How to master different kinds of pastry

  • Food News
  • Saturday, 19 Sep 2020

Frozen puff pastry has always been popular with consumers, but it was during the initial coronavirus-induced lockdown earlier this year that we saw just how much in demand it was. The item just flew off the shelves of supermarket chiller cabinets.

With no-one to sell us karipap, many of us were making our own and the ready-made dough was a great help.

Of course, traditional Malay-style curry puffs are not made with puff pastry. But the store-bought variety was a convenient substitute when the fried-snack warongs were not around to feed our cravings.

As far as pastry-making goes, puff is on the more difficult end of the spectrum. The laminated dough has a high proportion of butter that produces a delicate, layered and crisp finish when baked.

Through the time-consuming process of folding, turning and rolling multiple times, the pastry can have up to 729 layers. Clearly, no home cook should feel embarrassed about using the ready-made stuff!

And that’s what we’ve used here in our recipe for milk tea custard tarts. The other types of dough featured are in the shortcrust and flaky pastry categories, which are relatively easier to make.

The core ingredients of all pastry doughs are flour, water and fat (butter, shortening, lard or even oil). The proportion of each and how they are combined determines the type of dough that you end up with. Shortcrust pastry is a crumbly, tender dough suitable for tarts and pies. Chilled fat is rubbed into the flour and iced water (some people swear by vodka instead – it makes for a flakier crust) is added until the dough coheres.

Hot water crust is a form of shortcrust – the fat, often lard, is melted in boiling water and stirred into the flour-butter mixture to produce a strong, pliable pastry. Its original purpose in medieval times was to provide a sturdy container for meat dishes meant to be kept for some time.

Flaky pastry is also known as rough puff. Like puff, it contains plenty of fat (usually butter) that is incorporated through small lumps dispersed in the flour. A little water binds the dough together. In the oven, the fat, water and trapped air help to separate the dough into layers. Flaky pastry is used for both sweet and savoury pies.

We’ve also included a recipe for gluten-free pastry flour. Commercial GF flour is now more accessible in Malaysia, but it is easy to make at home by combining our choice of wholegrain flours (for example, buckwheat, brown rice and sorghum) and white flours/starches (corn starch, tapioca and white rice).


This pastry is soft and pliable – in fact, the texture is often described as similar to plasticine or modelling clay. It doesn’t stick to the work surface when rolled out and holds its shape well as a freestanding container.

100g plain flour

20g strong flour

25g butter

65ml water

30g vegetable shortening

1/2 tsp salt

In a mixing bowl, combine the flours and rub in the butter.

Bring the water, shortening and salt to boil in a small saucepan over medium heat. When the shortening has melted, pour on top of the flour mixture, stirring with a spoon until everything comes together into a lumpy ball.

Cover the bowl and rest the pastry for 10 minutes. Knead again lightly into a smooth ball, 1 minute. Wrap the pastry in cling film and set aside for 30 minutes. It can also be chilled for later use.


Makes 3 pies (about 6cm wide by 5cm high)

You will need a small round jar or drinking glass with straight sides (5cm wide across) to use as a mould.

Traditional hand-raised pork pies are made with a filling of raw minced meat, and then filled with jelly after they are baked. Our pies have two kinds of cooked fillings: beef and sweet potato rendang and soy sauce chicken. Use a sticky filling that is not too saucy — it will hold together better.

1 quantity hot water crust pastry

11/2-2 cups of cooked filling

1 egg, beaten, for egg wash

Wrap cling film around the base and sides of the jar.

Divide the pastry into three even portions. From each portion, tear off a quarter of the pastry for the lids. On an un-floured surface, roll out the larger portions of pastry into three 10cm circles.

Invert the jar so the base faces up. Place a pastry disc on the base and gently ease it over the side of the jar, taking care not to stretch the pastry too thinly. Mould it around the jar so the sides are about 5cm.

Invert the jar right side up and carefully ease it off the moulded pastry, which should remain upright without support. Repeat with the remaining pastry and chill for at least 15 minutes before filling.

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Divide the filling between the pastry cases. Pack it in well. Cup both hands around the pastry and rotate it while pressing against the filling and keeping the sides straight.

Brush water on the inside rim of the pastry. Press out the lids into 7cm circles and place on top of the filling. Press the edges of the pastry together; crimp to seal. Brush all over with egg wash and make 2 slits in the top. Place pies on a lightly greased baking tray.

Bake until the pastry is brown and crisp all the way around, 25-30 minutes.


This pastry is made with a homemade blend of flours that are easily available in Malaysia. It has a neutral flavour.

Gluten-free flour blends often include xanthan gum (or guar gum), a common ingredient in salad dressings, toothpaste and ice cream. In gluten-free baking, it gives the dough or batter the stickiness that would otherwise be achieved with gluten. The typical rule is to use a teaspoon of xanthan gum for every cup of flour blend.

