Basic shortcrust pastry is so so so easy, I don’t get it why people buy frozen? Puff pastry, ok, that’s a bit tricky (but still worth making your own). Phyllo, yep, right, I buy that most of the time. But shortcrust – nah, it takes less to make your own than it does to peel off that blue plastic, and you get to use real butter and no nasty transfats.
The recipe quantities and temperatures and times are a bit vague, because it really doesn’t matter too much. The more butter (and the less water) in your pastry, the more melt-in-the-mouth it is, but also the harder to handle (and the more calories). If you use lots of butter, you need to get it quite cool, or the butter melts as you are trying to roll it out and it gets sticky. But it’s very delicious and you can make the pastry quite thick and the star of the dish. If you are in a hurry, or the pastry is not the star of the dish, you can go light on the butter and roll it out thin for a more cracker-like pastry that is easy to handle.
That’s it really. All the rest is elaboration on the theme.
You can use cream or sour cream or oil in place of butter, but it works like melted butter and the pastry is harder to handle and might need to be rolled between sheets of greaseproof paper. If you have an egg white elsewhere in a recipe, you can substitute an egg yolk for part of the butter and it makes it slightly less “short” but still delicious and easier to handle than all butter. Any saturated fat (that sets solid at room temperature) can be substituted for the butter and you are just thinking about the taste rather than the texture. If you are using a low fat pastry and a low fat filling, a bit of “blind baking” first stops the filling soaking into the pastry and making it soggy. Blind baking just means covering your pastry with greaseproof paper and filling with uncooked beans, or rice, or chickpeas or something similar, and cooking for 10 minutes or so before filling. The beans are dry already so it doesn’t hurt them. If the pastry, or the filling, has a lot of butter, oil, cheese or eggs it, the pastry won’t go soggy and there’s usually no need.
The flour needs to be flour – it is the little grains of starch in it exploding that makes pastry. It can be wholemeal or unbleached, but other flours like besan behave differently. You can make pastry from them but it is a different story. Self-raising flour is a different story too.
The recipe makes 12 tartlets. They are perfect for lunch boxes, or party finger food – which is where these went. These are really quick and simple, and they were a party hit.
You can do this in a food processor, or just cut the butter into tiny cubes and rub it into the flour with your fingertips, till it resembles breadcrumbs. (My nanna used to say that the best pastry makers have cool hands, because the object of the exercise is to have tiny flecks of un-melted butter mixed through the flour.)
- 1 cup of wholemeal plain flour (wholemeal or unbleached)
- 2 heaped dessertspoons of cold butter
- pinch salt
Add just enough cold water to make a soft dough. Add it carefully, spoonful at a time. Put your dough in the fridge to cool down while you start the pumpkin off.
Peel, dice, and roast a cup and a half of pumpkin and one larg-ish red onion. Dice the pumpkin into 1 to 1.5 cm dice. You can sprinkle with a bit of fresh thyme if you have some. It will cook really quickly – you’ll just have time to roll out the pastry.
- 2 eggs
- a big dessertspoon of plain yoghurt (or cream, or sour cream)
- 100 grams Danish or Greek feta (the smooth kind, preferably)
- A little grating of parmesan
I use my food processor for the pastry, then without needing to wash it, for the filling. But you could also just beat them together with an egg beater.
Assembling and baking:
Grease 12 muffin tins or tart cases.
On a floured benchtop, roll the dough out, cut out 12 circles and line the tart cases. My regular sized muffin tray is perfect for this, and the lid from one of my large storage jars is perfect for cutting the pastry out.
Spoon the pumpkin and onion evenly into the tart cases. Spoon the egg and feta mix evenly over them.
Bake in a medium-hot oven for around 20 to 30 minutes, till the tart cases are crisp and colouring and the egg mix is set.
They are best is you let them cool before eating. No Teo, they aren’t cool yet.