Tips and techniques

Everything you need to know about the different types of pastry

Do you know your shortcrust from your champagne pastry? Your puff from your choux? We've got your comprehensive guide to all things pastry to guarantee baking perfection every time.

Puff, rough puff and flaky pastry

All three pastries are made up of varying proportions of flour and fat. The differences are in the methods:

Puff pastry is the most complicated to make, but also the finest in terms of the development of wonderfully light fine flakes of pastry. It requires using a block of fat, which is enclosed in the dough, then many rolling and folding processes follow.

Rough puff pastry is a poor second cousin to puff pastry. The method of handling the fat is different from that used to make puff – it’s dabbed onto the rolled out dough – but the pastry still requires rolling and folding in a precise way to develop flakes of pastry.

Flaky pastry is more like rough puff than puff pastry, with about the same amount of effort and time required.

Puff pastry is great fun to make, but it’s time consuming and tricky. You might be disappointed with the results. Pastry chefs work with ingredients that are unavailable to the home cook, and in temperatures that make the pastry easier to handle during all the rolling and folding processes. Recipes are easy to find, follow them to the letter!

fish chowder pies

Get the recipe for these deliciously creamy fish chowder pies.

Shortcrust pastry

Shortcrust pastry has a crisp, crumbly texture and a buttery taste, which can either be kept as savoury or made sweet with the addition of sugar.

Food processor

You can make good shortcrust pastry in a food processor as long as you are fast on the pulse button. Place the flour and diced cold butter in the bowl of the processor, combine with short bursts of power, then add the water and egg yolk, if using, and mix with just a few very short bursts, stopping as soon as the mixture starts to form a ball.

By hand

All the ingredients – and the kitchen – should be cold, particularly the butter, egg and liquid. You can even chill the flour in the bowl. The butter has to be rubbed through the flour evenly, and the quickest and easiest way to do this is to coarsely grate the cold butter into the flour then, if your fingers are cool, quickly rub the butter into the flour. If your fingers are hot, use two knives to cut the butter through the flour in a criss-cross manner. Now add the liquid and quickly pull the ingredients together with one hand. Shape the dough with a quick, short kneading action on a lightly floured surface until it’s smooth, then use your hand to flatten the dough into a disc shape. Wrap it in some plastic wrap, then let it rest in the fridge for the required time – at least 30 minutes.

This deep dish apple pie is a definite crowd pleaser, perfect for cool Autumn evenings.

Choux pastry

Cream puffs and eclairs are made from a pastry called choux – meaning “little cabbages”. It’s an unusual pastry that uses the steam created by the eggs in the recipe as the raising agent. Puffs puff because steam is trapped inside of them, causing them to rise up and out. If they’re not cooked correctly, they’ll fall in on themselves when they come out of the oven and will be ruined.

Perfect puffs

Each puff needs enough room on the oven tray to spread; there should be adequate space – about 3cm around each puff – for the heat to circulate and brown the puffs evenly. It’s vital that a crust develops to hold the trapped steam within the puffs during the baking. They need to be cooked to just the right point, at just the right temperature, to produce puffs that are browned and crisp and will hold their shape when they’re removed from the oven. When they’re done, they should feel as light as air when you pick them up.

As soon as the puffs come out of the oven, quickly make a small slit in the side of each one with a small, sharp pointed knife, then put the puffs back onto the tray and return them to the oven to let them dry out completely. This should take about 20 minutes or so. The oven can be set at a really low temperature, or even turned off, as the residual heat should be enough to dry the puffs out adequately.

Puffs will keep well for a day or so at room temperature in an airtight container, and they’ll freeze well in a sealable container for at least a month, provided they’re crisp and dry to start with. Return them to the oven on a flat tray for about 5 minutes to bring them back to life. Fill them as close to serving time as possible.

classic puffs

Get the recipe for these light-as-air choux puffs.

Biscuit pastry

Biscuit pastry, as the name suggests is biscuity, not short and flaky like shortcrust pastry. It’s made by beating butter, sugar and egg together, but not too much, then adding flour. It’s a good pastry if made correctly – it loves to crack at rolling-out time if it’s been over-handled. It’s sweet, so it’s only used for sweet pies and tarts.


How cute are these little limoncello meringue pies? Too cute.

Champagne pastry

An oldie but a goodie, champagne pastry has a cakey texture, almost like a light, sweet scone dough, is easy to handle and is often used for fruit pies. It always contains a raising agent (the pastry ‘bubbles’ a bit as it rises, hence the name), usually in the form of self-raising flour. Some recipes for champagne pastry use varying proportions of plain and self-raising flour.

rhubarb orange pies

These pretty little rhubarb orange pies are great for morning tea.

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