Pastry is so much easier to make than you might expect. Remember that it needs to rest before you can use it, so you will have to plan accordingly if you are working to a deadline (ours is usually bedtime…)
Take: 8oz flour; 4oz butter; 2oz sugar; 1 egg.
1. Put the flour in a large mixing bowl. Cut up the butter into small pieces (say 1cm cubes or thereabouts) and add to the flour.
2. Rub the flour and butter together* until you get a sandy texture.
3. Put the egg and sugar together into a separate jug (or mug or whatever) and mix them together until the sugar is dissolved.
4. In the mixing bowl, make a sort of well in the centre, then pour the egg/sugar mix in. Use a dinner knife to gently combine all the ingredients. You are there when it goes all lumpy and horrible-looking.
5. Squash and knead the lumps together to make dough. If the dough is a little too sticky, add flour. If the dough is a little too dry, add a little milk (a very little).
6. Put the dough into a reusable plastic bag (or wrap it in clingfilm if the planet is no concern of yours) and bung it in the fridge. It needs to chill and rest for at least half an hour but will keep for a few days if you want to make it in advance.
(* By this I mean use your fingers – not your whole hand – to pick up flour together with floury buttery lumps – and then rub your thumbs over your other fingers. The idea is to rub the flour into the butter until, eventually, you get a sandy texture. You have done this when there are very few lumps left, and the lumps are small and generally doughy rather than buttery.)
These quantities will make enough pastry for 12 small tarts or 1 larger tart. If you are making a covered pie (e.g. mince pies or a large fruit pie) you should be able to manage with this quantity if you are used to rolling out pastry efficiently but beginners might want to make a little more (say: 12 oz flour, 6oz butter, 3oz sugar, 1 egg, and 1 tbsp milk – NB treating the milk as an extra bit of egg).
Tip on rolling out pastry – my Dad says never* roll pastry more than twice. That is, you roll it, take what you can, roll it again to cut out more, and after that it is playdough (too much flour gets into the pastry and it gets all tired, or something, so is no good for cooking). This is why beginners might need more pastry, because they haven’t yet got the hang of rolling it out efficiently – it might be too thick, too thin, it might accidentally break or stick to the surface, or it might be the wrong shape – and you just might not get as much out of it before you hit the “two rolls and you’re out” limit.
(* Possibly “never” is an exaggeration. Only my Dad never exaggerates…)
You can add flavourings to the mixture (see Shortbread for ideas) to make flavoured pastry.
If you are making a covered pie, you can use remaining scraps of pastry to make decorations e.g. an apple shape for an apple pie or a holly leaf for a mince pie (kiddie cutter collections rule!) and put these on top of the pie.
If you want to make a covered pie but you don’t quite have enough pastry, you could try a lattice pie. Just use a sharp knife to cut out long strips of pastry and lay these over the pie filling in a lattice effect. This is also a good one to do if you are worried that you might otherwise have a high pastry-to-filling ratio…