There’s nothing worse than making pastry from scratch only to have it shrink once it’s baked. Whether it’s an open tart or a closed pie, a shrunken crust is frustrating. It looks meagre, is tough on the fork and messes with the ratio of filling to crust. Here are five steps to prevent your pastry from shrinking when it’s baked:
1. Add water sparingly
You know that part of the pastry recipe that indicates to “add additional water if needed to bring the pastry together”? Be very cautious about this step. Water evaporates during baking, and this evaporation causes shrinkage. Therefore, the more water you add, the more shrinkage that will occur. Properly mixed pastry will lubricate the flour with the butter, and a minimal amount of water should be needed to hold it together. Before adding any additional water to your pastry, squeeze a portion together in your hand to see if it holds together. If so, it’s done. If not, drizzle in more 1 tablespoon at a time. Using good-quality butter (which has a lower percentage of water) will also help.
2. Don’t over work your dough
Over-kneading the dough will develop too much gluten. Gluten produces elasticity in dough which is amazing for pizza crust, but not so much for apple pie. Gluten can trick you, it can make your dough easier to roll out and more pliable to shape to your pan. However, once overworked dough is subjected to heat, it recoils quickly, pulling away from the sides of the pan and shrinking (and overly tough).
3. Let your dough rest for at least one hour before baking
This is another way to counter gluten development. After being worked, dough needs to rest fully (in a cold environment) to relax any elasticity that has been developed. Some recipes say 30 minutes, but the longer you can let it rest, the better.
4. Get your pastry cold (really cold)
Imagine you were going to put a stick of frozen butter in the oven beside a stick of softened butter. It’s pretty clear what would happen. The softened butter would melt quickly and relatively evenly. The frozen butter would melt on the exposed edges first and then gradually melt unevenly at a slower pace. Chilling or even better, freezing your pastry dough provides some stability to its shape in the early stages of cooking while a crust is formed.
5. Bake at high heat
In order for a pastry to keep its shape, it needs structure. Baking at a high heat develops a crust on the outer edges of the pastry, establishing the shape it will maintain while it bakes. You want this shape to establish quickly so baking in a hot oven will help encourage this. Start baking your pastry at 400-425F for 10 to 15 minutes. If you are pre-baking something like a tart shell, this may be enough baking time. If you are baking something like a filled pie that requires longer, reduce the heat and continue baking according to recipe directions.
Originally published December 18th, 2014.
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