Once you know how to make shortcrust pastry dough, an entire world of baked goods opens up: Pies, tarts and quiches come immediately to mind. With practice, and a few pointers, anyone can make this base.

All shortcrust pastry dough starts with two ingredients, flour and a fat – either butter or margarine. Variations are made by adding other ingredients, depending on what the dough will be used for.

“The use of butter or margarine is a question of personal taste,” says Gerhard Schenk, a master baker from southern Germany. More important is making sure you never use a low-fat variation. If you do, the dough will become too soft and difficult to work with.

If you’re using a hand mixer to make the dough, it’s best to use softened butter or margarine, says Frauke Hagemann, project manager for the baking department at the Dr Oetker test kitchen in Germany.

If you’ll be making the dough by hand, use cold butter that’s been cut into cubes. This will make it easier to rub into the flour.

Whether to add eggs depends on the recipe. “Generally, an egg makes the dough somewhat smoother,” says Hagemann. If you’re looking for a crumbly dough, though, using eggs makes no sense, says Schenk.

The best flour to use is type 405 (pastry or cake flour), but wholewheat flour can also be used, depending on your preferred taste. Another option is to add baking powder – about two pinches per 500g – for a fluffier, albeit drier, dough.

Once the dough has been kneaded, it must be allowed to rest – not necessarily in the fridge, say Schenk, where it often becomes too hard to work with. “It’s fine to cover the dough with plastic cling film and let it rest at room temperature,” he advises.

That rest period is especially important for sweet variants, allowing the sugar to break down and bind with the other ingredients. Cling film prevents the dough from taking on any unwanted foreign odours.

During the resting period, the dough doesn’t necessarily need to be formed into a ball, as is often prescribed in recipes. “It’s better to flatten the dough into a disc about 2cm to 4cm thick, which makes it easier to work with after resting,” says Schenk.

After the rest period, the dough should be kneaded well one more time. “If it feels too moist, simply add a bit more flour,” says Aenne Schwarz, from the margarine manufacturing company Unilever.

If the dough is too firm or crumbly, it will easily break when it is rolled out. If this happens, you can add more butter.

To roll the dough out, make sure the work surface is covered with a light dusting of flour. Alternatively, the dough can be rolled out between two sheets of parchment paper. If you’re making cookies, simply punch out the shapes on top of the baking paper.

Shortcrust pastry dough can be made a day before baking. “It should stay in the refrigerator, though, until it’s time to go in the oven,” says Hagemann.

Finished dough can also be frozen for up to three months. Once the dough has been thawed out, it can be used once again as normal. – dpa/Sabine Meuter

Try this sweet shortcrust pastry recipe from our archives.