6 Tips For The Perfect Shortcrust Pie Crust
Top tips for baking the PERFECT shortcrust pie crust, right on time for mince pie season. (And pumpkin pie, and apple pie, and quiche… the options are endless.)
If you, like us, are a Great British Bake Off fanatic, you may well be an expert in pastry types. In which case, skip over the next paragraph maestro.
From flaky, layered puff-pastry - which takes around 48 hours to make at home! - to simple, versatile shortcrust, pastry comes in all sorts of forms. In this article, we’ll be focusing on shortcrust, an easy-to-master pastry that can encase almost any type of sweet or savoury filling.
For those of you who aren’t familiar, shortcrust pastry is often used as the base of a tart, quiche or pie due to its sturdy, biscuit-like texture. The name shortcrust comes from the fact that shortening was often used to create a crumble texture in the dough. Nowadays, recipes tend to stick to butter, but the 2:1 ratio of flour to fat remains the same.
Without further ado, here are our top 6 tips for baking amazing shortcrust.
1. CHILL OUT
In other words, chill your dough and fillings. And hands. Just keep everything as cold as possible. Chilling your dough in the fridge is an essential step to prevent the butter from leaking out of your crust in the oven - when this happens, the crust will collapse on itself, giving you a very shallow edge and leaving you without the beautiful, crumbly texture that is created when you bake fridge-cold pastry.
We recommend chilling for at least 15 minutes, but preferably an hour if you have the time. The same applies for the fillings, it’s best to chill them beforehand so that when you put them in the pie crust they don’t melt the fats in the pastry.
It’s also a good idea to wrap your dough in cling film, to retain the moisture when putting it in the fridge or even on the worktop.
If you have the time, you can even freeze the pastry, and blind-bake from frozen.
2. Don’t add too much flour to the work surface
Although it’s tempting to apply flour liberally to prevent the dough from sticking to the surface, too much flour can cause the pastry to dry out and make it very hard to work with later on.
If you’re struggling to roll the pastry, or find that it’s sticking to the surface, you can always roll it between two sheets of parchment.
If you make the mistake of applying too much flour, simply wet your hands and tentatively dab moisture over the pastry to loosen it up again.
3. Allow a little overhang
As much as we try to avoid it, pie crust almost always shrinks in the oven as it cooks. This is because the liquid in the ingredients (eggs and butter contain water, and many recipes call for a spoonful of water) evaporates as the pie bakes. To minimise the shrinking, work with VERY cold pastry (the colder the better!). But to be safe, it’s never a bad idea to allow for a little extra pastry to hang over the edge. We even keep some of the raw pastry trimmings until the pie is baked, to 'plug' any holes that may form in the crust during the blind baking process.
4. If in doubt, blind bake
This is rule number one, really. Generally speaking, pastry takes a LOT longer to cook than the fillings used.
To avoid raw pastry on the bottom of your pie, especially if using wet fillings, it’s never a bad idea to bake the pastry beforehand - normally for 15-20 minutes. You can't go wrong, really - it'll ensure that the pie crust is nice and golden all over.
The best way to blind bake is by pricking the base with a fork to avoid air bubbles, then lining the case with cling film or baking paper, and then filling with baking beads. Baking beads are used to prevent the bottom of the pastry from puffing up during cooking. Don’t worry if you don't have baking beads, you can also use dried rice, lentils, sugar or pretty much anything that is oven safe and a similar weight.
5. Use an egg-wash to get a glossy, professional finish
The tell-tell sign between a good pastry and a great pastry is having the shiny golden brown exterior. The easiest way to achieve this shine is to coat the pastry in a simple egg wash.
Simply, whisk your egg and then apply with a pastry brush. We recommend adding a small amount of water to your egg so that it’s a bit less thick and easier to brush over.
6. Don’t over-bake the pastry
It may seem obvious but it’s very easy to leave your pastry sitting perfectly one minute and come back to it burning, the next. If your pastry crust looks a deep brown all over, it may taste a little burnt - you should aim for a golden colour.
Try and judge when the pastry is just set and remember it will firm up a bit after you have taken it out. If you are starting to get cracks in the base, it is likely that you’ve left it in too long.
To avoid any second guessing, make sure your oven is sufficiently hot (425F/220C/Gas) in the first place - that'll help with a crisp bottom.