Everyone needs a good, basic pastry recipe, and this is one you can rely on. It’s easily adaptable if you want to add extra flavours like orange zest or vanilla – or even a pinch of nutmeg or cinnamon – and is really simple to knock up. If you have any pastry left over, simply wrap it in clingfilm and freeze it to use another time.
You can make your pastry like this by hand, or pulse it in a food processor. From a height, sieve your flour and icing sugar into a large mixing bowl. Using your fingertips, gently work the cubes of butter into the flour and sugar until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. If using orange or vanilla for extra flavour, either finely grate in the zest of your orange or add the seeds from the vanilla pod and mix again.
Add the egg and milk to the mixture and gently work it together using your hands until you have a ball of dough. Remember not to work the pastry too much at this stage or it will become elastic and chewy, not crumbly and short.
Sprinkle a little flour over the dough and on a clean work surface, and pat the ball into a flat round about 2.5cm thick. Sprinkle over a little more flour, then wrap the dough in clingfilm and pop it into the fridge to rest for at least 30 minutes. Get yourself a 25cm non-stick loose-bottomed tart tin and, using a splash of vegetable oil on a piece of kitchen paper, lightly oil the inside.
Dust a clean surface and a rolling pin with flour, then carefully roll out your pastry, turning it every so often, until it’s about 0.5cm thick. Carefully roll your pastry around the rolling pin, then unroll it carefully over your oiled tin. Ease the pastry into the tin, making sure you push it into all the sides. Trim off any excess by running a knife along the top of the pastry case, then prick the base of the case all over with a fork and pop it into the freezer for 30 minutes. Preheat your oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gas 4.
Get yourself a large square piece of greaseproof paper, scrunch it up, then unwrap it and use it to line your pastry case, pushing it right into the sides. Fill the case right up to the top with rice, and bake blind for 10 minutes in your preheated oven. Take the case out, carefully remove the rice and greaseproof paper (you can save the rice to use for blind baking another time), then return the case to the oven to cook for a further 10 minutes until it’s firm and almost biscuit-like. Leave to cool.