After my Gluten Free Bread course, next day was Gluten Free Pastry. Gluten free pastry is a tricky one to master. It’s got to be sturdy enough to roll out and shape, and yet also be short and nicely crumbly once cooked. If you add too many gums or starches to replace the gluten it holds together and rolls our well, but then becomes tough and dense like cardboard when baked – not so tasty. Equally if you don’t get the right mix of gums and starches it becomes far too fragile and you end up with a pile of crumbs rather than a crisp pastry base.
On the plus side however, as there is no gluten to overwork, if your pastry falls apart when trying to line the tin then simply scoop it back together and re-roll it without too many issues. One of the best tips I know about how to easily roll out pastry is to roll it out between two sheets of clingfilm. This not only stops it sticking to the work surface and requires no extra flour, but also means you can use the base layer to help you lift and flip the pastry into the tin. (We were shown this on the course but I have been doing it myself for years).
On the course we learnt not only standard pastry, but also a few different types of pastry! Flaky Shortcrust which we turned into an amazing roast vegetable quiche for lunch
Pâte Sucrée with which we made delicious cherry Bakewell tarts
Hot Water Crust Pastry for sturdier meat pies and sausage rolls and even….Choux Pastry which we made into very cheesy Gougères!
The Choux and Hot Water Crust pastry were completely new to me so I was very excited. I have previously attempted a gluten free choux pastry and well… it was sort of a disaster so I was eager to see how it’s done. I’ve made my own gluten free Shortcrust and Pâte Sucrée before, but the techniques we were shown were new to me and produced fantastic results.
For the shortcrust pastry we were shown a very nifty technique for achieving ultra smooth pastry with the butter and flour evenly distributed in layers. It’s known as 'fraisering’. You start by rubbing the butter into the flour as normal and then squishing it into a rough log shape. Don’t kneed or over-handle it. You should still have a few lumps of butter mixed in. You then take your log of pastry and, using a pallet knife, cut off a slice about 5mm thick, almost to the base of the log. Then tilt your pallet knife to 45 degrees and drag it towards you, smearing out the pastry onto the work surface. Then carefully run your pallet knife back over it three times, each time collecting a little more of the pastry while you draw it towards yourself. (Almost like when making chocolate curls along the back of a block of chocolate). This smoothes the flour and butter into layers. Then place your smooth pastry piece to one side, cut another 5mm slice and repeat. At the end gather your pastry together (don’t kneed it), place it in some cling film and chill for 30 minutes before rolling it out between two large sheets of clingfilm and lining your tin. Such a simple technique but it really does produce the most smooth and evenly worked pastry. Plus you handle it very little so it stays nicely cool and the butter doesn’t melt.
Here the technique is beautifully hand modeled her by my friend Kizzy, who I met on the first day bread course and was back for the second day too!
The Pâte Sucrée (French sweet pastry) also had a very different technique. This was made almost like making fresh pasta. You start by pouring your dry ingredients on the work surface and making a well in the middle. Into this you add small cubes of butter and sugar, and squish them into a paste using the very tips of your fingers. You then add some egg yolks and again work them into the butter/sugar mix using your fingers until you end up with rather a soft and sloppy mixture. You then switch to a pallet knife and draw the flour into the butter mixture using a cutting and sweeping motion with the blade of the pallet knife. Once it begins to form a dough, keep chopping it with the blade and folding it back together with the knife almost like chopping fresh herbs. It will be too soft to handle with your hands.
Scoop the dough into a mound, wrap in clingfilm and chill before rolling out between two layers of clingfilm again. So clever! It produced the most amazing pastry. Really light, buttery and perfectly short. It held together beautifully but crumbled deliciously in the mouth.
Just look at the lovely little cherry Bakewell tarts we made with it. I took one of mine home and fed it to my parents. They can both be quite critical of gluten free food, but said they would never have known these were gluten free – hurrah!
We were running a bit short on time so in the afternoon we quickly made cheese gougères which are savoury cheesy choux buns. You eat them as they are, no extra filling required, the astonishing amount of cheese incorporated into the batter adding the flavour. When eaten warm the cheese is wonderfully melty. Kizzy and I decided to also added a pinch of paprika and chilli powder to ours for a bit of background heat. It also explains why ours came out a little orange!
They were delicious and certainly very cheesy, although sadly not as perfectly formed as we’d have liked as we ran out of time and had to take them out the oven before they were fully cooked. The top tip for this one is to let the batter cool before beating in the eggs to form the paste. (I think this is where I went wrong when I attempted them previously) It’s hard work beating in the eggs, you have to do it gradually and the mix is very thick and stiff, so you need a friend to help you or else some strong arm muscles!
Overall I had a fantastic day, the food was delicious, the company amazing and the techniques I learnt are invaluable. I can’t wait to try some out myself at home. At the start of the courses I was most looking forward to the bread day, but I think after doing both, the pastry has the edge on knowledge, skills and overall deliciousness value for me. I would really really recommend this pastry course to anyone struggling with gluten free pastry.