Puff pastry is great for croissants. Photo: Conor Brown

Making your own pastry is worth it (except for puff!)

With Christmas baking in full swing, I thought I would continue the FAQs series. 

When you go into supermarkets these days you will get packages of puff pastry (and yes, life is too short to make it yourself), shortcrust pastry and loads of different pastry cases for sweet or savoury baking.

Apart from puff pastry, I tend to prepare my own pastry – one major reason is that it is difficult to buy pastry that is made with butter rather than vegetable fat. But let’s look at what the different pastries are all about.

Let’s start with shortcrust: in the olden days, shortcrust pastry was prepared with equal amounts of butter and lard – the latter giving it a bit of texture. These days, most home-bakers will use butter only as lard can be difficult to find.

This pastry is the easiest of all pastry recipes and is used for quiches, tarts etc.

French variations are pâte brisée and pâte sablée – with shortcrust, we tend to rub the fat into the flour, the French version creams the butter with egg and/or sugar. Chilling pastry before use ensures that the fat has settled and doesn’t leap out during baking.

Hot water crust is a bit different as – as the name suggests – hot water with melted lard is added to the mix and is commonly used for pork pies. This pastry has less flavour and is a lot stronger, hence you can use it for high rise pies. While you rub butter into the flour, the melted fat should be lard.

Puff pastry is another pastry we love to use. ‘Proper’ puff pastry takes a few hours to make (but worth it for special occasions) as you need to roll and fold the pastry over butter several times in between chilling.

The result is a multi-layered pastry which appear when baked and the fat in between the several layers melts and puffs up the pastry. Perfect for croissants and cheese straws, shop bought puff pastry has vegetable fat in it – so if you find a brand that uses butter, go for that one.

For bakers who still like to make their own pastry, rough puff pastry might be the better alternative as the pastry is made with just one folding and chilling.

Delia Smith freezes her butter and grates it before adding it to the pastry mix while Gordon Ramsey uses butter at room temperature.

You can use most pastries for sweet or savoury baking – I add an egg to my shortcrust pastry and use a knife to bring the flour butter mix together with the egg and water before using my hands to form a smooth dough. It rolls out nicely, is slightly flaky and if I want a sweet version, I just replace two to three tablespoons of flour with icing sugar.

If you are like me and Christmas is your favourite time, you might like to visit our Christmas Fair in Rathpeacon Community Centre this Sunday from 10am-5pm. We have a wonderful mix of crafters, artists, food producers for you to choose from. And if you see me around, why not say hello and we can have a nice chat about Christmas baking?