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The complete pastry problem solver


1st Jan 2015 Recipes

The complete pastry problem solver

The ability to make a perfect pastry is a much-coveted cookery skill. But for such an important technique, it can be surprisingly tricky to get right. Never fear! For every pastry problem, there is an answer. Here's our comprehensive troubleshooter. 

General problems with pastry

Heavy handling and overworking dough are two common mistakes that result in pastry with an inferior, coarse—or heavy—texture.

Another general point for success with rolled-out pastry doughs is to pay attention to the working temperature of the ingredients, the environment and your hands.

Poor-quality pastry can be the result of preparation in conditions that are too warm (or using ingredients that are not cool enough); however, sometimes fats that have been chilled for too long can make pastry difficult to manage and this results in the dough becoming overworked.

The following specific faults relate to different types of pastry.


Shortcrust pastry

shortcrust pastry

Hard and/or tough pastry: Usually occurs due to too much liquid and too much flour when rolling out, too little fat, over-handling or insufficient rubbing in.

Soft and crumbly pastry: The chef has used too little water or self-raising flour instead of plain.

Shrunk pastry: There was excess stretching during rolling out and the pastry was not allowed to rest or chill before baking.

Speckled pastry: If you encounter undissolved sugar grains in an enriched pastry crust, it's usually been caused by using coarser granulated sugar instead of caster sugar.

Soggy, uncooked pastry base: If the pastry was not baked blind before the filling was added to your flan or tartlets, fruit juices cause the base of a double-crust pie to soften. If the tart plate conducts heat well then the pastry should not taste raw.

Brushing the pastry base with a little egg white helps but the best solution is to use a metal tart plate (enamel) or an ovenproof glass dish.


Hot water crust

hot water crust

Cracked pastry: This could be caused by liquid not boiling when added to flour, pastry not being kneaded together until it is smooth or the dough being allowed to cool before being rolled or used.

Dry, difficult-to-mould pastry: Often occurs if the liquid was not boiling when added to flour or the dough was allowed to cool before being used.

Very soft, difficult-to-mould pastry: Either too little flour or too much water or fat was used, the pastry was not kneaded together until smooth or the pastry was still too hot and soft to roll out (to remedy this, allow to stand or knead gently for 1–2 minutes).

Hard pastry when cooked: Insufficient fat or liquid was used or it was caused by heavy handling or repeated moulding and rolling.


Suet pastry

steak and kidney pudding

Heavy pastry: Insufficient baking powder may have been used, too little suet or too much flour. Alternatively, perhaps the water was not kept on the boil during cooking.

Tough pastry: The dough has been handled too much and rolled out excessively.

Soggy pastry: The paper and cloth covering over filled pie may have been too loose, and water not kept boiling during cooking. Foil is the best choice of covering.


Choux pastry

choux pastry 

Flour does not form paste leaving pan clean: This may be a result of the liquid not fully boiling when flour was added, flour being added in stages instead of all at once or too much water or fat used.

Greasy flour, fat and water paste: Perhaps the mixture was beaten before the eggs were added, causing the fat to separate out.

Mixture too soft: Either too much water was used, the liquid was not boiling when water added or the eggs were too large.

The pastry did not rise: Self-raising flour wasn't used, the paste was not beaten enough once the eggs were added or the oven was too cold.

Sinking after removal from the oven: The pastry was given insufficient baking, the oven temperature was too hot, browning paste before cooking it through or the oven temperature was not reduced part-way through baking.


Flaky, rough puff and puff pastries

puff pastry

Too few layers: There may have been insufficient rolling, resting and chilling, maybe some overly heavy rolling causing fat to break through and intermingle with the pastry or the fat could have been too soft.

Fat running out during baking: The oven was too cool.

Hard and tough pastry: As well as overly heavy handling, there could have been too little fat, too little rolling and too cool an oven.

Shrinking pastry: The guilt here lies with over-stretching during rolling pastry and insufficient resting.

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