Ever since I picked up a set of 3 tart rings (15, 17.5 and 20cm) at a ridiculous bargain of $2, I’ve been obsessed with making neat and professional looking tarts. They’re just as easy to use as other pie/tart tins, but it took a little figuring out how to minimise shrinkage after baking.
My first tart epiphany, was Pierre Hermé’s tarte au citron. I borrowed his book, Desserts by Pierre Hermé a few years ago and was captured by the elegant dessert. The lemon cream filling is undoubtedly divine, but surprisingly the sweet shortcrust pastry was a highlight itself, the almond flavour standing out and complementing the lemon perfectly. It was eye-opening; you don’t eat a tart and expect the crust to be anything but bland and almost negligible.
His pâte sucrée is one I swear by and it’s perfect with any sweet filling, even raw by itself. I think substituting the all-purpose flour for cake & pastry flour (low protein) ensures that the dough isn’t overworked, and keeps it short and crispy. Also, as always, I’ve adjusted the amount of sugar to my taste but feel free to increase the amount especially for a less sweet filling.
Pâte sucrée (sweet shortcrust pastry, makes one 9″/23cm tart shell)
(adapted from Pierre Hermé)
125g cake & pastry flour (< 10% protein)
38g icing sugar
15g almond meal
pinch of salt
75g cold butter
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 to 2 tbsp cold water
First, sift the flour, sugar, almond and salt together and mix well.
Drop in small (~1cm) cubes of cold butter. Working quickly to avoid melting the butter with body heat, use your fingertips to rub the butter into the dry ingredients. Grab chunks of butter and flour with both hands’ fingertips, run the mixture between the thumb and index finger, as if picking up sand and letting it fall back into the bowl. I love rubbing the butter in by hand, but if you so choose feel free to use a pastry cutter or a stand mixer with the paddle attachment.
It will start out with visible chunks of butter, then turning into finer and finer crumbs. By which point you can switch do a handwashing motion to catch any unmixed butter. It’s done when there are no big lumps of butter, all the flour has been coated with the butter and when you press some of the mixture together it sticks in a ball.
Add the vanilla and the cold water a little at a time. See if you can press the dough together to stick to itself with a spatula. If it falls apart, add a little more water. Avoid kneading the dough or manipulating it too much, instead press it together into one lump, turn out onto plastic wrap. Roll it flat and let chill in the fridge for at least 20 minutes.
If the dough is quite cold and stiff, give it a fair beating with a rolling pin. Roll it out, turning the dough by 90 degrees to make sure it doesn’t stick. Continue until it’s larger than the tart ring by a 2-3cm margin (for the sides). It’ll be easier to transfer now onto a baking tray lined with baking paper, by carefully rolling it up onto the rolling pin first.
Now for the sides! Roll out long strips using the leftover dough the same thickness as the base of the tart, about 4mm. Cut to the same width as the height of the ring. (Pizza cutter’s great for this.)
Carefully roll up the strips on the rolling pin and slowly untwist the pin around the sides of the ring. Alternatively, I’ve seen people cut all the way to the plastic wrap underneath the strip and then lifting it up that way. Either will work, so long as you gently lay the pastry against the inside edge of the ring. Repeat cutting strips and placing them against the sides until the inside edge is covered with pastry.
Neat trick alert: wrap up some of the leftover dough to seal the seam between the sides and base. It’s neater and you don’t have to worry about getting dough under your nails or them piercing the pastry. Also press lightly on the sides to stick the pastry to the ring. If there are any gaps between the separate strips, just patch together with leftover dough, making sure to extend left and right (not just filling the gap) about 0.5cm.
Dock the dough, i.e. prick away your frustration. Don’t worry, the filling isn’t likely to leak through the holes as they’ll close up during baking. It just helps with the base not puffing up since we’re not using pie weights here. At this stage, you could freeze until use or refrigerate at least 20 mins to relax the pastry to make sure it doesn’t contract excessively on baking.
While it’s chilling, preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Blind bake the tart shell for ~15 mins or until lightly coloured and the bottom isn’t soggy. Keep the ring on while it cools as the sides can be flexible still (it’ll firm up once cool), and also while you bake it a second time with the filling so the sides don’t collapse. Only take it off once the entire tart is cool and the filling is set.