There are many different types of pastries, designed with different properties, textures, behaviours and tastes in mind.
All pastry doughs are best worked with cold, with the exception of phyllo pastry, choux pastry, and hot water crust pastry
A basic pastry is flour, fat, salt and water.
In general, in making a pastry you want a flour that is low in gluten, as gluten can make the pastry tough. Wholewheat flour can add great flavour, but it makes the pastry harder to work with and more crumbly.
Salt in a pastry recipe helps to both strengthen the dough and take the edge off a bland taste.
Lemon juice in a pastry recipe can soften the gluten, making the pastry more flexible.
The only pastry that uses a leavener is suet crust pastry. Otherwise, the “rising agent” in pastry is just steam (choux pastry uses both beaten egg and steam.) In other pastry recipes, egg yolk may be used as a binding agent.
You usually work the fat into the flour first before any liquid is added because once water is added to flour, the gluten gets activated. Consequently, the danger of overworking a pastry dough only starts when the liquid is added. You can work the pastry mixture till the cow’s come home if it’s just the dry ingredients and fat in there so far.
You let pastry rest before lining a pan with it because while making the pastry, you stretched the dough. Resting allows it to “relax”, so that when you roll it out, you get an idea of its true size. If you don’t, when baked, it may shrink in the pan.
Literature & Lore
“If the cookery column “class” will please come to order, we’ll conduct a brief review on the subject of man’s favorite dessert — pie!
- What proportions of shortening and flour should be used when a “balanced” recipe for pasty is increased?”
Use one-third as much shortening as flour, e.g. 2/3 cup shortening to two cups all-purpose flour.
- What causes tough pastry?
Too little shortening; too much water; too much handling of the dough.
- How can one be sure of having flaky pastry?
Use a good, solid, cold fat; as little water as possible; a very hot oven for baking. Handle the dough quickly.
- Why is chilling recommend for pastry?
Pastry that has been stored in a very cold place requires less handling and is more flaky when baked. Note: It may be necessary to let pastry stand at room temperature for a short time before rolling. Very cold dough tends to crack on the edges when rolled out.
- How long can pastry be stored successfully?
Pastry can be stored only a few days in the refrigerator and must be wrapped in waxed paper or placed in a covered dish.
- Why is a hot oven used for pastry?
To “set” the crust. When pie fillings need long cooking, bake the pie in a hot oven for a few minutes (10 to 20), then reduce the heat to moderate for fruit fillings and to low for custard fillings.
- How can one avoid a soggy undercrust?
First, be sure that the crust is “set” with a hot oven. Sogginess can also be avoided by brushing the unbaked bottom crust with unbeaten egg white and baking in a hot oven for about five minutes before adding the uncooked filling.
- Should pastry be turned over when being rolled?
No. After rolling is started keep a right and a wrong side for pastry. Fit the dough “right” side up in the pie pan.
- Why is the edge of the lower crust of filled pies moistened?
When the top crust is placed on top of the moistened undercrust and pressed together, it forms a seal to hold the juices.”
— Mary Ellis Ames. Director of Pillsbury’s Cooking Service. Pies, Pastries and Pielets (sic) in “Cooking Closeups” column. Uniontown, Pennsylvania: The Morning Herald. 3 December 1936.
The French developed pastry making into a special branch of cooking all its own, which they call “pâtisserie.” In French, a pastry cook is a “pâtissier.”