Apple Strudel

Apple strudel, fresh from the oven.The most common form of strudel in North America is puff pastry filled with sticky jam or compote, the final product very similar to a turnover or a chausson.

The original strudel, the Viennese strudel, is a different beast entirely.

Austrian strudel is made with a simple dough consisting of flour, salt, water, and vegetable oil.  High protein flour is used, and the dough is mixed extensively so that there is intensive gluten development.  This allows the baker to stretch the dough until it is so thin it is almost transparent.  The expression in Austrian kitchens is that the dough should be thin enough that you could hold the dough over a newspaper and read the text through the dough.  In concept the dough is similar to phyllo, though the finished baked goods that the two doughs make differ greatly.

A dough that has been stretched so thin must be layered several times for the pastry to have any structure.  With phyllo, the baker stacks a few sheets of the dough, separating each with a layer of butter.  During baking the water content of the butter turns to steam and keep the layers of dough separate.  The butter also aids in the browning of the pastry.

With strudel a similar effect is created not by stacking sheets of dough, but by spreading butter over a single sheet and then rolling the sheet around itself a few times.  Since the dough is so delicate, the traditional method is to stretch the dough out on a table cloth, add the filling, then lift the tablecloth so that the filled pastry rolls away from the baker.

When prepared properly and eaten fresh, strudel is a very unique pastry.  I compare the preparation of the dough to phyllo, but the eating experience is completely different.  Baked phyllo is delicate like thinnly blown glass: it is brittle, and fractures if you press on it.  Strudel dough is delicate and slightly crisp, but also has a little bit of give to its structure.  It is firm and crisp but also slightly yielding and pliable.

How this preparation ended up as a puff pastry turnover, I have no idea.

 

Apple Strudel

Dough Ingredients

  • 225 g bread flour
  • 4 g kosher salt
  • 195 mL water
  • 35 mL canola oil
  • 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar

Filling Ingredients

  • 900 g apple, peeled, cored, quartered, and sliced into pieces not exceeding 1/4″ thickness
  • 240 g dark brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp rum
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 360 mL toasted breadcrumbs
  • 450 g unsalted butter, melted

Combine all of the dough ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Mix with a dough hook on high speed for 10 minutes.  This is a very slack dough.  It will pool on the bottom of the mixer bowl.  After mixing, cover the dough with plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge for several hours, or overnight.

Once you are ready to stretch the dough, rub flour into a clean tablecloth.

Stretch the dough until it is extremely thin.  The recipe above should be able to be stretched into a sheet that is 2′ x 3′.  Most bakers use the back of their hand to do this.

Stretching traditional Austrian strudel dough by hand.

The stretched dough:

The fully stretched strudel dough

Brush the entire surface with melted butter, then generously sprinkle the toasted breadcrumbs.  The breadcrumbs help keep the layers of dough separate.  Lay out the apple mixture in a line along the 3′ edge closest to you.

Filling the strudel dough with toasted breadcrumbs and apples

Lift the edge of the tablecloth closest to you so that the apples fall away from you and roll themselves in dough multiple times.

The raw strudel, all rolled up.

Now you have to get this two foot long pastry onto a tray somehow.  You may need an extra set of hands to accomplish this.  You can curl or snake the strudel to fit it onto your bake sheet.

The rolled strudel on its baking tray, ready to be baked.

Bake at 425°F until the pastry is golden brown and crispy, and the apple filling is softened and started to leech sugary goodness onto the pan, about 30-40 minutes.  Dust with icing sugar.

The finished, whole strudel, ready to be cut.

Let stand to cool before cutting.  Service with whipped cream.

A piece of strudel awaiting whipped cream.

Towards a Sour Cherry Tart

One of the greatest French bistro desserts is tarte au citron, or lemon tart: a rich, tangy curd set in a buttery French tart shell.  In furtherance to ending the tyranny of the lemon in our fair city, I’ve been experimenting with substituting citrus with our local sour cherries.

