This sounds like a job for Feast’s Benjamina Ebuehi. “I like to encourage making your own pastry,” she says. “You can taste the difference, and it’s not as tricky or as time-consuming as people think, especially if you have a food processor.” Obviously, that can be said for some pastry more than others, and it depends on how much time Joe has on his hands.
First things first, I think we can all agree that no one is making DIY filo, so fill your boots with shop-bought and concentrate on what you’re going to do with your filo instead – samosas or spanakopita for Ebuehi, baklava for fellow Feast columnist Ravneet Gill. Shortcrust, however, should always be homemade, Nigel Slater says. As he writes in Appetite, it’s “as easy as toast”, plus the ready-made stuff never contains enough butter. Essentially, you’re rubbing butter into flour, salt and sugar, and adding egg and whole milk or water. Then, says Gill, who is also a firm believer in making your own shortcrust, sweet pastry and hot water crust, it’s just about “learning how to handle it”.
The trick is to keep things cool. “Always rest pastry in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before rolling,” says Nokx Majozi, head pie maker at Holborn Dining Room in London. “This helps the gluten relax and makes it easier to roll.” You also don’t want the fat to melt (that way crumbly pastry lies), so if at any point you find yourself in a soft and sticky situation, whack it back in the fridge to chill out again. If you’re really struggling, Gill suggests getting out the grater. “If rolling pastry puts you off, grate it and press it into the tin with your fingertips.” Alternatively, go for a galette, which is rustic by nature. Ebuehi says: “They’re beginner-friendly, because you don’t need a tin, and you can do them free-form.” Ebuehi fills hers with seasonal fruit or cheese and roast veg.
Puff pastry, meanwhile, is especially labour-intensive, which is why Slater has never understood why people “come over all sniffy” about the shop-bought stuff. “It is a particularly good commercial product – light, crisp and a joy for people like me who imagine they have better things to do than make their own,” he writes. If that sounds like you, and beef Wellington or sausage rolls are on the cards, Majozi suggests buying a block instead of the ready-rolled type, so you can “control the thickness of the dough”. Also, always roll in one direction at a time – “this stops it from being overstretched and shrinking” – and keep things moving. “If you don’t, it will end up sticking. If that’s the case, add a little more flour underneath.”
If Joe is up for a project, however, he should by all means make his own. “I usually do a rough puff instead of a full puff,” Ebuehi admits. “It’s quicker, a bit less technical and you get to understand how the folding works.” Pop a batch in the freezer (where it will keep for a month), label it so you know what’s what, and you’ll have emergency cheese straws on tap.