If you would like to make another quantity of the GF flour blend, use the percentage of each ingredient in relation to the total weight given in the recipe below.

Gluten-free pastry flour blend (500g)

175g white rice flour (35%)

100g brown rice flour (20%)

50g potato starch (10%)

75g corn starch (15%)

100g tapioca flour or glutinous rice flour (20%)

Combine all the ingredients and mix well. Store in an airtight container.


270g gluten-free flour

1 tsp xanthan gum (optional)

1/2 tsp table salt

2 tsp gluten-free baking powder (optional)

1 tsp caster sugar

70g cold butter, cut into small cubes

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/3 cup iced water, approximate

Combine the gluten-free flour, xanthan gum, salt, baking powder and caster sugar in a mixing bowl. Rub in the butter until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the egg with a fork. Stir in just enough water until the mixture comes together into a soft cohesive ball. Press into a disc, cover with cling film and chill for 10 minutes.


Makes 4

1 quantity of gluten-free pastry


3/4 cup dry sardine curry (peratal)

2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and halved

1 egg, lightly beaten, for glaze

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Lightly grease a large baking sheet or line with non-stick paper.

Divide the pastry into 4. Roll out each piece into a 12cm circle or 12cm by 6cm rectangle. Place 1/4 sardine curry on one side of the pastry and half an egg on top. Fold the other side of the pastry over the filling and press the edges together. Crimp to seal. Repeat to make 4 hand pies. Chill for 15 minutes.

Place pies on a baking sheet, brush with egg glaze. Poke a few holes in the top. Bake until golden and crisp, 25-30 minutes.


This pastry can be used for both sweet and savoury tarts. Here, we use it for galettes, a free-form tart which is shaped by folding the edge of the dough over the filling.


140g plain flour

pinch of salt

pinch of sugar

1 tbsp almond meal (optional)

85g cold butter, cut into 1cm cubes

2-3 tbsp iced water

Combine flour, salt, sugar and almond meal in a mixing bowl. Cut the butter in with a pastry cutter or fork. Do not overmix; leave larger chunks of butter as these produce a flakier pastry. Drizzle in just enough water that the mixture can be pressed together into a ball. Wrap in cling film and chill for 30 minutes.


Makes 4

1 quantity flaky pastry


2 cups pineapple, cut into 1cm cubes

5 tbsp soft brown sugar

1 tbsp maple syrup

1/4 tsp corn starch

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon or nutmeg

1 tsp vanilla extract

pinch of salt

Place all the filling ingredients in a sauté pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook until pineapple softens, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and chill until needed.

Preheat the oven to 200ºC.

Line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Divide the pastry into four and roll out on a lightly floured surface into a 3mm-thick disk. Lift on to the lined tray and sprinkle with a little flour (this helps keep the pastry crisp). Pile on the filling, leaving a 2cm border around the filling. Working your way around the dough, gently pull up the sides and create a fold every 5cm. Brush the edge of the pastry with beaten egg.

Bake the galettes for 20-25 minutes until golden. Make the galettes according to instructions in the pastry recipe above.


Makes 10 tarts

We use 20cm square store-bought puff pastry sheets and ten 1/4-cup capacity fluted tart tins (you can also use muffin tins of a similar size).

2 sheets (20cm square) frozen puff pastry, defrost in the fridge


375ml full-cream/whole milk

2-3 tea bags or 2 1/2 tbsp loose leaf tea

50ml evaporated milk

2 1/2 tbsp condensed milk

2 tbsp sugar

3 eggs, at room temperature

1 1/2 tbsp corn starch

pinch of salt

Pastry shells

Stack the 2 sheets evenly. Roll up tightly into a cylinder (20cm long and 4cm in diameter). Wrap in cling film and chill for 30 minutes.

Cut the pastry roll into ten 2cm-wide disc. Place a disc cut side up on your work surface. Sprinkle with a little flour and flatten with your palm. Use a rolling pin to roll out the pastry to 10cm wide; line the tart tin. The pastry should extend 5mm above the rim of the tin (this protects from custard overflow). Repeat with remaining pastry. Place the pastry shells in the fridge, 1 hour.

Custard filling

Pour the milk into a saucepan and bring to the boil over medium heat. Turn off the heat and add the tea. Steep the tea for at least 15 minutes; strain. Let the tea cool slightly, then add evaporated and condensed milks.

In a bowl, whisk the eggs with sugar until smooth. Whisk in corn starch and salt.

Add the milk tea to the eggs and whisk until smooth. Pour custard through a sieve into a jug. Cover and refrigerate until cold.

Preheat the oven to 220ºC. Remove the frozen pastry shells from the freezer. Place them on a baking tray. Fill each shell with the cool custard to 5mm from the top of the pastry. Immediately place the tarts in the hot oven. The filling will dome as the tarts bake. Bake until pastry is golden and the custard starts to blister, 25-30 minutes. Cool the tarts in their tins on a metal rack. The custard will fall as it cools.

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