When I was recipe testing for Rosh Hashanah I made a series of apple tarts. The pastry cases were rich shortcrust. I still get a high from making a perfectly formed tart case.
Before I trained as a chef, I steered clear of anything pastry. With ready-to-roll available in every supermarket, there seemed no point.
When I studied at Leith's School of Food and Wine — GBBO Prue's eponymously named cookery school — I learned how to make it, the proper way. It was all terribly prescriptive.
To ensure it would be crumbly and melt-in-the-mouth tender we were warned not to over work our dough by trying to roll it out too quicky; nor to add too much liquid (or it would shrink more whilst baking) and definitely not to handle it for too long or it would get greasy.
Despite regular practice during my training year, I didn't always manage a perfect tart case and was left with pastry anxiety. After I qualified, I spent time working for a caterer, churning out quiches. My skills improved immeasurably.
Low level anxiety remains, so now, each time a case comes out fine — which it does most of the time — I do a happy dance inside. I still feel inordiately proud that (a) it's in one piece; (b) even; and (c) has the requisite melting, crumbly texture.
It is perfectly possible to make a decent tart in minutes and it's worth doing your own - it tastes great and you'll get a hugely balaboosta buzz.
Here are a few tips for crumbly, flakey shortcrust pastry:
1. Keep it cold - Use fridge cold butter and icy cold water. If you're making rich shortcrust - with an egg yolk in it - that should be cold too. (It helps avoid developing gluten - which makes for chewy pastry.)
2. Chillax - you don't want that cold butter to melt. If your hands are warm keep the touch light. (Or your pastry will be greasy.)
3. Use just enough water - too much and your pastry will shrink when it bakes. Use as little as you can to moisten the pastry enough to help it come together in a ball. Too wet and it will shrink later.
4. Speed it up - Mix the water in as fast as you can to spread the water as far as possible.
5. Rest is best - that dough needs as much time as possible in the fridge to keep prevent the dreaded gluten.
6. Blind bake to avoid soggy bottoms - most tarts need the pastry case baked before you fill. Ten minutes with baking beans inside (to stop it bubbling up) to set the sides and a further 10 with the beans removed should do it. A sufficiently cooked case will feel sandy but do not leave it in too much or it will burn when you bake the filling. I like to pierce the base with a fork to doubly prevent against it bubbling up.
7. To pick up your rolled-out pastry dough, wrap it around the pin, then unfurl it over the tart case.
8. Instead of pushing your pastry into the tin with your hot mitts, use a small ball of dough to press the dough into the sides of the tin.
9. If you don't have baking beans, you can use regular dried beans or rice.
10. Keep a ball of raw dough in the fridge in case your tart case cracks in the oven. You can use it to patch up those holes.
Get practising and you'll be an expert before you know it.