Keep cool

When rubbing fat into flour for shortcrust pastry, you need to keep everything cool. Even if your hands are not naturally cool, you can keep everything else cool. Chill the mixing bowl for about 30 minutes beforehand and use iced water to make the dough. A marble slab is excellent for rolling out pastry as the surface remains cold. Grating the chilled butter into the flour also reduces the rubbing time and hence the heat generated.

Light work

Once liquid is added, the pastry should be handled lightly and as little as possible. Over-handling develops the gluten in the flour, which makes pastry tough and causes it to shrink in the oven.

Chill it

Once pastry dough is mixed, flatten it into a disc, cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes. This lets the pastry ‘relax’ and prevents it from shrinking too much during baking. If the chilled pastry is too hard to roll out easily, leave it for 15 minutes or so to soften.

Rolling hints

Lightly flour both the rolling pin and the work surface. Roll pastry in one direction only to prevent excessive shrinkage. Lift and turn the pastry to stop it sticking. Continue rolling and turning until the pastry is the desired size and thickness.

Baking blind

Prick the uncooked pastry shell. Line pastry shell with baking paper. Add a layer of dried beans or rice, to keep the pastry flat. Bake as directed, then remove beans and paper, return to oven and bake until pale golden. Cool before filling.

Avoiding a soggy base

There are several easy ways to prevent the pastry shell of a fruit tart from going soggy. As soon as the blind-baked tart case comes out of the oven, brush the inside with lightly beaten eggwhite: this will cook and harden on the hot pastry to form a seal. Also, use small to medium fruit and berries rather than big ones that need to be cut, as cut surfaces create more juice. Wipe berries clean with paper towels rather than rinsing. Finally, don’t fill the tart more than a few hours before serving it.

Working with filo pastry

This brittle pastry dries out quickly, so work with 1 sheet at a time and keep it away from sunlight. Keep the rest covered with a dampened tea towel. This will keep the waiting sheets of filo pastry moist and pliable until you are ready to use them.

Decorative touches

  • Crimped edge Use the tines of a fork to seal the dough around the edge of the pie dish.
  • Fluted edge Press the rim of the pastry between the thumb and forefinger of one hand, and the forefinger of the other, at intervals of 2.5 cm.
  • Crimped fluted edge Make a fluted edge as above. Crimp each flute with the tines of a fork.
  • Rope edge Holding left and right index fingers at a slight angle, press the dough together all along the rim of the pie dish at 2.5 cm intervals.
  • Dough cutouts Gather up pastry trimmings, layer them, then roll out thinly. Use a sharp knife or pastry cutters to cut out shapes as desired. Brush the underside of the shapes lightly with chilled water or beaten egg and attach to the pie.

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