Making pastry, at least at its most basic level, is a piece of cake.
For a long time I bought it. Over the course of a summer working in France I’d make a tart for lunch most days, buying ready-made – and ready-rolled, by God (important comma there) – pastry and passing it off as my own. It’s too warm, I’d tell myself, believing the combination of the sultry kitchen and my radiator-like hands were more than the pastry could cope with.
It was rubbish, of course – I just couldn’t be bothered. It seemed like too much effort to 19-year-old me – all that rubbing, all that mixing, it took forever. Back then I was clearly a lazy bastard because making pastry, at least at its most basic level, is a piece of cake.
Simplest of all is shortcrust pastry. Rub butter into flour and bind with water. That’s it. Maybe add an egg yolk for richness and colour but, really, we are not talking about a complicated process here.
Jazzing it up a notch requires little more effort or attention to detail. You can bung in some icing sugar for a sweeter pastry without the brain having to shift up any gears, or flavour the crust with anything from lemon zest to cocoa powder. Think of it as a canvas – a lovely, buttery canvas.
Marginally more impressive, though no more tricky, is flaky pastry, which is made – or at least mimicked – by using frozen butter instead of chilled. You then grate the butter into the flour and mix with a little cold water to bind. The small shards of shortening cause the pastry to flake when attacked with a hungry fork.
It’s not always worth it. Puff pastry is a major ball-ache, requiring three days of foresight to concoct, due to the need to let the damn thing chill overnight on two occasions. In this case it’s difficult to argue that it’s just as quick to make as it is to buy. Filo pastry is even more of a palaver. The dough has to be rolled out so thinly that only a well-practiced cook can get it right.
But for the most part there should never be a need to buy pastry. Wobbly quiches, glossy pies, treacle tarts – this is home cooking at its very best; simple, imperfect, cared for. Buying pastry takes the soul out of the kitchen and the love out of food.
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