Shortcrust pastry is the first dough I learned to make. But it took me years to perfect it.
Nobody is created perfect, people don’t just start their careers and rock their first day like it's nothing. At this moment, I am trying to become better at what I do, every day, be it baking or writing. But I wasn’t always striving for perfection, I used to be lazy, and I was cutting corners at every moment.
I think the first moment this started to change was a few weeks into my first serious position. I had six months of experience as a confectioner (which is nothing) and I got a new job at a famous Patisserie in Zagreb, Croatia.
They were huge, and I was happy to work there. I knew that I could learn a lot from the masters. After all, most of my recipes today, are based on what I learned there.
The thing is, for them, I was an apprentice, not even. A pastry student knew more than I did. I was just starting. So they did what they do with all first-timers. They put me on cookie detail.
For the first two or three weeks, I was just rolling shortcrust pastry, cutting cookies using metal cutters, and stacking them together with a bit of ganache.
So, one or two weeks in, the boss comes in. She is looking at what everybody is doing, and as she loved to do, she checked on the newest soldier among her ranks. I was making some chocolate balls from the shortcrust pastry and then filling them with ganache. I had to do like a few hundred of them.
She comes up and says:
What is this?
While gesturing at steel baking sheets filled with orderly stacked, round and unbaked chocolate cookies.
I answered. Yes, I was a bit cocky.
I can see that. But dear Ante, this is some of the worst work I have ever seen, I think even a first-year baking student would have done a better job.
She also added:
With all due respect, if you want to continue working here, you have to do better, all the balls are of different shape, look at this one, and now at this one.
To sum it up, I had to do all of them again. And a lot slower because now they had to be perfect.
This was some time ago. Now, I am striving for perfection at every moment, and if something is not good enough, it can’t leave my side of the kitchen. This goes for anything and everything I bake, but over the years, I developed a special relationship with shortcrust pastry.
I wanted my shortcrust pastry to always come out of the oven perfect.
How to Make Shortcrust Pastry
Let us start with a shortcrust pastry recipe. In my notebook, I have a recipe for about ten kilos of shortcrust pastry. These are the measurements I am used to working with. But we will break it down a bit.
As I mentioned, shortcrust pastry is one of the basic pastry doughs, and I was thought this ratio:
3 : 2 : 1 = flour : butter : sugar
These are the basic ingredients, and if you follow the ratio, you cannot go wrong. Then you can add something to enrich the dough. Like milk, cream, eggs (my favorite), also cocoa. You can also add different flavoring, citrus zest, vanilla, add rosemary or tarragon.
My sacred recipe, dialed down to home use, goes like this:
- 750 grams of flour
- 500 grams of cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- 250 grams of confectioner’s sugar
- One and a half egg, I would use two for good luck
- pinch of salt
- orange zest, from half of one orange
- teaspoon vanilla extract
You put everything in a bowl, and mix it until it becomes one nice mass of dough. Be careful not to over-mix it. If you are using a self-standing mixer with a dough hook, mix until the dough combines and starts to separate from the bowl.
Scrape everything on a lightly floured work surface and shape it (with a rolling pin, and a bit of help from your hands) into a nice rectangle. Or two, depending on the amount of dough you made.
Wrap the dough in baking paper and place it in the fridge to rest, half an hour is enough.
Never wrap the dough in plastic foil
Take it out of the fridge and roll it out. If you are baking cookies, choose a thickness you like and bake them at 180 degrees celsius. Ten minutes should be enough, but if you rolled them very thin, keep an eye on them.
Now Come the Tricks
Baking shortcrust pastry as cookies is easy. The problems appear when you want to make a pie and your dough shrinks or it crumbles after baking, becomes too moist too quickly, and many other little problems.
If you followed the recipe above, your dough should be good. So the problem is to bake it without shrinking. The first step is determining what kind of filling you have.
Frangipane, custard pies, pecan pie, and many others have fillings that require baking. The smart thing to do is to prebake your dough. But not completely.
Bake it half the time it takes usually. Just until it sets and starts to get that coloring. If your filling doesn’t require baking, you bake them until they are nicely brownish. The exact baking time varies on many factors. The moisture in your oven, the type of your oven, etc.
Time And Temperature are Important
If you want great results, you should adjust the time and temperature of your oven. My advice is to first bake at a higher temperature for a few minutes and then change to a lower temp for another few minutes. But you have to figure out exact times and temperatures for your oven.
For example, I bake shortcrust pastry at 200 degrees Celcius for three minutes and change to 180 degrees for another four minutes.
Freeze before baking
So, you roll the dough out, 3 to 5 millimeters, and you cover the pie form. Press it gently into the form, and press the edges nicely. Now you freeze it. Freeze it completely.
At this point, most bakers suggest blind baking. And if you want to be sure your dough won’t shrink, then go ahead. Blind baking is a fool-proof way to make pie dough.
However, I usually make little 6cm tart bottoms, and I have to make hundreds. Blind baking would take just too much time. So, I make sure the dough is perfectly frozen, my oven is hot enough (200 degrees), and they come out perfectly.
If you do decide to go with blind baking. After freezing, place some baking paper over your pie, enough to cover it. If you have baking beans, that is great, but any kind of dry beans will do. Fill the form up and bake it!
How to Keep Shortcrust Pastry Nice and Dry
Pies made with shortcrust pastry are the best that day, and usually, they are still pretty good the next day. But the dough starts to lose that crispiness.
A great way to preserve the dryness of the dough is to place a “layer” between the dough and the filling.
For example, before freezing, you can beat one egg and spread it with a brush. During pre-baking, the egg will create that layer.
Another solution is to cover the dough with some melted chocolate after you bake it (and cool it). Just a little layer, enough to separate the dough from the filling, but this only works with the filling that doesn’t require baking.
Easy as pie! That’s okay, I know where the door is.