DISHES

Preparation

There is an old cooks' saying that people with cold hands are good at making pastry. Shortcrust, puff pastry and their relatives need to be kept cool for best results. This means chilling the ingredients and the utensils before making the pastry, and working on a cool surface - marble is ideal. Traditionally, pastry was made first thing in the morning, before the kitchen had a chance to get hot in the heat of the sun or the ovens.

Similarly, pastry needs to be mixed quickly. This helps keep it cool but also minimises development of the flour's gluten content, otherwise the pastry may become too elastic, difficult to roll, inclined to shrink, and tough in texture. Too much handling can also make the fat soft and the finished pastry greasy.

When making shortcrust, a food processor can be an advantage in that it can help minimise handling. However it is important not to let the machine overwork the pastry - take it out as soon as it forms a lump.

Once the dough is formed, chilling it for 30 minutes or so helps relax the gluten and set the fat, making the dough manageable and less likely to shrink. Chilling the dough between each stage of making puff pastry is vital. Raw shortcrust, puff and flaky pastries can be kept wrapped in cling film in the fridge for two or three days before rolling and baking. They can also be frozen for up to three months.

It's very easy to make simple vegan sweet shortcrust pastry by substituting the butter with soya margarine.