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The cheat: shortcrust pastry

Whether you're entertaining on the hop or stuck for a midweek meal, a stash of frozen pastry makes for an excellent contingency plan.

What's not to love about buttery, melt-in-the-mouth shortcrust pastry? Well, as much as we at GT are big fans of the stuff, truth be told we don't always have the time to make it ourselves. While a little forward planning goes a long way (when time is on your side and you're in pastry-making mode, make a double batch and freeze it to have on hand), sometimes things don't work out that way.

There's no need to forgo pastry-based recipes though - as with puff pastry, it's handy to have some shop-bought, ready-rolled shortcrust in the freezer.

Quality is key, as not all shop-bought shortcrusts are created equal. Some are made with pastry margarine, which is a pale imitation of butter, the key ingredient of any pastry worth its salt. If the ingredients list on the packaging doesn't include butter, put it down and look for one that does. Likewise, if there are preservatives and additives. In fact, the ingredients list should closely resemble that of your favourite pastry recipe (flour, butter, perhaps egg and salt), and little else.

Our favourite is Carême's excellent Sour Cream Shortcrust, which has a beautifully flaky texture due to the sour cream, but it's worth trying out a few and stocking up on your favourite. Most packages of pastry are around 400 grams and will make one large tart or six individual tarts.

A world of sweet and savoury pastry treats is at your fingertips.

Strawberry-almond galette
Serves 6-8
Stir 30gm melted butter, 30gm raw caster sugar, 30gm almond meal and ½ lightly beaten egg in a bowl to combine. Cut out a 24cm-diameter round from a sheet of shortcrust pastry and place on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Spread with almond mixture, leaving a 2.5cm border, then scatter with 200gm thickly sliced strawberries. Fold in border, brush with a little extra beaten egg then scatter tart with a little extra raw caster sugar. Bake at 180C until dark-golden and crisp (20-25 minutes) and serve warm or at room temperature with thick cream.

Raspberry cream with sugared biscuits
Serves 4-6
Combine 55gm raw caster sugar in a bowl with the finely grated rind of ½ lemon. Brush a sheet of shortcrust pastry with eggwash, scatter with sugar mixture then cut out 3cm x 8cm rectangles and place on baking trays lined with baking paper. Dock with a fork and bake at 180C until crisp and golden (10-12 minutes), then cool on a wire rack. Whisk 300ml thickened cream with 40gm sieved pure icing sugar and 1 tsp vanilla bean paste until soft peaks form, then fold in 100gm crushed raspberries. Spoon into chilled serving glasses or bowls and serve with sugared biscuits for dipping.

Tomato-Gruyère tart
Serves 4-6
Line a 23cm loose-bottomed tart tin with a sheet of shortcrust pastry and trim edges, leaving a 1cm overhang and refrigerate. Meanwhile, sauté 2 thinly sliced leeks and 1 finely chopped garlic clove in 30gm butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat until tender (4-5 minutes), then remove from heat and transfer to a bowl. Stir 150gm crème fraîche, 2 lightly beaten eggs and 1 tsp thyme to combine then add 120gm coarsely grated Gruyère, season to taste and spread in tart case. Scatter with 150gm halved cherry tomatoes, drizzle with a little olive oil and scatter with a little extra thyme. Bake at 180C until golden and set (25-30 minutes), stand for 10 minutes and serve with a simple vinaigrette-dressed green salad.

Sesame-fennel crackers (pictured)
Makes 12-14
Cut out 8cm-diameter rounds from a half a sheet of shortcrust pastry and place on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Dock with a fork, brush with eggwash, then scatter with sesame seeds and fennel seeds and season to taste. Bake at 180C until golden and crisp (8-10 minutes), cool on a wire rack and serve with your favourite cheese.

Hot tips
+ Defrost frozen shortcrust pastry in the fridge for a couple of hours or, if time is short, at room temperature. Just avoid letting it get too soft, or it will be tricky to work with. If that happens, pop it in the fridge to firm up a little.

+ You don't need to rest ready-rolled shortcrust pastry before using it, unless you need to roll it a little thinner; in that case rest it for about half an hour in the fridge.


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