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Basics: Shortcrust Pastry 101…

January 21, 2011

We’re gonna be serious here for a minute. Having goals is important.

Don’t worry, this lecture won’t last long. It’s just something I’ve come to realise lately. If you don’t have a goal, where are you going? How do you know what to do to get there?

Lists are important to. They help you to organise your actions in order to achieve your goals. I know I over do it on the lists. But they keep me focussed and (mostly) stress-free.

I’m not one who’s big on resolutions, but since I’m big on goals and lists, I made a few of those.

I’ll share one with you, because if you’re gonna be around here you’ll hopefully be doing it to.

My goal is to know everything there is to know about gluten-free baking. So we’re gonna start by learning the basics. Now I know not all of you are gluten-free, don’t pout. We’ll still be talking about ice-cream and custard and well… non-gluten-free stuff. Plus, the majority of recipes are adaptable back to using gluten, as they came from gluten-full recipes in the first place. But if you feel like you’re not being heard, or you want some advice on the original recipes, just ask. I love talking to you.

We’re starting with pastry. Rich shortcrust to be precise. What does the ‘short’ mean?  Basically, it means crumbly. Shortcrust is a term that encompasses a few different types of pastry.

You get Pâte Brisée, which is a basic shortcrust pastry made with a fat to flour ratio of 1:2 and water to bind.

Pâte Sucrée (sweet shortcrust / rich shortcrust) also has a fat to flour ratio of 1:2, as well as sugar for sweetness and flavour, and egg for richness and to bind.

Lastly, Pâte Sablée is the richest and shortest of the shortcrust pastries. This is due to the high ratio of fat to flour, the high amount of sugar and often the addition of whole eggs and yolks. It is one of the most flavourful pastries, but also the hardest to work with as you have to keep it well chilled.

The relief is that being gluten-free doesn’t hinder you when it comes to making shortcrust pastry. It actually makes life easier. When making shortcrust with gluten flours you have to be really careful not to over work the gluten in the dough. If you do you can end up with tough pastry. Gluten-free flours take that chance away and you end up with perfectly crumbly pastry.

Quick note on Xanthan Gum:

Xanthan gum is useful in gluten-free baking as it replaces some functions of gluten. It’s helpful when making pastry, as it improves the cohesiveness and flexibility of the dough, making it easier to handle and roll out without breaking.

A few tips for making and working with pastry:

  • Keep your butter chilled and use iced-water where necessary. You don’t want the butter to melt while you’re rubbing it into the flour as you want the mixture to resemble fine breadcrumbs.
  • Add the liquid parts gradually so you can control the consistency of the resulting dough. Gluten-free flours often absorb more liquid than gluten containing flours, so watch for the right consistency (soft, but not sticky) instead of sticking strictly to the amount in the recipe. If you need to add more, add more.
  • If you’re using flours containing gluten, don’t over-mix or knead the dough as it can result in tough pastry. Gluten-free flours won’t have this problem.
  • Chill the dough thoroughly before rolling out. This keeps the butter firm and the dough manageable.
  • After lining your tin with the dough, let it rest in the fridge for at least 20 minutes before baking. This is more important and in fact essential when dealing with doughs containing gluten. The rest period allows the gluten strands time to adjust to their new position after being stretched during rolling out. This will reduce the chance of the dough shrinking during baking. Resting in the fridge also allows the fat in the dough to firm up again after rolling out, which produces flakiness. So it’s beneficial for gluten-free doughs as well.

Gluten-Free Rich Shortcrust Pastry:

  • 225 g gluten-free flour mix (see below)
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum
  • pinch of salt
  • 25 g castor sugar (aka. superfine sugar)
  • 110 g butter, chilled & cubed
  • 1 egg + 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
  • 1 tbsp cold water

Flour Mix: (from Seriously Good! Gluten Free Baking by Phil Vickery)

(makes 1 kg)

  • 700 g rice flour
  • 200 g potato flour
  • 100 g tapioca flour

(Whisk the flours together and store in an airtight container.)

Sift together the flour, xanthan gum, salt and sugar. Make sure they’re well combined.

Add the butter and rub it into the dry ingredients with your fingers until you have the consistency of fine breadcrumbs. You can use a food processor if you prefer the quicker, less hands-on option, it will produce the same results.

Lightly beat the whole egg, yolk and water together in a small bowl.

Make a well in the dry mixture and add about 2/3 of the wet mixture to it.

Use your hands, or a fork, and mix the dry into the wet, gradually pulling more into the center well as you go. Just before you form it into a ball, add more of the wet mixture if you think the resulting pastry is too dry. You want it to be nice and soft, able to form a ball but not too sticky.

Wrap the ball in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 20-30 min.

Roll out the pastry to the desired thickness on a lightly floured surface (tapioca flour works great). I try to get mine as thin as possible as I don’t like to eat a thick chunk of pastry.

Cut to the desired shape and place it into your tin.

Press the pastry into your tin, being careful not to break it. If you do it’s ok, just patch up with extra pastry. Make sure you get into all the groves of the tin.

Long nails don’t help. Short is best. Trust me. I found out.

Trim the excess with the back of a knife and allow to chill in the fridge.

While it’s resting, pre-heat the oven to 200°C.

Place a sheet of grease-proof paper into the tart and fill with dry beans, rice or in my case, fancy pants ceramic balls. (you don’t need them, I just got a jar as a gift so why not?)

