Read our expert guide for tips and tricks on making pastry from scratch. From puff pastry and filo pastry to easy shortcrust pastry…
Using pastry can be a little daunting to the home cook – but it doesn’t have to be this way. Here we’ll tell you whether to make it or buy it, and why, as well as giving you some general best practice pointers for the types of pastry we use most often.
Make it or buy it? Buy it.
The flakiest and most buttery of all the pastries – puff pastry is made by rolling and folding together dough and cold butter to create alternating layers. When cooked, the water in the butter evaporates, pushing the thin layer of dough upwards. This repeats through the layers, creating a beautifully risen pastry.
USE PUFF PASTRY FOR: Making sweet pastries, sausage rolls or for topping pies. The rise makes it incredibly light yet indulgent and buttery. It’s great for make-ahead recipes as it’s just as good eaten cold as it is hot.
PUFF PASTRY TIPS AND TRICKS: To make life easier, buy the ready-rolled sheets – they’re pre-rolled to an ideal thickness, so simply cut out and top your pie.
• When rolling out, lightly flour the work surface and keep it as cold as possible, then chill well before baking for an optimum rise.
• Cook at a high temperature – too low and the butter will melt out before it’s had time to fully puff up.
• Dusting it with icing sugar and baking it between two baking sheets will result in crunchy, buttery biscuits to serve with desserts.
Make it or buy it? Make it.
A high butter-to-flour ratio makes this pastry crisp, flaky, short and buttery, and the best all rounder. It’s easy to make and the results are great.
USE SHORTCRUST PASTRY FOR: Pie tops and bases, quiche bases, sweet tarts and sausage rolls. As good for savoury recipes as it is for sweet.
SHORTCRUST PASTRY TIPS AND TRICKS: Put the mixing bowl or food processor bowl into the freezer an hour before making the pastry, and work in the coolest part of the kitchen.
• Pre-dice the butter and re-chill it so it’s as cold as possible when it’s needed.
• Add 1 tbsp of vodka to the pastry mixture – the alcohol helps to prevent the formation of gluten (which makes dough stretchy and elastic), keeping the pastry short.
• Handle and work the pastry as little as possible – this also prevents the build up of gluten and keeps it crumbly.
• Shortcrust benefits from plenty of resting and chilling, which prevents it from shrinking and helps it keep its shape when baked.
Make it or buy it? Buy it.
Filo is an unleavened pastry traditionally used in Greek, Turkish and Middle Eastern cooking. Sheets are stretched and rolled very thin, layered and then cooked to create a crisp texture. Its delicacy makes it very tricky to make at home, so you’re better off buying it.
USE FILO PASTRY FOR: Wrapping spring rolls and parcels, or scrunched up on top of pies for a crunchy, lighter alternative to buttery pastry. It can be a healthier alternative to puff or shortcrust pastry as you can control the amount of fat you brush onto each layer.
FILO PASTRY TIPS AND TRICKS: Filo dries out quickly once it’s out of its packaging so keep it under a clean, damp tea towel while you’re assembling to prevent it becoming difficult to work with.
• Brush liberally with olive oil or butter, and bake in a medium-high oven to get the best, burnished, golden results.
Make it or buy it? Make it
An old-school favourite but still delicious. Suet is the raw, hard fat from around a cow’s loins and kidneys, so is a good alternative if you’re lactose intolerant and can’t eat butter-based pastries.
USE SUET PASTRY FOR: Suet is versatile as it can be used for either sweet or savoury puddings (such as steak and kidney), and either baked or steamed. It also makes a lovely crispy pie topper.
SUT PASTRY TIPS AND TRICKS: Use self-raising flour when making suet pastry as it helps to keep it light.
• Do try making a pudding with suet – it will be soft and squidgy like a dumpling around the edges and crisp on top. Try our best pudding recipes here.
Rough puff pastry
Make it or buy it? Make it.
The cheat’s answer to puff pastry. A doddle to make and hugely satisfying as you watch it expand in the oven. The method is similar to shortcrust but the chunks of butter are bigger – it’s then rolled and folded like puff pastry.
USE ROUGH PASTRY FOR: A straight swap for recipes using shop-bought puff pastry. Follow our rough puff recipe below, and use it to create the miso, cheddar and sesame twists.
ROUGH PASTRY TIPS AND TRICKS: Don’t worry about the chunky bits of butter in the dough – it will become smooth through rolling and folding.
• Keep everything as cold as possible, and rest and chill well between each fold.
• Work the dough as little as possible to prevent it becoming tough, which will hinder rising.
Click here to try our rough puff pastry recipe. Then use this pastry to make these easy, moreish miso, cheddar and sesame twists.
- Roll the rough puff pastry out to 30cm x 40cm. Mix 3 tbsp white miso with ½ tbsp water, then spoon evenly over half of the pastry.
- Sprinkle 75g grated cheddar over the miso mix and fold the other half over to cover.
- Gently re-roll the pastry to 20cm x 40cm.
- Cut into 13-14 x 20cm strips (each roughly 3cm wide), twist each several times to create spirals and put onto baking- paper lined trays.
- Brush lightly with 1 beaten egg and sprinkle over 2 tbsp sesame seeds.
- Chill the straws in the fridge for 20 minutes then heat the oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until golden and crisp.