Short/Sweet Pastry 

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.

  1. Sweet---------- Fruit pies, Dessert flans, Tarts, Almond Slices etc.
  2. Savouries----- Pies, Pasties, Sausage rolls etc.
  3. Enriched------ Viennese, shortbreads, biscuits etc.
The pastry can vary in texture, according to the requirements, from crisp and firm to soft and crumbly. Above all it should have that "melt in the mouth" texture and break down easily during consumption.
To achieve this, a great deal of care must be taken in the making process.

The ideal temp for all the raw ingredients is 16-21C (61-70F). At this temperature the fats should be in the ideal condition for coating the flour particles. If the temp rises the fat will over soften and quite possibly turn to oil, allowing the flour to absorb the fat rather than be coated by it. In warm conditions it is a good idea to chill your flour in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes before use. Normal body temp is 37C (98.6F) so this will greatly influence the temp of the pastry in the mixing and handling, 

  1. Use a low gluten content (soft) flour.
  2. Rub fat in finely.
  3. If using sugar always use a soft fine sugar.
  4.  Disperse ingredients carefully, do not handle roughly and keep within the recommended temperature range. Do not over mix.
  5. When using/rolling keep flour dusting to a minimum.
  6. Do not over work cuttings/trimmings. ( try and keep cuttings to a minimum).
  7. 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.
Basic Ingredients

A very basic short pastry is based on a simple formula

  Flour 100%  (100g)
Fat  50%        (50g)
liquid  25%   (25g)

This will produce a very basic  pastry depending on the type of fat used (Butter, Lard, White cooking, Suet etc) and the type of liquid (water, milk, egg or combination of each). 
By increasing the fat content and the addition of sugar, a very tender type of pastry is achieved especially if egg is used as part or whole of the liquid content. The different ingredients have a differing effect on the gluten and will influence the end product. As previously stated ,it very much depends on what the pastry is being used for but the over all consideration must be the final eating qualities of the pastry. It should not be just a "container" but very much part of the whole product.

There are three main methods of making the pastry.

Method 1.
  • 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.
Method 2.
  • 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.

Method 3.
  • 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

Recipe 1

Basic Short Pastry.

                   Plain Flour     170g (6oz)
                   Butter              40g (11/2oz)  
                   Lard                 40g (11/2oz)
                   Cold Water       40g (11/2oz)

This is an all purpose, basic short pastry, ideal for fruit pies, Cornish pasties and savoury pies. A good pastry for the beginner and made using Method 1.

Sweet Short Pastry.

                  Plain Flour     120g (4oz)
                  Butter              30g (1oz)
                  Lard                 30g (1oz)
                  Caster Sugar   15g (1/2oz)
                     Water,cold.      15g (1/2oz)

Can be made by Method 1 or 3.
This paste is used in the production of sweet products such as fruit pies. For a softer, lighter paste, replace the plain flour with all or part  of Self Raising flour.

Flan Pastry.

                 Plain Flour      120g (4oz)
                 Butter               75g (21/2oz)
                 Caster Sugar    3og (1oz)
                 Egg                   22g (3/4oz) approx half a large egg.
                note: crack egg into a bowl and lightly mix to blend yolk and white and then weigh. 

Best made using Method 1.

NOTE: The recipes given can be increased for larger amounts. It is important to increase each ingredient proportionally. Also, only work in either Kilo/gr or lb/oz do not ever mix the two systems.

E.G  Using the basic short pastry recipe:

 Total weight of mixing will be 290g (101/2 oz)

If you require 435g (1lb) of pastry, you need to increase each ingredient by half as much. i.e 40g becomes 60g (40 +20) but as stated every single ingredient in the recipe must be increased in the same way.