Easy guide to baking: Pastry

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Spicy Puff Pastry Straws
Here are some quick tips to make your pastry better, whether you're making shortcrust or puff or Choux.

These pastry tips are great if you want to make pies, tarts, turnovers, samosas, straws (pictured) and more.

1. Work quickly. If you overwork your pastry it becomes too elastic making it difficult to roll out and likely to shrink during baking.

2. Sieve, sieve, sieve. Yes, you've got it - you need to sieve your flour at least 3 times. This is to make sure the gluten is spread evenly which will make sure your pastry doesn?t shrink in some areas when cooking.

3. Make light work of it. Just handle crust pastry with your fingertips and lift them into the air. This will help more air get into the mixture and make for a lighter, more delicate pastry.

4. Relax your gluten. You want the gluten strands in the pastry to relax and shorten. To do this, add a little lemon to your pastry and allow it to 'rest' for an hour after you handle and roll it out. Ideally, wrap it in greaseproof paper or clingfilm and pop it in the fridge for part of that hour and you should get much better pastry results.

5. It's OK to use a food processor for your pastry, but don't let it blend to the point where it forms a ball or it will be overworked. When it looks like it is starting to 'clump', take it out of the processor and knead together with the heel of your hand.

Top tips:
If you want to be clever, add variety to your pastry. For sweet tarts, if you want to add crushed nuts, just reduce the amount of flour you add by the weight of the nuts. You can also add lemon or orange zest and sugar or spices. Savoury tarts do nicely with dried herbs or a little grated cheese.

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