The Darling Basics: Shortcrust pastry.

I’ve already mentioned this shortcrust pastry in a few pie recipes,
but it’s so simple, reliable and reusable it deserves a post of its own.

You don’t need a food processor, rolling pin or pastry weights.
The secret to a perfect shortcrust is to use your damn hands.

Body warmth gives you an evenly blended butter-flour-sugar ‘sand’:Shortcrust sand

It allows the butter to melt slightly and form a smooth ball of dough:
Shortcrust dough ball

And makes the dough malleable enough to form an even layer in the tin:Blind-baked shortcrust

1 loose-bottom, non-stick pie tin
250 g flour
125 g butter
1/3 cup caster sugar
1 egg yolk
20 mls (1 tbsp) cold water


  1. Wash your hands!
  2. Weigh the flour and empty it into a large mixing bowl. No need to sift it – all the hands-on time later will work through any lumps.
  3. Weigh the butter (it can be cold or room temperature) and cut it into small cubes – about 0.5 cm. Add this to the flour.
  4. Add the sugar to the flour and butter.
  5. Stick your hands in there and pinch/rub the chunks of butter into the flour/sugar until it’s uniformly distributed, and approximately the texture of damp sand. This should take about 5 minutes, give or take.
  6. Wash your hands again. Separate the egg and discard the white (unless you have a recipe that calls for one lone egg white). Drop the yolk into the centre of the butter-flour-sugar ‘sand’.
  7. Add the 1 tablespoon of cold water.
  8. Using your fingertips, roughly toss/mix all the ingredients together to get the egg/water evenly distributed. When you no longer feel any large bits of wet yolk, start grabbing at the dough, squeezing together all the loose clumps. Don’t hastily add more liquid now. If the dough feels a bit dry, the butter might still be a bit cold.  Just keep kneading/squeezing it and the warmth of your hands will soften it up a bit more.
  9. Once you’ve got all the dough sticking more or less together, start rolling it into a ball against the sides of the bowl, picking up any loose pieces.
  10. When it’s all in a smooth ball, wrap the dough in cling wrap and pop it in the fridge for half an hour.
  11. Preheat the oven to 200° C. Wash your hands again!
  12. Take the dough ball out of the fridge, unwrap it, and using the heel of your hand, smoosh it into the centre of the pie tin. Then using your fingertips, start pressing the dough toward the edges of the tin and up the sides to the top edge. Don‘t worry if it’s a bit firm/crumbly to start with – the more you work to even out the dough into a uniform thickness, the easier it will get. The crust should be about 0.5 cm thick all over (not so thin you can see the tin showing through), and make extra sure it’s not too thick at the corners.
  13. Prick the dough all over with a fork, and pop it in the oven. Bake until it’s lightly golden and dry all over (any greasy/wet spots will leave you with a soggy, weak crust). If the crust puffs up in the oven, just reach in there with a fork and add a few more holes.
  14. If you’re planning to fill the crust and not bake it again, you can leave it in the oven to get a little browner before leaving it to cool (in the tin) on a cooling rack.
  15. If you’re planning to add a filling and then bake the whole pie again, remove the crust from the oven as soon as it’s dry/golden, then allow it to cool to room temperature – still in the tin – before adding the filling. Then when you rebake it, put the whole pie – still in the tin – on a baking sheet so the bottom of the crust doesn’t overcook.



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