I have been making shortcrust pastry since I was about 4 years old so the process seems very natural to me. But I have been asked numerous times how to make it so that the tart shell doesn't shrink during baking. Here's my recipe and top tips for making a perfect pastry case.
This is the same recipe I have been using for the past 34 years. If it ain't broken don't try to fix it! Although in saying that I sometimes add a quarter teaspoon of cinnamon or nutmeg to the dry ingredients when making an apple tart or some dried herbs to the savoury pastry when using it for a quiche or savoury tart.
My Top Tips for making Perfect Pastry
Keep your ingredients cool and your handling limited when making pastry.
Make sure that your butter cubes are chilled and use the tips of your fingers to rub the butter into the flour. Your finger tips are the coolest part of your hands.
Shake the bowl with the crumbs in it. Any lumps will come to the surface. Rub these lumps into the flour. Continue this step until the mix resembles fine breadcrumbs. A lump of butter in a dough will only melt during cooking and leave a gap in the pastry.
When you add the wet ingredients use your fingertips of one hand to gather all of the ingredients together into a ball.
Turn the pastry out onto a lightly floured worktop and very gently knead the dough until it is smooth. Handle as little as possible. Flatten the pastry out with the palm of your hand. It will be easier to roll out later from a flatter shape.
Wrap the pastry in cling film and allow to rest in the fridge for at least 20 minutes.
When rolling out your pastry you can roll it out between 2 sheets of baking paper or on a lightly floured bench like I do. Don't add too much flour to your bench because you will be adding extra flour to your recipe making it drier and crumblier, therefore harder to handle pastry.
Roll from the centre of the pastry away from you towards the edge. Turn the pastry and roll again from the centre outwards.
To line a tart tin or pan, lightly grease the tin and place the rolled pastry over a rolling pin and then over the tin allowing the pastry to drape over the edge. Gently ease the pastry into the base and sides using your fingertips. If your hands are hot, form a small ball with some excess dough and use this to help push the pastry into the sides of the tin.
Run the rolling pin over the edge of the tin and remove the excess pastry. Place in the fridge for another 20 minutes to rest.
Depending on the recipe you can either fill the pastry case with its filling (frangipane) or blind bake the shell (lemon tart or ganache tart)
If baking blind, line the pastry case with foil or baking paper and fill with baking weights or rice. Baking weights stop the pastry from rising when cooking. Cook for required time.
If using a fully cooked blind baked tart shell, I tend to brush the hot pastry with an egg yolk when it comes out of the oven. This helps seal the shell thus preventing the filling from soaking into the pastry and making it soggy. This is a great tip when making Ganache tarts.
Over handling the pastry at any stage (either during making or rolling) will result in a tough dough. It will make it harder to handle. Just like when making a cake, never over work the flour as the gluten (protein) will develop and become tough.
The reason pastry is rested so much is to allow the gluten in the flour relax. If the pastry is not allowed to rest it shrinks during baking. Also, if there is too much liquid in the pastry it will shrink while baking. The heat of the oven will evaporate the excess liquid and shrink the pastry. Just like us, when we are relaxed our shoulders are soft. When we're stressed our shoulders are tense and tough.
Pastry becomes tough the more times it is re-rolled. I only ever re-roll the pastry scraps twice then throw out the left over.
Docking the pastry means to prick the pastry using a fork or pastry docker. This is done to prevent the pastry from rising and to prevent air pockets from forming.
If you have hot hands don't despair. Make the pastry in a food processor being careful not to over process. Use the pulse button on the processor. My Granny used to make her pastry using a knife to 'cut' the butter into the flour. Many older recipes will call for this process. This is another way of keeping the pastry cool.
Plan ahead...a lined, uncooked tart shell can be frozen for up to 3 months. Wrap it well in cling film. It only takes 10 minutes to defrost at room temperate.
150g Plain Flour
35g Caster Sugar (omit when making savoury pastry and add a pinch of salt & pepper instead)
Drop of Milk
Rub the butter into flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
Add sugar followed by the egg and enough milk to combine mixture.
The dough should come away cleanly from the side of the bowl. If there is a little flour left in the bowl add another drop of milk and use the dough to gather the remaining crumbs. If the mixture is too wet add more flour until it comes away cleanly from the sides of the bowl.
Gently knead on a floured surface to form a smooth ball. Gently flatten with the plan of your hand.
Wrap the pastry in cling film and place in the fridge to rest for at least 20 minutes.
Roll out and use as required either to line a greased tart mould or as a free standing tart known as a Galette.
Once the mould has been lined with the pastry, leave to rest again for another 20 minutes before baking.
Bake at 180 degrees