I have been asked to provide a description on how to make pastry without using a food processor. Let me start by saying that using a food processor is handy and helps a great deal when you are a bit short of time, but it is by no means fundamental and does not beat handmade pastry. Also, a food processor can be used in all sorts of short- pastry, such as shortcrust, rich shortcrust and shortbread, but proves completely useless in the case of bread, choux, puff (even rough puff) pastry and pâte brisée.
Using your hands is extremely rewarding and easy. I used to swear by the ready rolled shortcrust pastry sheets you can buy in supermarkets, but once you try making it yourself you know you will never turn back. This is a richer version than traditional shortcrust pastry and is the one I usually use. Traditionally, shortcrust should be made with a ratio of butter to flour 1:2 (e.g. 100g butter, 200g flour) and the liquid should only be water (or milk). This recipe (by Eric Lanlard, by the way) uses a higher percentage of butter and introduces one egg to bind the mixture together. Broadly speaking, the higher the butter content, the flakier the pastry gets, but also fiddlier to work with.
- 250g plain flour
- 150g unsalted butter
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 egg
- 1 tbsp milk
First of all, measure out all of your ingredients and arrange them on the working surface. You don’t want to have to go back and forth from the fridge/pantry to get an ingredient you have forgotten and having to measure it on top of it! Also, remember that the secret to a very crumbly shortcrust is the temperature of the mixture. The butter needs to be fridge cold, so cut it into small cubes and then leave them in the fridge to firm up completely before using.
Next, tip the butter into the bowl with the flour. I also ensure my hands are very cool by keeping them under the cold tap for a good 2-3 minutes before starting, but you can skip this step. This is also why some people use a food processor, as it allows you not to convey any warmth to the pastry while mixing the butter with the flour.
Start rubbing the butter into the flour using your fingertips. Squeeze the lumps of butter between your fingertips and use the whole hands to mix the flour with the butter.
Keep on mixing the butter into the flour until your mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs or has a sandy-like consistency. Towards the end of the mixing phase, focus on the big lumps of butter and try to break these down. When you reach that stage, your mixture should look like this.
Now add the liquid. Briefly whisk the egg and pour in the milk, then tip it all inside the bowl.
Use your hands to mix the liquid into the rest of the ingredients. You should be aiming at bringing the pastry together, rather than kneading it as you would do with bread dough. Try and squeeze the pastry together as in the pictures below.
Once all of your ingredients are combined (you might still be able to see some speckles of butter, but that is fine), use your hands to roll the pastry into a ball.
Lay a piece of clingfilm on your work surface and put the pastry ball on top of it, then flatten it slightly with the palm of your hand. Wrap it in the clingfilm and chill it for at least 1 hour before using. Your pastry is done!
When your pastry has cooled down, lightly dust your work surface with flour and use a rolling pin to roll it out to the desired thickness and shape. Remember to line your flan tin and then chill it before blind baking!
p.s. Many thanks to my partner for providing his hands to this photoshoot!