Pastry, even shortcrust, seems to be one of those things that strikes fear in to the heart of many a decent cook. It really shouldn't. I'm pretty cack-handed, truth be known, but these days I can turn out a decent shortcrust without drama. I knew I'd made it in the short crust pastry world when my Granny (all round baking and cooking genius, and my main teacher and inspiration) asked me how to make it as she's never been happy with hers!!! Of course I agreed to share with her as long as she taught me how to make her marvellous flaky pastry!!
So, here's my recipe. I tend to use the same recipe for sweet or savoury dishes (as I tend to think that sweet dishes can benefit from a plainer pastry), although this one can be adjusted to make it sweet if you so desire.
The following quantity will make enough shortcrust to easily line a 9inch (23cm) tart tin with some leftover.
250g plain flour
75g unsalted butter
75g lard (It's the lard that gives this shortcrust it's fantastic texture. If you want the recipe to be vegetarian you could use Trex or double the butter, but lard is best...honest!).
1 medium egg beaten with a tablespoon of cold water
(if you want to make this a sweet pastry you can add in a tablespoon or two of caster or icing sugar, but as I said, I normally don't bother)
Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius
You need to lightly bring together the flour and the fats. You can either do this by pulsing lightly in a food processor or gently rubbing the fat into the flour in with your fingers (or using the paddle on a food mixer). Traditionally, a lot of recipes at this point say you're looking for the texture of breadcrumbs. I've never quite seen it that way myself, but essentially you want the fats and flour to be combined with no large lumps. With shortcrust it is best to work it as little as possible, so it's best to be cautious and not to keep rubbing and rubbing (or blending). If there are a few larger lumps of fat, it won't matter at all. If you're going to add sugar gently stir in at this point.
Once you're at the 'breadcrumb' stage you want to add the beaten egg and if using the food processor give the mix a little pulse or two. If making by hand gently stir in with your fingers. You're looking for the mixture to be just starting to clump together or ball-up. If it isn't doing this you may need to add a little more water, but do this a very small amount at a time. At this point tip it out of the mixer or bowl on to a sheet of cling film. You can see from the picture below that the mixture is literally just coming together.
To finish bringing the pastry together, just bring together the edges of the cling film and press the mixture together. No need to knead (and again, the less you handle it the better).
Wrap the resulting ball of pastry securely in the cling film and bung in the fridge for as long as you've got (at least 30 minutes, or one to two hours is even better). Even better is to stick it in the freezer for 30 to 45 minutes.
Now, if you like the stress of rolling out pastry, then go for it, but I have a much easier method that works really well for the cack-handed amongst us! Grab a chunk of your pastry and using a coarse grater, grate it into your tart tin.
Once you have a decent layer start to press it together with your fingers. I like to start at the edge of the base, pushing it up the sides of the tin.
You can then grate some more of the pastry dough into the bottom of the tin to form the base. Using this method you can make the pastry as thin/thick as you like. I tend to be able to get it much thinner using this method, than rolling it out. Make sure you really push into the corners of the tin (where the base meets the side) so you don't end up with a thick layer here.
I'm not too bothered if the base has some finger indentations, but if this bothers you, use a little wodge of pastry to press down on the base to smooth it out. Prick the base of the raw tart shell with a fork and then line with tin foil (shiny side down), pressing it down in to the edges, and baking beans (or baking bean alternative). I find tin foil works really well to stop the shell from becoming misshapen in the heat of the oven and also makes it a darn sight easier to remove the baking beans from the tart shell when cooked.
Put the pastry shell back in the fridge for at least half an hour (15 minutes in the freezer) and then bake in the centre of your preheated oven (180 degrees Celsius) for 22 minutes. Take it out the oven and remove the foil and baking beans. Put back in the oven for a further 3 minutes (for a total baking time of 25 minutes) if the tart shell is going to have a filling that will require further cooking.
If the shell is going to be filled with a filling that doesn't require further cooking you might want to cook it for a little longer until golden brown.
That's it! Lovely flaky, crumbly short crust pastry! Have a go, make a nice chocolate tart...try this fabulous recipe from David Lebovitz.