Plain pastry consists of fat, flour, water, and salt. Butter yields the richest flavor, but shortening will produce the flakiest crust, a mixture of the two will make a good balance. It is almost as easy to make pastry by hand, than it is with a food processor. The most important things to bear in mind with both methods are keeping the ingredients cold, and not overworking the dough.
Prepare the pastry
- Sift flour and salt into a large bowl.
- Work in the butter with two knives until it becomes small pieces covered in flour.
- Rub flour and butter by hand until the mixture has the consistency of coarse crumbs or small peas.
- Sprinkle 2 tsp water over the dry ingredients and stir with a metal knife or a fork. Repeat this procedure, adding only 2 tsp at a time, until the dough can be formed into a ball.
- Wrap the dough in cling film or waxed paper and chill for 30 minutes.
Rolling out pastry
Ideally, work on a marble or stone surface, they keep cooler.
Sprinkle rolling pin and work surface with a little flour - the minimum, incorporating too much flour to the dough would spoil the balance.
Roll always in the same direction. This technique produces more even pastry. If you need to reach a difficult spot, turn the pastry around or move around the pastry.
Sometimes it is required to bake the pie shell with no filling. There are to ways to achieve this feat.
First, roll out pastry to 1/8 inch thick. Fit it into a 8-inch or 9-inch pie dish, preferably with a removable bottom.
- Prick the pastry several times with a fork. Bake at 450ºF for 15 minutes for part baking or 20 minutes for a fully cooked pie shell.
- Fit another metal pie dish or cover with aluminum foil and weigh it down with dried beans. Bake at 450ºF for 10 minutes the remove top and bake for 3-5 minutes more for part baking or 5-10 minutes for a fully cooked shell.
A part baked shell needs to be done, not bowned.
Keep cool and work fast. This is the secret to perfect pastry. Work in a cool environment, if not, chill the bowl, chill the knives or metal spatula, chill the water and add ice to keep it cold while you work and do not over do when you work by hand. Wash hands in cold water and dry, rub just using the tip of your fingers.
A food processor sifts flour in 2-3 seconds, makes pastry in 2-3 minutes and keeps cold -chill the bowl when room temperature is too warm.
Butter or shortening must be cold but not so cold that it is impossible to work with it. Ideally, get butter out of the fridge 15-20 minutes before use.
Sift flour, measure and then sift again.
If you forgot to get it out of the fridge and the butter is rock hard use a grater, grate butter over the flour.
Shake the bowl to make larger pieces come to the surface when working butter in with knife or by hand.
Chill for a minimum 30 minutes, best 1-2 hours. In an emergency, the pastry can be rolled immediately, but the results will not be as good.
Plain dough will keep for 7-10 days if thoroughly refrigerated -covered in film or kept in a container tightly closed.
The dough can be frozen for up to 3 months. Divide it into 2-3 manageable pieces and wrap them in aluminum foil or plastic film, place wrapped pieces in a bag and freeze. The dough will take about 2 hours at room temperature.
Use plain pastry with both sweet and savory fillings.
The original recipe makes enough dough for two thin pie crusts, or one thick crust for one 8-inch pie shell, or 8 small shells.