Taming the Pastry

“Challenge is a dragon with a gift in its mouth. Tame the dragon and the gift is yours.” ~ Noela Evans

I don’t know why, but I suck at making pastry.  You would think that being able to make a decent pastry would be a must for any aspiring cook.  Unfortunately, it has always eluded me.  I just don’t know what I do wrong…I’ve tried making it by hand and I’ve tried making it in a food processor, but neither gives me the results I’m after.

Just recently I was trying to make a shortcrust pastry for some mini quiches; what a disaster!  The whole lot ended up in the bin and I resorted to using frozen, ready-made pastry, but it got me thinking, why can’t I learn this basic staple of cooking?  So I have decided to set myself a challenge – learn how to make pastry.

Now, before everyone goes emailing me with their tips, I have been researching the art of Pastry making.  I know that the pastry needs to be kept cold and you need to have cold butter and cold water.  I know that you shouldn’t overwork or over-handle the pastry.  I know that your work area needs to be cool and that it is even a good idea to put a tray of ice on your work bench for a few minutes to cool it down before rolling out your pastry.  Still, my pastry fails.

Remarkably, though it may seem, I can make choux pastry…the techniques are obviously quite different, but I thought it would be interesting to note that I am not a complete pastry failure.

What makes a pastry good or bad?  Ultimately it comes down to the texture of it when cooked.  A good pastry should melt in your mouth, it should have a good crumb (for shortcrust) or be light and flaky (for flaky and puff pastry).  It should not be dry, tough or chewy (this is how my pastry could generally be described).

So anyway, back to my challenge.  I am going to challenge myself to make three types of pastry.   Sweet Shortcrust, Savoury Shortcrust and Flaky Pastries and post my results – the good, the bad and the ugly.

Okay, I’ve got all my stuff together…food processor (I am not going to attempt it by hand the first time), butter (nice and chilled), flour (bought today to make sure it was fresh), sugar (for the sweet shortcrust), eggs, and ice water.

I decided to make a vintage Glazed Strawberry Tart from “The Margaret Fulton Cookbook”.  This cookbook was first published in 1968, the edition I have was printed in 1971 and I picked it up from a garage sale for $3.00.  The poor thing is falling apart (well, it is older than me) but it has some absolute treasures in it.

For the savoury pastry I’ve decided to make a Beef & Red Wine Pie.  I’ve made these before, but as Pot Pies with just a disc of pastry on top, but this time I wanted to make an real pie.

The actual pastry making goes well, and I begin to think that I may actually have made two decent pastries, and then I take it out of the fridge to roll.  The sweet pastry is not too bad to handle, just a few tears when I put it into the tart cases.  The savoury pastry is another story.  It is hard to roll out and the edges crack.  It is hard to fit to the pie cases and tears easily.  It made me start to sweat because I was working so hard.  Finally it is in and the cases go back into the fridge for another half an hour.

Now this is where it all starts to go wrong.  My beautiful sweet tart shells burn in the oven…I forgot to decrease the cooking time (because they were smaller than in the recipe). They look a bit like Brandy Snaps…but I will plough on.  I need to know what they taste like before I make any judgements.

Luckily the savoury ones cook nicely.  I fill the cases with their respective filling and voila!  Here are the finished products!

The Beef & Red Wine Pies are nice.  The pastry has a nice crumb and is delicate in the mouth.  My only complaint is that I should have allowed more gravy/sauce in my beef mix as the pastry is a tad on the dry side.

The Glazed Strawberry Tarts are delicious!  I was worried that the pastry was burnt, but it has turned out like a biscuit crumb base with a nice crunch.  That makes me wonder if it wasn’t a true shortcrust pastry after all…which means I will need to redo the sweet shortcrust pastry to fulfil my challenge, what a shame.


Overall, my attempts at mastering pastry have gone well…I surprised myself :)I am definitely going to try another sweet shortcrust pastry and I still have to make a flaky pastry, so until then…
Michelle xxx
P.S. If you want to research pastry, try these websites:
Gourmet Traveller
How to Handle Pastry
Why Does My Pastry Shrink

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One thought on “Taming the Pastry

  1. The glazed strawberry tarts are just lovely. I’d be giggling away with one of those in front of me….I’d probably also be trying to steal away my hubbies. 😉

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