Background: Classic Fruit Curds

In pastry books there are usually two fruit curd recipes: one for lemon and lime, and another that can be used for almost any other kind of fruit.

Lemon has two traits that let it have its own style of curd: a yellow colour and a very intense acidity.  If you cook lemon juice with enough egg yolks and butter that it sets as a curd when cooled, not only will it have the bright yellow colour we associate with lemons, but the acidity of the lemon juice will cut through the fatty yolks and butter.  If you were to take a lemon curd recipe and substitute, say, blueberry juice for lemon, the fat in the curd would completely overwhelm the weak acidity of the berries, and it would make a tart with an off-putting grey-blue colour.  For this reason there is a second style of curd that is used for basically all types of fruit besides lemons and limes.  To keep a vibrant colour and acidity, the amount of butter and egg yolks must be reduced, which means that the curd must have an additional thickener, usually gelatin and egg whites.

Designing the Sour Cherry Tart

There are three things that I love about our local sour cherries:

  1. Acidity, obviously
  2. Intense, vibrant colours: eg. Evans cherries are the purest, happiest red, Carmine Jewel cherries are deep purple
  3. Distinctive aroma and flavour: eg. Evans cherries have a distinct aroma of almond extract.

An ideal cherry curd would preserve these three characteristics.

In my first experiment with sour cherry tarts I figured that the cherries were sour enough to stand up to the butter-and-yolk barrage of a classic lemon tart.  I simply substituted a strained Evans cherry purée into a class lemon curd recipe.

A slice of Evans cherry tartThe results were this:

  • The final curd was a drab, dusty, sad pink.  I had to add food colouring to make it presentable.
  • The fat of the curd completely blanketed the natural tartness of the cherries.  The final tart had no discernible acidity.
  • Similarly, the more delicate aromas of the cherry (almond) were clobbered and undetectable.  The tart did have a muted, generic cherry flavour.
  • The texture was okay.  Very buttery.  A bit stodgy.

For round two I used Carmine Jewel cherries, and instead of using only butter and egg yolks I used whole eggs and gelatin, with only a touch of butter.

Results:

  • The colour of the curd was fantastic.  Very close to that of the original cherry.  Honestly it reminded me of Beaujolais Nouveau: Purple with a fuchsia tint.
  • While the tart was not fully sour, it did have a pleasant, bright acidity.
  • Still none of the great aroma of the cherries

A slice of Carmine Jewel sour cherry tart

 

So at the very least I know what style of curd the tart needs to use.  One more iteration and I should have a working recipe.  I’ll keep you posted.

 

Éclairs

Another example of how to use the custards I’ve been talking about.

Come to think of it, most of the posts this advent have been short, simple introductions to basic pastry preparations: whipped cream, for instance, and ganache.  Now we can start combining some of those building blocks to make more elaborate preparations.

Take éclairs.  Éclairs are long choux pastries filled with whipped cream or pastry cream, glazed with chocolate.

We discussed choux pastry here, whipped cream here, pastry cream in this post, and ganache in this one.  Several birds, one stone.

I ate my fair share of éclairs growing up.  My dad often brought them home on Saturday mornings from the doughnut shop in the mall.  These homemade éclairs are a bit different from the ones that have to sit in a glass display case for a few hours before consumption.  The pastry stays delicate and crisp.  The pastry cream filling with all the egg yolks and butter is much, much richer than any filling you would find at a typical doughnut shop.  And the glaze is simple, dark chocolate ganache, so it is soft, without the crystalline texture of commercial fondant.

A formal recipe, of sorts.

Éclairs

Ingredients

  • this choux pastry recipe
  • this pastry cream recipe
  • 5 oz of this medium ganache

Procedure

1.  Transfer the choux pastry to a piping bag.  Pipe the batter onto a sheet pan lined with a silicon mat into pieces roughly 1″ wide by 3″ long.

