The ABC’s of shortcrust pastry
The pastry crust contains only four ingredients: flour, salt, fat and water. Salt is added to the flour, even for a sweet dough, to enhance its taste. If you mix together flour and water, you get a tasteless glue that, once cooked, becomes hard enough to cement bricks. It's the fat that makes all the difference for a successful pastry.
Tip 1 For a flaky and flavourful pastry, I use butter. You can also use lard or vegetable shortening. My mother used to keep the fat from pork roasts and bacon to make tourtières. The taste of that crust was incomparable. In this recipe we use a little vegetable shortening to add elasticity to the dough.
Tip 2 When you make a pastry crust, the fat must be very cold (put it in the freezer for a few minutes before proceeding), diced, and gently cut into the flour to obtain tiny pieces of hard butter in the flour. The bits of fat help the flour particles separate from each other, which helps create a supple dough.
Tip 3 Do not overwork the dough. While baking, the butter particles melt and leave tiny air pockets in the dough and prevent the flour from forming a hard mass. The water evaporates when in contact with the heat. The dough then rises and becomes flaky. This is why you do not want to overwork the dough with your hands, as it will melt the butter before it’s baked. Also, in order to not melt the butter, the water used must be ice cold, you can even add ice to the water before measuring it.
Tip 4 Preparing the dough in a food processor is a breeze. Pulse the flour and salt in the processor for a second. Add the bits of cold fat and pulse a few seconds at a time, until the mixture is the size of small peas. Add the ice-cold water and pulse until the dough forms.
Tip 5 Resting the dough in the refrigerator allows the gluten in the flour to relax. Without this step, the dough will be tougher. The dough freezes well when well covered in plastic wrap.