pastry or you will compress the carefully constructed layers and your puff pastry won’t rise. And don’t gather scraps up into a ball to roll again; pile them up and roll in one direction to retain the layers.

2. Even better. . .

Make sure your pastry is rolled out to an even depth to prevent a lopsided rise.

3. Cut don’t slice

When cutting puff pastry with a knife, cut down through the pastry in one clean action rather than dragging the knife through the pastry in a slicing motion to avoid sealing the layers as you cut them.

4. Relax

Remember to rest the pastry for at least five minutes in the fridge after you have rolled the pastry out and shaped it to ensure a better rise.

5. Glaze

For a lovely shine to your pastry, glaze the top with egg wash or cream before cooking.

6. Keep the door closed

Resist the temptation to open the oven door during the first fifteen minutes of cooking as the sudden introduction of cold air will affect the overall temperature and prevent the pastry from rising.

Baking blind

Tips for working with filo pastry

1. Work fast

Filo pastry dries out and becomes brittle extremely quickly so be prepared to work at speed.

2. Keep the sheets moist

As you work, cover the sheets you aren’t using with a slightly damp, clean tea towel or wrap them in cling film to stop them drying out and becoming difficult to work with.

3. Use a soft brush

When brushing each layer of filo pastry with melted butter or oil use a soft-bristled brush to avoid tearing. Make sure you don’t add too much butter or oil because otherwise the pastry sheets will become heavy and the end results won’t be as light and crisp.

4. Don’t overfill your filo parcels

Putting too much filling inside a filo parcel could lead to leaks and might prevent your pastry from crisping up.

5. Freeze leftovers

Excess pastry can be frozen to be used on another occasion, just make sure it has defrosted completely before using again.