Piping choux pastry to make éclairs

2.  Bake at 425°F for 10 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and bake further until the pastry is golden brown, crisp, and hollow, roughly another 10 minutes.

Baking choux pastry for éclairs

3.  Transfer the pastry cream to a piping bag.  Once the pastries have cooled to room temperature, roughly 20 minutes, make a small hole in one end of each pastry by partially inserting a paring knife and twisting.  Pipe pastry cream into each pastry.

4.  Dip the top of each pastry in warm, medium ganache.  Consume immediately.

Homemade éclairs

Really Good Apple Pie

Apple pie, cooling on the deckSome detailed notes on a North American staple.

The Dough.  I take for granted that you already know how to make a superlative, flaky pie dough.  If you don’t, this pie dough is a good start, but you should probably add a handful of sugar to the mix.

The Filling.  The first important consideration for the filling is the variety of apple to be used.  High acidity and firm, crisp texture are key.  Of the common commercial varieties, Granny Smith is probably the best, but there are lots of varieties growing within the Edmonton city limits that make good pie.  Sweetness, of course, is also desirable, but we can balance the tartness of the apples with sugar.  Look for acidity above all else.

It goes without saying that the apples will be cored and peeled, as apple seeds and cores are inedible, and apple skins are practically inedible once they have been cooked.  Once the apples are processed in this manner, we must take pause to contemplate one of the tricky bits of apple pie.  Apples don’t form a semi-fluid, cohesive filling like, say, sour cherries, or rhubarb, or puréed pumpkin.  They remain distinct chunks of fruit, and yet manage to hold together as you serve the slices.  This is the charm of apple pie.

Since we have already selected a firm, crisp apple, the size that we cut the fruit is what will determine the final texture of the filling.  If we cut the apples very fine, the filling will be cohesive, but we risk over-cooking the fruit and making apple sauce.  Leaving the apples in large pieces will ensure that they keep their texture, but will probably result in the filling falling out of the shell when we try to serve individual slices.  Bad grocery-store apple pies tend to leave the apples very large, but then bind them with a syrup thickened with cornstarch.

So we must find a balance.  For my money, it is best to quarter the apples, then slice the quarters across their long axis into pieces no more than 1/4″ wide.

As for the flavouring agents of our filling, it is impossible to talk about apple pie without mentioning cinnamon.  The flavour of cinnamon is so connected with that of apples in most people’s minds that you could, for instance, make a pie filling out of Ritz crackers, lemon juice, and cinnamon, and most people would swear that there are apples in it. Cinnamon is tried, tested, and tasty.

Nutmeg is also good.

We must also sweeten our apple filling.  I like to use dark brown sugar.  Also: a bit of rum.  This is a common flavouring in apple strudel, and I’ve grown very fond of it.

A bit of salt, too.

Building an Apple Pie.  Build it tall, so that the apples at the centre of the pie are piled above the level of the pie dish and the circumferential crust.

How to Eat Apple Pie.  Almost any classic, sweet pie is fine when accompanied by whipped cream or ice cream.  However, I think that acidic pies like sour cherry and rhubarb go best with ice cream, which tempers the acidity of the filling.  Apple pie is lower in acid, and much more naturally balanced. Serving apple pie with ice cream only kills the flavour of the filling.  So whipped cream is preferred, and this is perhaps how apple pie was enjoyed for centuries, before a great, great man decided to eat his apple pie with cheddar cheese.  The resulting balance of flavour is similar to salted caramel.  I suggest Balderson two year old cheddar.  Do this.  It’s part of your heritage.

 

Apple Pie

Ingredients

  • 1 kg apples, peeled, cored, quartered, and cut across the long axis into slices not exceeding 1/4″ in width
  • 150 g dark brown sugar
  • 10 g rum
  • 20 g oatmeal flour (Just grind up rolled oats in a blender.)
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 kg flaky pie dough (This is more dough than you’ll need, but I hate having to stretch dough to make a pie.  Better safe than sorry.)

