At its most basic, pastry is a mixture of flour and fat bound with water to form a paste. Typically it has been used as a base for other richer ingredients, but in recent years it is increasingly being used in innovative ways on its own to highlight its unique flavour.
The range of pastries made today varies in texture and taste according to the proportion of fat to flour and the method used to shape the dough.
Types of pastry
Shortcrust pastry is the easiest type of pastry to make. It's also very versatile as it readily incorporates other flavourings. It can be used for sweet or savoury pies and tarts, pasties and other pastry parcels. Regular shortcrust pastry is bound with water but for a richer version the water is replaced with egg.
Pate sucree is a French sweet pastry similar to shortcrust pastry but with high sugar content and egg yolks for richness.
Puff pastry has a much higher fat content than short pastries and uses a special rolling and folding technique to create fine layers of dough that trap air between them. The pastry then puffs up on baking, creating scrumptious leaves with a light texture and rich flavour. This is one pastry that really impresses.
Flaky pastry and 'rough puff' are both similar to puff pastry but easier and quicker to make. They are ideal for recipes where you want a flaky texture but do not need the pastry to rise impressively.
For the pastry
- 2 1/2oz butter, diced
- 7 fl oz water
- 4oz strong plain flour
- 3 free-range eggs, beaten
For the cream
- 9fl oz double or whipping cream
For the chocolate icing
- 4oz caster sugar
- 3 1/2oz water
- 2oz dark chocolate
- 1oz unsalted butter
Step 1: Heat the oven to 200C. Place the butter, water and a pinch of salt in a medium saucepan over a low heat. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon as the butter melts.
Step 2: Meanwhile, sift the flour into a small bowl.
Step 3: When the butter has melted, turn up the heat and bring the mixture to the boil. Switch off the heat and quickly tip the flour into the saucepan. Immediately beat the flour into the liquid with the wooden spoon to mix all the ingredients together. Stop beating when the mixture swells into a smooth dough that comes away from the sides of the saucepan. This should take only a few seconds.
Step 4: Let the mixture cool for 3-4 minutes. Pour in a little of the beaten egg into the flour mixture and beat it in well. Keep adding and beating in the egg, a little at a time, until the dough looks thick, smooth and shiny and still holds its shape well. (You may not need the last two or three tablespoonfuls of egg if your eggs are large).
Step 5: Spoon the mixture into a freezer bag (you'll need to scrape it out of the pan with a plastic spatula). Fold down the top of the bag to squeeze the dough to the bottom. Snip off one of the bottom corners of the bag to give you a hole about 1cm long.
Step 6: Line two flat baking sheets with baking parchment. Squeeze the mixture into chipolata-sized sausage shapes on to the parchment, allowing about 4cm between each one (they will at least double in size in the oven).
Step 7: Place the baking sheets in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes. Take the éclairs out when they are puffed up, golden brown all over, and feel hard when you poke one with a knife.
Step 8: Take each éclair off the baking sheet and with the point of a knife, gently slit the side to let out the steam. Leave them to cool and dry out on a wire rack.
Step 9: Whip the cream in a small bowl until it is just thick enough to hold its shape. Place it in the fridge while you make the chocolate icing.
Step 10: For the icing, place the sugar and water in a small saucepan over a low heat. Heat gently, stirring all the time with a wooden spoon to dissolve the sugar. Bring to the boil and boil fast for three minutes. Switch off the hob and wait for a few minutes for the syrup to cool down. Meanwhile, break up the chocolate and cut the butter into chunks.
Step 11: When the syrup is very warm, rather than very hot, add the chocolate and butter. Stir until both have melted and blended to a smooth, glossy sauce. Leave to cool, stirring occasionally. When the sauce starts to thicken, it's ready for the éclairs.
Step 12: When the buns are cool, use a teaspoon to fill the inside of each éclair with whipped cream. Then take a different teaspoon and smear the chocolate icing generously over each éclair. Leave the éclairs on the wire rack until the icing has set.