Flour contains proteins which when hydrated form Gluten, this, as all bread bakers know, is what gives the strength and structure in a loaf of bread and is also very important in the making of Puff Pastry.
When making short pastry we do not want this to happen. We are looking for a tender, melt in the mouth, shortness. The meaning of the word short, in baking terms, means easily broken/crumbled, friable, the exact opposite to tough or elastic.
All flours will contain varying amounts of Gluten (insoluble protein) so the bakers main objective is to insulate the flour particles from moisture . This is achieved by coating the flour particles with fat, thereby creating a barrier to the moisture. All fats are shortening agents that will reduce the extensibility/elasticity of the gluten depending on the amount used to a given weight of flour.
Sugar also has a solvent property on gluten but it needs to be in solution. It is important to use fine grain and in some instances powdered (icing sugar) to ensure that it is dissolved. If un-dissolved the sugar crystals will stay in the pastry and will not have any effect on the gluten and will then caramelize when baking leaving dark brown spots in the pastry.
The first thing is to use a flour with a low gluten content, not a strong bread flour. For the home baker a general purpose plain flour is ideal. If however you only have strong bread flour this can be "softened" by using cornflour, 28g(1oz) of each 225g(8oz) strong flour being replaced by 28g(1oz) cornflour.
Short pastry is a mixture of flour, fats, liquids ( water, milk, egg), salt and sugar if required to be sweet.
The main aim of the pastry is usually to act as a container for a filling, from the rather robust pastry of a Cornish pasty to the light delicate paste of a flan such as Tarte au citron (lemon tart). Some short pastes are soft enough to be piped out , the Viennese biscuit being a good example.
There are basically three main categories of short pastry.
- Sweet---------- Fruit pies, Dessert flans, Tarts, Almond Slices etc.
- Savouries----- Pies, Pasties, Sausage rolls etc.
- Enriched------ Viennese, shortbreads, biscuits etc.
- Use a low gluten content (soft) flour.
- Rub fat in finely.
- If using sugar always use a soft fine sugar.
- Disperse ingredients carefully, do not handle roughly and keep within the recommended temperature range. Do not over mix.
- When using/rolling keep flour dusting to a minimum.
- Do not over work cuttings/trimmings. ( try and keep cuttings to a minimum).
- Always follow any recommended resting times given in the recipe. Do not try and rush the process and generally keep the pastry and utensils as cool as possible at all times.
- Rub the fat into the flour lightly to form a light crumble .
- In a separate bowl mix together the liquids (egg, water, milk etc) with sugar or salt making sure they are thoroughly blended and any sugar used, is completely dissolved.
- Add this liquid to the fat/flour and mix to a smooth paste. DO NOT OVER MIX.
- Cream the fat and sugar together in a bowl until light
- Add any liquid and beat in thoroughly.
- Stir in the sieved flour and mix to a smooth paste. DO NOT OVER MIX.
- Cream the fat with an equal quantity of flour.
- In a separate bowl, dissolve any sugar or salt in the liquids.
- Add the liquid to the creamed fat and flour and partially mix together.
- Finally add the remaining flour and continue to mix to a clear paste. DO NOT OVER MIX