Shortcrust Pastry: Gluten Free and Otherwise

Credit: Victoria Owens

Shortcrust pastry is the simple result of combining three ingredients, flour, fat and water. It is versatile. Whether as the lightly salted lid on a bubbling savory pie, the buttery and crumbly shell of a quiche or sweet and crisp in a fruit tart, short crust pastry is a pleasure to eat.

It is also a pleasure to make. Combine half the amount of cold fat to flour, rub together to create a breadcrumb consistency, add sufficient cold water to form a firm but pliant dough, leave to rest in the fridge. Roll out to fit your tin and away you go.

Things aren’t so straight forward when making GF shortcrust pastry. Pastry works because of the gluten in the flour, this is what gives dough it elasticity, you rest and chill dough to allow the gluten to relax, other wise your dough will shrink in the tin. Without the gluten therefore the process is a little more complex.

The first thing I learned to bake GF was pastry. I now have a few different recipes in my repertoire but I the one i most frequently use is shortcrust. The basic rule still applies, half the quantity of fat to flour, you just need to add an extra ingredient. Xanthum gum, this provides the stretch that GF flour lacks.

In recipes on this site (unless stated other wise) I will always use the Doves Farm GF flours,  I am familiar with them and they work for me, I also use the Doves Farm Xanthum gum as it is readily available in most health food stores.

My fat of choice is butter, occasionally half butter, half lard, but never margarine, I am sure margarine has its place but I firmly believe that place is not in a baked good. It aggrieves me deeply when I am asked to fork out near €4 for a single brownie that has been made using margarine and its insidious cousin, cooking chocolate. Seriously, producers of gluten free treats I know you need to keep costs down given the exorbitant cost of GF flour but give me real chocolate and real butter, please.

This is the quantity I would make to line an 8″ or 9″ tin.

  • 8oz / 225g Doves Farm plain GF flour
  • 4oz / 110g chilled butter  cut in to cubes
  • 1 level teaspoon of Xanthum Gum
  • Pinch of salt
  • Iced water

To make a sweet short crust pastry stir in 2 oz/ 50g caster sugar to the mix when it is at the breadcrumb stage.

In to a bowl sift the flour, xanthum gum and salt.

Add the chilled butter and rub in to the flour mix, use the tips of your fingers and be gentle. Mix until you get a texture like breadcrumbs.

Make a well in the centre and add the iced water a tablespoon at a time. Mix with a fork or your hands until the pastry comes together.The pastry should have come together in a ball but should not be sticky. It will take a few attempts until you can tell by the feel if you have added enough water or too much.

Pat the pastry in to a disc shape and wrap in cling film if you are going the chill it. If you have time I would advise chilling the pastry however there have been occasions when I have been known to roll out the pastry straight away, particularly if I have rocked in from work after 19.00 and I am making a pie or a quiche for dinner. When I am hungry rules can get relegated down to guidelines.

To roll out the pastry I use two squares of baking parchment or cling film cut larger than the size of my tin, this will make your life much easier than if you try to roll out the pastry on a floured work surface. GF pastry is fragile and given to disintegrating when you try to lift it from work surface to tin.

Place a square of cling film on the work surface, place your pastry disc and cover with the other sheet. Roll the pastry to the desired thickness and size and then remove the top layer of cling film. With great care lift the pasty on it’s bed of cling film and slide your hand underneath and bring it next to your greased tin, with even greater care turn the pastry over and lay it into the tin. While you can use baking parchment,  cling film can be easier to use as it is softer and easier to manoeuvre when you are placing the pastry in the tin.

Lightly press the pastry in to the tin, it may break, to be honest it most likely will, so don’t be disheartened, slowly peel back the cling film. If the pastry has made it in one piece, well done, if not you can now set about filling in holes and smoothing over cracks.

Remember perfection is overrated.

Credit: Victoria Owens

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