Procedure

  1. Toss the sliced apples, brown sugar, rum, oatmeal flour, and salt in a large bowl.
  2. Divide the dough in half.  Roll out one half to roughly 1/8″ and line the pie dish.
  3. Pile the apple filling into the dish.
  4. Roll out the other half of the dough and cover the apple filling.  Seal the edges as desired.  Make some small incisions in the top of the dough to vent the filling.
  5. Bake the pie on the bottom third of a 425°F oven for fifteen minutes, then lower the heat to 350°F, move the pie to the top third of the oven, and continue baking until the dough is well browned and the interior is bubbling, roughly another forty minutes.
  6. Let the pie cool to just above room temperature, then consume with cheddar cheese.

A slice of apple pie with Cheddar cheese

Saskatoon Pie and Crumble

A casserole of Saskatoon crumbleWhen it comes to pies and crumbles, I’m usually a purist: I prefer to use only one type of fruit.

Saskatoon pie and crumble, however, pose two problems.  First, the berries are relatively low-moisture, with pronounced pips and skins.  When you cook them down with sugar they don’t ooze moisture like most other fruits, so they don’t produce cohesive pastry fillings without the addition of water, which simply dilutes the flavour of the berries.  Second, they are low-acid when ripe, and on their own don’t make well-balanced fillings.

Rhubarb solves both of these problems.  When cooked down, most rhubarb varieties are fluid, and help make saskatoons into a cohesive pastry filling.  Rhubarb is also crazy tart, balancing the sweetness of the saskatoons.

A felicitous match.

Saskatoon crumble with ice cream

Rhubarb Pie

Rhubarb pieSome quick notes on a springtime specialty.

The most difficult part about using rhubarb as a pastry filling is that once it’s cooked it has almost no structure.  Actually it’s entirely liquid.  For this reason rhubarb is often mixed with other fruit like strawberries or apples.  Right now I have lots of rhubarb, hardly any fruit in the freezer, and berries and apples are still months off.  In other words I have to set my rhubarb filling with gelatin or cornstarch.

We like rhubarb because it is tart, but oftentimes it is too tart.  To make sure the acidity isn’t overpowering, I make rhubarb pie in a shallow, French tart pan instead of a classic North American pie pan; this way there is a higher pastry to filling ratio.  And I make sure to temper the acidity of the rhubarb with the proper amount of sugar in the filling, and possibly even some coarse sugar baked onto the surface of the pie.  Ice cream also helps.

 

Rhubarb Pie

Ingredients

  • 1 kg rhubarb, fresh or frozen (this is more rhubarb than you’ll need to make one pie, but I like to make lots and eat the excess with granola and yogurt, or make crumble)
  • 200 g granulated sugar
  • 60 g cornstarch
  • 700 g short pastry

Procedure

  1. Cook the rhubarb and sugar in a pot over medium high heat, until the rhubarb has broken down.  Add the cornstarch, return to a boil.  Pour into a tray and let cool.  Test consistency and adjust accordingly.
  2. Roll out pastry to 1/8″.  Line the tart shell.  Add the rhubarb filling.  Add top pastry in lattice.
  3. Bake at 425°F on a low rack for 15 minutes, then at 350°F until the pastry is golden brown, cooked through, and the filling is just starting to bubble, roughly another 25 minutes.  Tastes like springtime.

A slice of rhubarb pie and honey ice cream

Crumble, or Crisp (but not Cobbler…)

Rhubarb crumble with ice creamI just nailed down a solid ratio of ingredients for a classic crumble.  If you’re not from around here, let me tell you about crumbles.

A crumble is a casserole filled with some manner of stewed or baked fruit, topped with a crispy layer made from flour, sugar, and butter, usually with the addition of other grains or nuts.  It is baked in a casserole, and often served with ice cream.

Crumble and crisp are two words for the same thing, though crumble seems to be the more common term in the UK, while crisp is more common in North America.  As usual, Canadians comfortably elide the British and American vernaculars.

