Short pastry, or in full shortcrust pastry, is pastry that has had some sort of fat added to it—lard, for instance, or butter or oil—to make it soft and flaky. Such fat is known as shortening, a term first recorded in the late eighteenth century and still in common use in American English. This application of the adjective short is an ancient one: an early fifteenth-century cookery book, for example, directs ‘then take warm barm [yeast], and put all these together, and beat them together with thy hand till it be short and thick enough’. Nor has it always been used exclusively of pastry: ‘This is the Venison of America, whereof I have sometimes eaten, and found it white and short’ (Thomas Gage, New Survey of the West Indies, 1648). The general notion behind it is of being ‘easily crumbled’ (in which sense it is also applied to several far from edible substances, including coal, paper, metal, and dung), and it was probably based originally on the observation that friable material had short fibres.
Subjects: Cookery, Food, and Drink.