Plain pastry is usually a combination of all-purpose flour, salt, shortening, and liquid, which are blended to form a stiff dough. Shortening or lard is used in conventional recipes; liquid shortening in special recipes. Butter or margarine as well as eggs may also be used, but are usually restricted to specialty recipes. Cold water is the conventional liquid that binds the ingredients together; hot water is used only in special recipes. For conventional pastry the shortening must be cut into the flour-salt mixture until the resultant crumbs are coarse and like small peas in size. (Cutting may be done with two knives, a pastry blender, or an electric mixer at low speed.) Water sprinkled over the ingredients is mixed in quickly with a fork until the dough just holds together. Too much water makes the baked crust tough; too little makes it crumble.
With a liquid shortening, the shortening and water are blended into the flour-salt mixture. The hot water method requires that a measured amount of boiling water be added to the shortening and stirred until the shortening melts; then it is blended into the flour-salt mixture. Packaged pie crust can be obtained in both a dry mix and a premeasured stick form.
Pastry dough should be rolled out on a lightly floured breadboard or pastry cloth with short light strokes with the rolling pin, working from the center to the edge. The circle of dough should be a couple of inches larger than the outside edge of the pie pan. To transfer the rolled dough to the pie pan, it may be folded in quarters or rolled up on the rolling pin, with care being taken not to stretch it or it may shrink in the baking. Liquid shortening and hot water pastry is easier to roll between sheets of waxed paper. After rolling, the top sheet can be removed, the pastry inverted over the pie pan paper-side up, and the remaining sheet removed. The less handling the more tender is the pie crust. The dough should be pressed gently into the pan to eliminate air bubbles, the edge trimmed and crimped, and the bottom pricked if it is baked without a filling.
Puff pastry also is prepared from flour, salt, shortening (at least half should be be butter), and cold water. A basic puff paste has part of the shortening cut into the flour-salt mixture. The dough, prepared like conventional pastry, is well chilled, then rolled out and dotted with butter, and folded three times and chilled. This process is repeated - chilling, rolling, and chilling - before using the dough in recipes for such pastries as turnovers, Napoleon slices, patty shells, cream horns, Venetian pastry, or strudel.
Danish pastry requires the addition of yeast and eggs to the basic dough mixture before layering with butter. The dough must be allowed to rise before baking.
Cream puff dough is made by melting the shortening (at least half should be butter) over boiling water, stirring in the flour-salt mixture, and beating in the eggs, until a stiff dough is formed. The dough is dropped by spoonfuls on greased baking sheets. Cream puffs are usually split and filled with whipped cream. They may be made smaller and filled with savory fillings for appetizers or baked in strips for eclairs.
Pie crusts are usually baked in 8- or 9-inch pie pans; puff pastries on cookie sheets or in specially shaped pans. The oven must be preheated, and the baking pan should be in the center of the oven for the even circulation of heat.