Crumble should not to be confused with cobbler, which is a similar dish from the American south.  Like a crumble, cobbler is made with stewed fruit, but the topping takes the form of a worked dough, such as biscuit.

As the name implies, crumbles should have a coarse, irregular texture, and they should taste like butter and grain.  My preferred ingredients are whole wheat flour, dark brown sugar, butter, rolled oats, and possibly some cold-pressed canola to boost the grass-grain flavour.  Salt is also important.

You can replace all or part of the rolled oats in the ratio below with any number of substitutes.  Nuts are welcome, especially walnuts.  If you have biscuits that are a couple days old and too hard to enjoy on their own, you can bust them up.  Even bread crumbs work well.

There are a couple essential, crazy-important details to which you must absolutely adhere when making crumble topping: the butter must be very, very cold, and it must be cut into the other ingredients until it is the proper size.  Fridge temperature at the very warmest.  The idea is to bust the cold butter into pea-sized pieces distributed through the flour and grain.  If the butter is too warm it will not stay as the little pebbles that makes crumble crumbly.  If you bust the butter too fine, it the topping will be a flat mat on top of the fruit.  Actually I have a picture of such an ill-prepared crumble:

A crumble topping made with warm butter

Now compare that to the beautiful, rocky surface of a crumble made with properly chilled butter.  See the difference?

A crumble topping made with properly chilled butter

As for the fruit.  My crumble fillings are identical to my pie fillings: a good balance of sweet and tart, and firm enough to cut and serve without running all over the diner’s plate, but not so firm as to be gummy on the tongue.  In fact I typically only make crumbles after I have made pie, and I have leftover filling but no pastry to stuff it into.  Then I simply pour the fruit into ramekins or a small casserole, and top with the crumble mix elucidated below.

Crumble

Ingredients (by weight)

  • 2 part whole wheat flour
  • 2 part dark brown sugar
  • 3 parts very cold, unsalted butter
  • salt
  • 2 part rolled oats

Procedure

  1. Pulse the flour, sugar, butter, and salt in a food processor until the butter has broken into irregular pieces roughly the size of peas.  The crumble should cycle well in the food processor; if the mixture starts to mat and stick to the sides of the bowl, the butter is too warm.
  2. Remove the mixture from the processor and stir in the rolled oats.
  3. Crumble onto chilled stewed fruit.  Bake at 375°F until the crumble is golden brown and the fruit is gently bubbling.

Rhubarb Brown Butter Tart

Brown butterPossibly my favourite application for rhubarb.  Almost any tart fruit can be used, but the sour flavour of rhubarb marries beautifully with the nutty character of the brown butter.

Every time I brown butter I ask myself why I don’t do it more often.  It’s quick, more or less foolproof, and one of the great, complex flavours of the kitchen.  Simply put butter in a heavy pot over medium high heat, then remove once the moisture has boiled off and the milk solids have browned.  If you need more guidance, you can think of browning butter like making syrup: as more and more water evaporates, the boiling point of the liquid rises.  Use a candy thermometer and pull the brown butter off the heat once it reaches 130°C.

While the filling for this tart is dead simple, blind baking tart shells is a bit finicky, so this is something I make maybe once a year.  I use this standard tart dough recipe and blind baking procedure.

Fresh rhubarb is preferred to frozen, which looses a good deal of its moisture and flavour during thawing.  If using frozen rhubarb, thaw and strain off excess moisture to avoid diluting the filling.

