We aren’t sure if it’s the recent revival of The Great British Bake Off or the fact that autumn is creeping in, but as of late we’ve caught the baking bug. The office has been budding with brownies and friends have been force-fed shortbread, cupcakes and muffins alike. We quickly realised that it isn’t something we’ve covered much on the blog, and that is about to change. This week we are going to give you the low-down on sweetened shortcrust pastry, otherwise known as paté sucre. Read on if you want to master the technical skill and make sweet tarts your signature bakes.
“…the collective nostalgia in the family over something so small is quite beautiful.”
Pastry is something which is quite close to the hearts of those in T’s family. Her great grandmother, fondly referred to as ‘Nanna B’ was famous for her pastry, most notably its use in apple pie and Bakewell tart. The secret? Nobody knows, but that isn’t without trying. Despite an out of date instructional video from the lady herself (think a Saturday Kitchen meets Mrs Brown’s Boys but set in 1991) and numerous attempts by various members of the Tighe family, it just doesn’t compare. That isn’t to say the offerings aren’t good – in fact they’re quite the opposite – but it seems that only God himself could replicate what she could muster up in her dinky kitchen. Although we fail to replicate it, at least we think of her each time we try, and we both agree that the collective nostalgia in the family over something so small is quite beautiful.
“If you do have the disadvantage of being warm blooded, run your wrists for a minute or two before you put your hands near the butter.”
Sweet shortcrust pastry is a fantastic base for many desserts. We’ve chosen to pay homage to Nanna B and go with a classic Bakewell tart, but the world is really your oyster. The frangipane tart from our Easter post uses this as a base, but alternatives include chocolate ganache, crème Anglaise or even for savoury dishes if you miss out the sugar. Tarts like this make an ideal showstopper at the end of a dinner party, or the perfect addition to any tea table. Learning to make pastry is a fantastic skill for any cook to master. On that note…
T’s Top Tips for Pastry
- We understand that the health conscious will verbally gasp in horror when we say this, but the best pastry is made with lard. Yup. We know, straight-up animal fat sort of ruins the magic of delicate French patisserie. Butter works almost as well, but if you’re feeling adventurous, try going 50:50.
- Work quickly – with pastry, you are working against the clock to keep the butter as cold as possible so it melts only when it hits the heat of the oven. This is what gives it that lovely, crispy, texture, so don’t faff around.
- Coldness is key- luckily my great grandmother had the benefit of poor circulation to keep her hands below zero at all times, much to the distress of her grandchildren’s cheeks. However, if you do have the disadvantage of being warm blooded, run your wrists for a minute or two before you put your hands near the butter.
- If using a machine like a food processor (there’s no shame in that) try popping the parts in the fridge/freezer before you start to keep the butter as cold as possible.
- Leave time for chilling – pop your dough in the fridge for a minimum of two hours and I like to chill the rolled-out pastry in the tin for at least 30 minutes before cooking.
- ALWAYS blind bake for 12-15 minutes. This ensures an even bake and an outer shell that is strong enough to hold your filling, and no soggy bottoms. Don’t forget to fill with baking parchment and some weight (baking beans, rice, pasta) to stop the pastry from rising.
- Expect shrinkage – don’t panic, it is normal for the pastry to shrink up to 20% while it blind bakes.
- Keep an eye on it. Pastry catches easily and can burn to a crisp, especially when it contains sugar. Unlike a cake, air isn’t going to affect it, so open that door and watch it like a hawk.
We hope you have been listening, there will be a test next week. Oh, and if you see a small, old woman with bifocal glasses which take up 2/3 of her face, it’s just Nanna B’s spirit watching over you and your pastry.
Sleep tight and see you next Thursday,
Sweet Shortcrust Pastry
Makes 1 x 24cm round base tart tin
200g plain flour
100g cold butter, cubed
50g ice cold water
25g caster sugar
Make a mound of flour with a well in the middle and place the butter in the centre of the well. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Try to only touch the butter for 20 seconds at a time and take a short break, this prevents the butter from melting. Add the water, salt and sugar and form into a dough with your fingers. Knead slightly by flattening the dough with the heel of your hand. Repeat until the dough is smooth. Form into a ball and wrap in cling film. Chill for a minimum of two hours, or even overnight.
Once chilled, roll out your dough on to a floured surface. Roll to 2mm thick with a rolling pin. Transfer into the fluted tart tin and press into the grooves. Cut off any excess and chill or freeze for use later. Chill the pastry in the tin for a minimum of 30 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 180. Place a sheet of baking parchment in the tin and fill with ceramic baking beans or rice. Blind bake for 15 minutes. Remove and place your filling in, and cook to the recipe’s instructions.