Consider this a troubleshooting article that will help you achieve perfection every time you make a pastry. Whether you're a rookie baker or not, this compilation will make your baking game top notch and win you compliments!
1. The filling of your custard tart curdles
Making pie tarts is pretty easy to do until it comes to the stage where you have to pour in the filling. This stage is rather important as liquid flavours like booze, juices or essences can add too much moisture to your custard, causing it to split. Juicy fruits as well as a high temperature during cooking can also cause such a split.
What to do: make sure the oven temperature doesn't exceed 180C.
2. Your croissants are bread-like
Bready croissants typically happen because the butter you carefully folded between your layers of pastry has melted and soaked into the uncooked dough. This produces an enriched bready dough that although still enjoyable, doesn't make a croissant.
What to do: When making the puff for a croissant, you can only do a maximum of two folds on your dough before letting it cool down in the fridge. Also, you shouldn't do a total of more than seven folds.
3. Your pastry shrinks away from the side of the pan
This can be caused by many reasons. The most common is adding too much water in the initial stage when you mix it with the butter and flour can mean that as the water evaporates in the oven, the structure of the pastry tightens up, causing shrinkage.
What to do: don't add too much water, let the pastry chill until firm, and heat your oven to 180-200C to set its shape.
4. Your pie base is wet and pasty
Soggy bottoms are unappetizing and that's even though they don’t really change the taste of the pastry. It can be caused by a watery or extremely wet filling as well as an under-cooked or thin pastry base.
What to do:
- For fruit pies, reduce the filling in a saucepan first. But, if you want to retain juice for your filling, add a thickening agent like cornflour. For meat, fish or vegetarian pies, reduce your filling down for a little longer, and add flour to the sauce or gravy for thickening.
- Create a steam vent by slashing the pie crust.
- Your pie base can only be thin if it's for a small pie or tart. For larger pies that'll require a lot of filling, make sure the pie base is a bit thicker.
5. Your pie crust is unevenly cooked and burnt in places
An unevenly cooked pastry crust can be unnerving, but getting an evenly cooked crust is actually easy to do!
What to do:
- For evenly cooked pie crust, make sure to roll out your pastry evenly, and avoid stretching when transferring to the top of your filled pie by placing it on a rolling pin.
- Also let the pie firm in the refrigerator so that it can hold its shape better during cooking.
- If your pastry starts to burn during baking, loosely cover with baking foil to stop the top burning.
6. Your pastry is crumbly and tough
This is caused by an inadequate amount of water in the pastry.
What to do:
- Use very cold water and add it to the butter and flour gradually, a tablespoonful at a time.
- Don't add too much flour to the dough when rolling it out.
- Roll gently on a lightly-floured surface, turning after every one to two rolls.
7. Your baked pastry is tough
This is a very common problem but it can be avoided very easily too. This typically happens if you are a bit heavy-handed with the water when adding it to the butter and flour, or if you over-work the dough and developed the gluten in the flour.
What to do: keep your touch light and keep a bowl of cold water close to keep your hands cold.
8. You don't have baking beans to use
Baking beans are the best option, but if you don't have any in your pantry, you can substitute using dried beans. For smaller tarts, you can use rice.
9. Your puff pastry collapses during baking
A puff pastry is made of delicate material despite the hard work it requires. It can easily deflate too if you open the oven too frequently.
What to do: make sure that you don't open the oven during the first 75% of the bake, and stick to the recommended cooking time.
10. Your puff pastry is too sticky
When your puff pastry is too sticky, folding will be very difficult to do and it'll only lengthen preparation time.
What to do:
- Regularly chill your dough to keep it firm and prevent the butter from leaking out.
- When first laying the butter on the dough, don’t fit it exactly to the shape of the dough; leave it 1-2 centimetres shy of the edge, so you can seal the butter in when you’re folding.
- Keep the surface lightly-floured, and always roll in the direction you want to lengthen of the dough.