Guide to Pastry

Pastry is notoriously difficult among both amateur and professional chefs alike. But if you want to become the next star baker on the Great British Bake Off, pastry is one of the many baking talents that you’ll need to master.

There are different types of pastry that are used in a variety of recipes, each one as interesting and tricky to master as the last. If you want to learn more about pastry, read on!

How many types of pastry are there?

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The sheer amount of pastries available is impressive, but there are six main types of pastry. These are shortcrust, flaky, puff, filo, choux, and hot water crust. The main ingredients tend to be the same or similar for each – a mixture of flour, water, and fats such as butter mixed together to form a dough, used as the basis of many sweet and savoury treats.

Once the pastry dough is formed, it tends to be rolled out thinly to use in baking, depending on the type of pastry in use. Pastries like hot water crust use different methods to form the finished product.

Shortcrust pastry

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Shortcrust is the type of pastry used in most recipes, due to its forgiving nature. It requires a fairly simple recipe, and tends to be quite foolproof, making it one of the most common pastries used today. It’s thought that shortcrust pastry was invented in Venice, with the first recipe being recorded in the 18th century.

To create a simple shortcrust dough, simply mix flour, butter, and salt, adding water to bind the mixture together. It can be mixed either by hand or by using a food processor or stand mixer; mixing the flour and fat together at the start inhibits the formation of gluten, leaving you with a ‘short’, or lovely crumbly, tender pastry.

The general rule of thumb is that you’ll need half the amount of fat to the amount of flour, e.g. for 200g flour, you’ll need 100g butter. As with most pastry, try to avoid handling it as much as possible, so as to prevent the butter from melting. You should try and chill it before using it to bake. Remember to add the liquid gradually – the less liquid your pastry has, the more buttery and crumbly it will be.

Flaky pastry

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This particular variety is characterised by the flakes of pastry achieved through lamination. It can be an effort to make but is more forgiving than puff pastry. It has a higher ratio of fat to flour than shortcrust, with the butter being incorporated in stages, a little bit added after each fold. It can sometimes be called rough puff pastry and is a little easier than its more difficult companion.

The flaky layers are created by shard-like pieces of butter in the dough melting in the oven, releasing steam, which makes the layers puff up. The pastry expands when cooked due to the number of layers, leaving you with a beautifully crisp and flaky finish.

To create the ideal flaky pastry, layers of dough and fat are rolled and folded together. As with most pastry, it’s best made in cool conditions, and should be chilled after making and before being used so as to prevent the fat content from leaking out during cooking. The most rustic and one of the simpler doughs, flaky pastry is a favourite to use in both sweet and savoury recipes.

Puff pastry

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Puff pastry is notorious for being one of the most difficult pastries to master. It’s time-consuming to create the perfect puff, but your efforts will be worth it in the end when you bite into a perfectly crisp pastry. It’s thought to have been invented by a French baker, Cladius Gele, in 1645.

A dough of flour, sugar, salt, and water is rolled out into a rectangle, and the butter is layered on top. The dough is then folded around the butter, a process known as lamination, before being rolled out and folded repeatedly to create multiple layers. The dough should be chilled between each lamination so as to prevent the butter from becoming too warm and melting. 

Careful temperature control is needed at all times to prevent it from merging with the dough. It’s important to chill the butter and dough at all times, so that the gluten is allowed to relax between roll-outs. During cooking, the moisture in the fat evaporates, causing lift and creating delicate layers; the melted butter adds a crispness to the pastry. Puff pastry tends to be used for Danish pastries.

Choux pastry

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A French favourite, choux pastry tends to be used for sweet treats such as profiteroles and eclairs. Choux gets its name from the French word for ‘cabbage’, due to resembling the same shape as a cabbage after cooking. This particular pastry is light, airy, and crisp, and unlike the other types of pastry on this list, it needs to be cooked before you can use it. It’s more batter-like in consistency than the other pastry types, which means it can be piped.

Choux pastry starts life as a mixture of milk or water with butter, which is heated together in a saucepan until the butter melts. Flour is then added to form a dough, and eggs are beaten in to enrich it, creating a wonderfully smooth, golden mix that is then piped.

The high percentage of water in the dough causes it to expand into a light, hollow pastry; the air lifts the pastry to treble in size while cooking. A hole is skewered into the choux halfway through cooking to let the steam out, before being placed back in the oven to dry out and become crisp. Once cooked, the choux is removed from the oven, filled with cream, and topped with chocolate. Choux pastry is used extensively in French patisserie cooking.

Filo pastry

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Filo pastry, or phyllo pastry as it is sometimes known, is perhaps the most difficult of pastry types to make. This is because it tends to dry out quickly – even if shop-bought. Due to its tricky nature, it is perhaps better to buy your own from your local shop rather than attempt to make it yourself. It is difficult and time-consuming to make by hand.

Filo is a paper-thin pastry made up of several layers, which are generally wrapped around a filling and brushed with butter to create delicate, flaky pastries, such as baklava. It’s important to keep the filo pastry hydrated, as it can dry out very quickly if made by hand.

This pastry is very fragile and requires careful handling. Make sure to brush it with oil or butter before shaping and cooking. It takes a great deal of skill to make it yourself, so unless you want to challenge your baking skills it might be easier to just buy it ready-made.

Hot water crust pastry

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This traditional English pastry tends to be mainly used to make savoury pies. Hot water crust tends to be less flaky than the other traditional methods, but is crisp, tender, and serviceable. Traditionally, hot water crust pastry is hand-raised, but over the centuries bakers have been known to use tins, dishes, or bowls as a mould.

Hot water crust pastry is created by melting lard – not butter – in hot water, which is then brought to the boil, before flour is stirred in and it’s worked into a pliable ball. The pastry was then ‘hand raised’ from the bottom of the pie tin to the top, generally while still warm as it became harder to work with once the fat had hardened. Once the pastry case had been hand-raised, it was filled and then covered with a crust, decorated, and then put in the oven ready for baking.

It’s generally accepted that hand-raising your pie doesn’t give you a neat, uniform finish, as some sagging tends to occur during cooking. This is considered to be the mark of a good hand-made pie.

The best pastry

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While these are just the main six types of pastry, there are a few variations which are pastries in their own right.  The main six types listed above are the ones you’re most likely to find in your recipe. 

Shortcrust can be sweetened to create a sweet crust, which tends to be used in a lot of desserts. Instead of binding the mixture with water, sugar and egg yolks are used to create a sweeter pastry that is better fitting for desserts.

Have you got a favourite type of pastry that you like to use in cooking? Or is there a type of pastry you’d like to know more about? Let us know over on our Facebook page!

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