Ask the question: ‘How do I make a flaky shortcrust pastry?’ and you’ll get a dozen different answers. So we’ve gathered some of the latest thinking on how to deliver a flaky pastry. We’ve also included a YouTube video from Kaiser Culinary University which shows the method to make pastry in case you need a reminder or are new to pastry making.
Add a little oil to stop the butter binding to the flour: Some pastry chefs suggest stirring a teaspoon or two of olive or rapeseed oil into the flour before you add the butter when making pastry – they say the oil helps to stop the butter binding to the flour delivering a flakier crust.
Use room temperature butter, then chill the pastry well: When we make pastry at gréatfood, we go against the grain and we don’t use butter that has come straight out of the fridge. Instead, we leave the butter to come to room temperature for 15 minutes first so that it is cold but not ice-cold – we find this helps to get those little lumps of butter in the pastry that give you layers of flakiness. We then chill the pastry for at least 20 minutes.
Rose Levy Beranbaum says in her book The Pie and Pastry Bible that ‘the trick to making good pastry is to leave the butter in large cold pieces so that when the water is added, all of it is absorbed into the flour, developing the maximum amount of gluten’. She says that the best way to become proficient in pastry making is by doing it often, so that you can develop a sense of the dough, when to chill it, when to add more liquid. She argues that the best pastry is made at home, because restaurant kitchens are too hot to make good pastry (unless they are large enough to have a separate cool pastry kitchen). She uses pastry flour, which is a blend of plain flour and cake flour, because it produces a tender dough. If you want to follow her advice to make it at home, mix two-thirds all purpose flour or plain flour with one third cake flour by weight. So if you need 300g of flour, use 200g of plain flour and 100g of cake flour. Beranbaum says this gives you the right balance of strength and tenderness. If you use cake flour on its own the pastry can crack and Rose thinks it doesn’t have a good flavour, and if you use all-purpose or plain flour on its own, the dough can be tough.
Use frozen butter: Delia Smith says to use use cold, cold butter, in fact to freeze it so that it is hard, then grate it into the flour using the coarse side of the grater. She says that these little cold shards of butter will help to give you layers in the pastry. Use a palette knife to mix the butter with flour – if you use your hands, they will be too warm and will soften the butter.
Dorie Greenspan suggests in the book she co-wrote with Pierre Hermé (Desserts by Pierre Hermé – unfortunately, you can only buy it second-hand now but it is well worth adding to your bookshelf) that one of the secrets to perfect sweet tart dough (called Pâte Brisée) is to chill the pastry for at least four hours, then to chill it for another 30 minutes before you bake it. She also says that it is better to leave a few large pieces of butter in the mixture rather than overwork it to remove them which is excellent advice.
Use Applejack in your pastry recipe – Alton Brown, the US chef, champions a pastry made with Applejack which is a fermented cider-like drink made with fresh apple juice, sugar and yeast – you’ll find the recipe for Alton Brown’s Super Apple Pie with Applejack pastry here – it’s an American drink so if you want to make it in Ireland, you can find out how to make home-made Applejack here. It’s a bit of a palaver if you are just making it to add to an apple pie in time for tea later, but if you are a fermenter, you might have the stamina to make the Applejack, and then make the pastry with it! (You could probably replace the Applejack in this recipe with a good craft cider – if you try it, let us know how you get on – post a comment below).
Add vinegar: This is a tip we found in a cookbook we bought years ago called The Amish Cook: Recollections and Recipes from an Old Order Amish Family by Elizabeth Coblentz. It’s a collection of her syndicated cooking columns on Amish life and food (if you read it, you’ll be in tears at the end of it). It’s from her No-Fail Pie Crust recipe. She adds a teaspoon of vinegar along with the egg and cold water. We’ve tried it and it works. You can use lemon juice instead of vinegar. Some people say that adding vinegar makes the pastry tough so try it and see what you think.
If you would like to know more about the science of baking, Harold McGee is the go-to-guy. His books on the science of food are highly respected – for a taster, read this Q and A by Harold McGee on Bread and Baking on the New York Times Diner’s Journal blog. His classic book is called McGee on ‘McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture‘.
CURATE: HELPFUL SOURCES
This HOW TO MAKE FLAKY PIE DOUGH video below from Kaiser Culinary University shows the method to make pastry in case you need a reminder or are new to pastry-making. It’s based on a classic ratio of 1:2:3 – 1 part water, 2 parts butter and 3 parts plain flour plus you’ll need a pinch of salt.
HOW TO MAKE A PIE CRUST VIDEO Here’s Melissa Clark’s video on YouTube on getting the basics right to make the Perfect Pie Crust.
Read Rose Levy Beranbaum’s blog on baking.
Dorie Greenspan is one of our favourite cookbook authors – she has written 12 cookbooks and won four James Beard Awards. Read her blog here: Everyday Dorie