Basic shortcrust pastry is absolutely essential. You can use it for all sorts of tarts, pies and quiches – sweet or savoury – and it’s a great pastry to make if you’ve never made pastry before. Personally, I always make pastry using a processor. It’s great to get to know how to make pastry using your hands (and the instructions below can be applied in the same way) but the truth is, the best pastry happens when it is handled as little as possible. A processor, when used correctly, i.e. in very short bursts, will do just fine. You can use your hands of course, but you’ll need to be quick and make sure your hands are cold! Just aim for the same textures as shown in the pictures below.
My Best Tips Ever for perfect pastry:
Use vodka. Yes, that vodka. Bad pastry (hard and chewy) happens when the gluten in the flour is developed by overworking it. Alcohol significantly inhibits the development of gluten. Don’t worry – the alcohol content is negligible and evaporates in the heat of the oven anyway – and being vodka, it leaves no flavour. If you feel uncomfortable about using alcohol you can replace it with lemon juice, as this will also work, but perhaps not quite as reliably. (*2019 update – lemon juice works brilliantly)
Use Trex. You should use equal quantities of quality unsalted butter and Trex (vegetable shortening in the US.) Do not underestimate the importance of this much-maligned ingredient where shortcrust pastry is concerned; it contributes to a tender, melt-in-the-mouth result in a way that an all-butter pastry just can’t manage. Vegans can simply use all Trex, or a combination of Trex and Stork (in the UK) or a dairy free spread such as Pure or Earth Balance. Most shop-bought, ready made pastry is vegan. (*2019 update – you can use refined coconut oil instead of Trex)
Use ingredients straight from the fridge. Butter, Trex, liquids, even your measured amount of flour, should be kept chilled until you need them. This all contributes to super light and flaky pastry.
Make it in advance. I usually double or sometimes triple the quantities below, divide into equal amounts and freeze whatever I’m not using. Wrapped up in clingfilm, discs of pastry dough will keep perfectly fine for months in the freezer, and it makes life much easier when you fancy making pie! Not only this, I find that pastry, either chilled in the fridge for a couple of days in advance, or from frozen – is lighter and has more of a melt-in-the-mouth texture.
The basic formulas below make approximately 340g of finished pastry dough, enough to comfortably line a standard 23cm / 9″ tart/pie/quiche tin. Throughout this site, individual recipes will state the exact quantities you’ll need – for example, a double crust pie might need more pastry, so always check each recipe before starting.
Sometimes a recipe calls for a sweet shortcrust; essentially the method is the same, but with the addition of an egg yolk and sugar as listed below.
Basic Plain Shortcrust
200g plain flour
50g Trex / vegetable shortening (use a teaspoon to scoop it out in little chunks)
50g unsalted butter, cubed – or any vegan butter
1 tbsp vodka or lemon juice
2 tbsp water
Basic Sweet Shortcrust
As above, but:
Add 3 tbsp of caster sugar after processing the flour and fats and replace the water with 1 egg yolk.
Occasionally, a recipe will call for the addition of ground almonds; this should be added with the caster sugar.
So here we go:
Place your flour, butter and Trex in a food processor with a chopper blade. Blitz together briefly. I find a maximum of 5-7 seconds is enough to get a sort of chunky breadcrumb texture. If you are making sweet shortcrust, this is when you add the caster sugar (and ground almonds, if applicable), and briefly blitz again.
With the motor running slowly, add the vodka and water (or egg, for a sweet shortcrust). Stop processing as soon as the mixture starts to ‘clump’ together as shown above left (this takes just a few seconds). Tip it on to a clean work surface .
Using your hands, quickly bring it together and form a ball. Work fast and use a light touch! Avoid kneading it.
Flatten into a disc, wrap in cling film and chill. You can leave it overnight, but if not give it at least 30 minutes to rest in the fridge.
Once rested, you can roll it out. Roll it a few inches bigger than your tin, as shown above right.
Drape the pastry over the tin and gently press it into place using your fingertips.
*2019 update* – I do not trim off the excess pastry. At this stage I prick it all over with a fork and put it straight into the oven. After blind baking for 10 minutes, I use a serrated knife, carefully angled, to neatly slice off the excess pastry. This way you can avoid all shrinkage plus avoid the hassle of using baking beans. You will sometimes encounter a bit of puffiness using this method – I just prick it with a fork, pour the filling in immediately and return to the oven. I like this method much better, but by all means follow the more professional instructions below if you like!
Trim off the excess pastry and allow to sit in the fridge again for at least 30 minutes. This will help to stop the pastry ‘shrinking’ in the tin (it’ll always shrink a bit though.) You will usually need to blind-bake the case. This just means quickly baking the pastry without the filling, thus avoiding the dreaded soggy-bottom! You have to avoid the bottom of the pastry puffing up in the oven – the best way to do this is to use proper weights like ‘baking beans’ but you can also use dry pasta.
When you are ready to blind bake your pastry case, pre-heat the oven to 180c / 350f / gas mark 5.
Scrunch up a big piece of baking paper and place it over the pastry. Gently fill it up with the baking beans, spreading them all over the bottom, right to the edges. (As shown above right). Place in the centre of the pre-heated oven and bake for 10 minutes.
Remove the tin from the oven (please be careful, particularly if it’s a loose-bottomed tin!)
Ensure you have a heat-proof bowl handy and then carefully lift out the baking paper and the beans from the pastry. Place them into the bowl and leave to cool thoroughly – they will be scalding hot.
You will notice that the pastry base will still look slightly undone. Return it to the oven for another 5 minutes, and it should be just cooked through. You can now fill it and bake it according to your recipe!