Essential Guide to Pastry

Your Essential Guide to Pastry – All the tips, tricks and info you need for perfect pastry

Where did pastry come from?

There are numerous different types of pastry and even more ways in which to use them, but they usually all come down to a combination of flour, butter, water and salt or sugar (and, in some non-vegan versions, eggs). From ancient tomb paintings and plays, historians have concluded that the ancient Egyptians and Greeks used a filo-style of pastry (made from flour and oil) in their sweet treats, while the Romans were said to be the original creators of the ‘basic pastry dough’.They used this to cover food to stop it from burning during the cooking process – just as we would use tin foil – it was never intended for eating.

 

The only thing these ancient bakers were missing was butter, meaning the pastry lacked the richness we associate with it today; it was not until the medieval period that we started to see the first shortcrust and puff pastries (or early versions of them). From there pastry was adopted by many different generations and evolved steadily over time, until Marie-Antoine Carême (essentially, the first celeb chef) took it to the next level, reportedly creating the first mille-feuille.

The Different Types

Where to start?! There are essentially four basic pastries and many more variations stemming from them; but, once you master these key recipes, you can easily adapt them to suit whatever bake you’re making, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a pastry pro.

Spiced Apple and Blackberry Pie

Apple and Blackberry Pie from Issue 13

Shortcrust: Needing nothing more than plain flour, diced dairy-free butter and a pinch of salt (or sugar, depending on whether you’re going sweet or savoury), shortcrust
pastry is a baking basic. You can use this type of pastry for fruit pies, savoury pies, tarts and tartlets and even use the remnants to make little vegan cheese twists.

Puff: Though it only requires a few simple ingredients (flour, dairy-free butter and water), puff pastry can pose a tiresome task, but, it’s perfect for vegan ‘sausage’ rolls, plant-based vol-au-vent and a selection of scrumptious patisserie treats – including dairy-free cream horns, which are a
PB HQ favourite!

Filo: Great when used for traditional Mediterranean recipes, filo pastry is wafer thin and almost translucent.

It’s usually used in several layers, placed together to deliver a crisp, crunchy outer layer for tarts and savoury ‘straws’. Try using filo pastry for vegetable samosas or, if you’re feeling truly indulgent, combine with layers of crushed nuts and maple syrup for a plant-based take on traditional baklava.

Choux: An absolute essential for any keen baker, choux pastry is the base of many sweet treats, such as profiteroles and chocolate eclairs. This pastry will take a little heat and a fair few ingredients in its vegan version, including plant-based milk, dairy-free butter, maple syrup, vanilla extract, flour and egg replacer (you can make your own or use a commercial egg replacer), as well as baking powder, to ensure a perfect rise.

How to make it healthy

Pastry isn’t known for being a healthy choice, mainly because about a third of puff and shortcrust pastry is made of fat. Making pastry with unsaturated fats such as vegan spreads that contain sunflower oil or olive oil helps make them healthier, though.
Filo pastry is a lot thinner than shortcrust or puff pastry, so when possible, opt for this type of pastry, for a slightly less fattening option.

To Buy or Make?  That is the Question…
Try it at home:

Shortcrust: A vegan version of shortcrust pastry is super simple to make. Combine plain flour with diced dairy-free butter and either a sprinkle of sugar or salt. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour until you have a breadcrumb-like consistency. Bring the crumbs together to form a dough; wrap the dough in cling film and pop in the fridge for about 10 minutes before using.

Hot water crust: This pastry will give any savoury pie a delicious crisp crust. Mix together flour, a teaspoon of baking powder, a pinch of salt and pepper, and a little mustard powder (for a punch of flavour). Add vegetable shortening and water to a pan and bring to a boil; pour the liquid mix into the flour and quickly bring it together to form a soft dough. As soon as it’s cool enough to touch, shape the pastry in your pie tin or mini tins, as required.

Choux: Traditional choux pastry requires eggs, so for this you’ll want either a commercial or homemade egg replacer. You can start by melting dairy-free butter, plant-based milk, a little maple syrup (or your sweetener of choice) and vanilla extract together in a pan. Allow to cool just slightly before adding in flour and baking powder and mixing thoroughly. Then add in your egg replacement mixture, stir until combined and pop in a piping bag.

It’s not cheating to buy…

Puff pastry: Unless you want to be standing in the kitchen all day, putting tiny chunks of butter into pastry dough, kneading and chilling repetitively, until you’ve developed enough layers of butter-filled pastry to bake with, then just nip down to your local supermarket and pick up a packet of ready-rolled, vegan-friendly puff pastry.

Filo pastry: Quite the opposite of puff pastry, filo pastry requires an intense method of stretching and thinning each sheet. The dough itself is fairly easy to make, requiring only flour, warm water, olive oil and a little salt, but the time it will take you to roll out each piece to a miniscule thickness (ideally 0.5mm) is certainly daunting. Even celebrity chefs have been known to use store-bought
filo pastry, so don’t feel guilty when nipping down to your local shop to pick up yours.

Top Tips for Making Homemade Pastry, from our PlantBased Chefs

Making pastry at home can be a notoriously tricky task, so we’ve turned to our PlantBased Chefs to give you all the top tips and tricks for acing everything from pie crusts to profiteroles…

  1. Make sure you keep everything cool. Especially when making shortcrust or puff pastry, use chilled dairy-free butter. Try not to handle to pastry with warm hands more than you need to, and chill immediately after the pastry has been made. This will stop the pastry falling apart when you try to roll it out. If you are filling your pastry with something, make sure the filling has also cooled down, otherwise it will just melt the pastry, make it go soggy and the filling will just leak through it.
  2. To give your pastry a golden glow when baking it, brush over a little of your favourite plant-based milk before you bake it in the oven. You can also seal pastry by brushing plant-based milk on the edges you want to join, so they stick together, for example, when making ‘sausage’ rolls.
  1. Always preheat your oven before baking any type of pastry. Baking pastry in an oven that is not hot enough will just melt the pastry and make it a mushy mess.
  2. Don’t overwork your pastry. Shortcrust in particular can become tough if you handle it too much. If you are brave enough to attempt homemade puff pastry, then don’t handle this too much either, otherwise you will knock the air out of it and destroy the lovely layers you
    have created.
  3. Don’t stretch it. Pastry dough isn’t like pizza dough – it has a more fragile and less elastic texture, so (unless it’s filo)make sure to gently roll out your pastry rather than stretching it, as you would with a pizza base.

When cooking with shortcrust pastry in particular…

  1. Use a metal tin to bake the pastry in. This will ensure optimum heat reaches the pastry and will prevent it from being under-baked and soggy.

 

Find lots of information on ingredients in our glossary.

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