Bake for 8-10 min, then remove the paper and beans and bake for about 5 min more. The colour you’re looking for is a nice light golden brown.

Cool in the tins before removing them.

Phew! That’s Shortcrust 101 done. I think sleep is in order…


20 Comments leave one →
  1. January 22, 2011 12:39 am

    Thanks for the very informative post, Robyn. After the pastra frolla of DB, I saw a post (unfortunately can’t remember where) where a guy left quite big lumps of butter in his dough. He said it’s only the flour that needs to be incorporated, not the butter, and the lumps of butter melts to leave the pastry light and flaky. It was contrary to everything I’ve read before (you always read about the breadcrumb consistency), so I wondered about it. Do you have any ideas?

    • January 22, 2011 11:22 am

      Hi Adele, I’ve heard about some people leaving big lumps of butter in in the dough, I haven’t tried it myself, but apparently it does produce a flaky texture. From what I can gather this is because the butter melts in the oven and leaves large air pockets. I’ve heard this from quite reliable sources, so I still want to experiment with it to see how it works. I don’t think it’s necessary when making tart dough as you don’t really want or need the base to puff up and be flaky. But perhaps it would work well for the top of a pie? Hope that helps :)

  2. Nadia permalink
    January 22, 2011 7:56 pm

    Robyn you are my hero!! :) I love baking, but unfortunately am also constrained by being “gluten free”. I can never taste my goodies and I never know how to improve them. Your blog is so wonderfully informative, and I always recommend it to other wheat-free / gluten-free peeps.

    I approve of your resolutions – I’m so excited to learn from you :)

    Well done, your blog is awesome.

    • January 23, 2011 11:05 am

      Thanks Nadia! :) So nice to meet you, I’m excited about this journey, to share more and get to know people who have food, baking and gluten-free in common with me! If you have any comments or questions don’t hesitate to ask :)

  3. January 24, 2011 3:30 am

    You’re right about the lumps of butter creating air pockets. It’s how puff pastry gets it’s puff!! I’ve tried Shauna’s rough puff and it’s very buttery and very tasty. Makes amazing sausage rolls.

    The best part about working with gf pastry is that you can not over work the gluten!!!

    I’ve done a fair amount of gf baking so if you have random questions feel free to ask. My favourite gf cakes for texture are chiffon (angel) cakes. The protein in the eggwhite helps to bind and create structure.

    Have fun!

    • January 24, 2011 9:38 am

      Thanks Eleanor! I’m sure I’ll take you up on that offer :) I’ve also tried Shauna’s rough puff but it didn’t turn out exactly as planned, gonna have to give it another try!

  4. January 25, 2011 4:04 pm

    How much does Gluten free really make a difference? I’m not asking to be rude or anything, I am asking because I don’t know and I’m curious. I have a friend who eats all Gluten free as well as a coworker. I know sometimes its tough to find some things they really like that are Gluten free.

    • January 25, 2011 6:27 pm

      Hi there, it depends on why they’re eating gluten-free. If they suffer from celiac disease then it matters a lot! Gluten causes havoc with their gastro-intestinal tract, lots of pain and discomfort and a variety of other serious symptoms. If they’re gluten intolerant, like me, then you’ll have to ask them about how it affects them. I find that it affects me quite seriously in a similar way to celiac disease, but some gluten intolerant people can manage a bit of gluten here and there. For me I was super sick nearly all the time, and when I stopped eating gluten, after 2 days I was a different person. It is tough to eat completely gluten-free, some times you feel like you’ve got rice cakes coming out of your ears, but If you learn the tricks you can still enjoy food the way non-gluten-free people can. Hope that helps!

  5. January 25, 2011 9:14 pm

    Wow, this is really helpful! I especially appreciate the tip about letting the shortcrust dough rest in the fridge. It’ll really come in handy when I make a batch of pies in the near future. Wonderful photographs too!

  6. January 27, 2011 6:52 pm

    Very informative and great pictures! Happen to have ever tried to make a low-carb pastry crust? We’ve experimented with soy, almond flour, etc., but haven’t found anything acceptable yet.

    • January 27, 2011 6:57 pm

      Hey funfoodie, thanks :) I haven’t actually experiemented with healthier options yet, I’m still in the learning phase with the basic ingredients.

  7. January 31, 2011 5:58 am

    Excellent informative post. I love the step by step photos.


  8. February 1, 2011 10:57 pm

    This looks just fabulous! I have yet to attempt a GF pastry.. I am soo going to veganize this recipe.

  9. September 17, 2011 8:14 am

    great photos! I also only recently ventured into gf shortcrust pastry and just blogged about it. I’m thankful for sites like yours that make this a less scary transition! I’m not celiac but find I break out when I eat wheat ): this is great, going to explore more, and hope you drop by mine if you like!

    • September 17, 2011 10:23 am

      Hey, Thank you! :) I just stopped by your blog and love your post on GF pastry! So informative and great photos!

  10. Rachel permalink
    November 22, 2011 4:58 pm

    Just want to clarify- that it is really potato FLOUR and not STARCH because they are two VERY different substances! THANKS!

    • November 22, 2011 7:55 pm

      Hi Rachel, I have to admit on this one I don’t have a definitive answer for you, here in South Africa it’s sometimes hard to find speciality ingredients and so sometimes there is a question as to what the ingredient actually is. The package states Potato Flour and it worked brilliantly, but if you’re unsure then perhaps replace it with another starchy flour, such as tapioca, rice or corn starch. :)


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