Rhubarb Brown Butter Tart

Master Ratio – 1:2:2:3 flour, butter, egg, sugar

Ingredients

  • 6 oz eggs (3 eggs)
  • 9 oz granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 oz all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 6 oz unsalted butter
  • 6 oz chopped rhubarb
  • 1 French tart shell, par-baked to 3/4 doneness (recipe and procedure here)

Procedure

  1. Whisk together the eggs, sugar, salt, and vanilla until smooth and pale.  Add the flour and beat until well mixed.
  2. Heat the butter over medium-high heat in a small stainless steel pot until brown and nutty.
  3. Slowly pour the hot brown butter into the egg mixture while whisking.
  4. Distribute rhubarb evenly around the par-baked tart shell and pour butter mixture over top.
  5. Bake at 350°F until a crust forms and the filling is set underneath, about 40 minutes.  (Don’t overbake or the brown butter will separate from the filling, giving it a greasy, grainy texture…)  Cool to room temperature before cutting.  Dust with confectioner’s sugar.

The rhubarb brown butter tart, fresh from the oven

A slice of rhubarb brown butter tart

Tourtière – Pork Pie

A traditional tourtière made for a NewYear's Eve réveillonTourtière is made differently in every home, and can incite intense feelings of loyalty to ones mother.  I will proceed cautiously with a definition, but I warn you: there are lots of qualifiers in this post.

Tourtière is meat pie.  It is often based on pork, though veal and game are also common.  If anyone tells you that it was traditionally made with pigeon, you can politely dismiss their story as folklore.  A false etymology has developed because of the similarity between the words for the pie tourtière and the Quebecois word for the now-extinct passenger pigeon, tourte.  Certainly many a pigeon has been baked into pie, but the similarity between the two words is entirely coincidental.  Tourte also happens to be an old French word for pie, both sweet and savoury, and the dish that a tourte is cooked in is called a tourtière.[1] In Quebec the name of the baking dish became the name of the pie itself.

So I can safely add another component to our definition of tourtière: it is baked in a dish.

The meat can be either ground or cubed.  I nervously propose that it is usually ground, though in one famous regional variation, the tourtière du Lac-Saint-Jean, the meat is always cubed.

The meat, whether pork or veal or game, and whether ground or cubed, is usually flavoured with spices like cinnamon and clove.  This trait is rarely disputed.

To my mind, what makes tourtière really special, and what really distinguishes it from English pork pie, is that the meat is usually cooked before it is put in the pie, then bound together with potatoes or some manner of sauce.

The English pork pies I’ve eaten are made like this: mix raw, ground pork with onions and spices; shape the raw meat mixture into a disc; wrap pie dough around that disc; bake until the meat is cooked and the crust is golden brown.  The good things about this method are that the interior is very cohesive and the pie is easy to slice.  The bad things about this method are that the meat never gets browned, and frankly the cohesive, springy interior can be a bit boring, texturally.

With tourtière, the meat can be thoroughly browned in a heavy pan before being stuffed into pastry.  The interior is therefore caramelized, with lots of textural contrast (imagine little nuggets of pork).  The trade-off is that it is not very cohesive, and can be difficult to slice and present cleanly.  The simple solution is that the interior must be bound together somehow.

The final important characteristic of tourtière is that it is a festive dish meant to be shared by many people.  It is an essential component to a Quebecois réveillon.  The baking- and serving-vessel is usually quite wide and deep so that at least eight, possibly as many as sixteen, people can be served from it.

Okay.  Now that we’ve delicately explored the nebulous world of traditional tourtière, let me share my own not-so-traditional version.

I use pork.  This is a no brainer.  It’s flavoured lightly with cinnamon and clove, and it’s browned heavily in a pan, because that makes pork delicious, and makes for an interesting texture.  I forgo the stodgy potato binder and make a thick sauce with cider, pork reduction, and roux.

The real departure from tradition is that I like making “individual tourtières,” baked without the support of a pie-plate.  I know that by simple definition a tourtière must be baked in a dish.  I know this.  But doesn’t tourtière look cute as a little, star-shaped, personal, free-form pie, served with smooth-as-sin pumpkin purée and Savoy cabbage slaw?

An individual tourtière, with pumpkin purée and Savoy cabbage

Reference

1.  Various Authors.  Larousse.  © 2001 Clarkson Potter Publishers, New York, NY.  Page 1229.

Other Sources

An amusing discussion on what makes an “authentic tourtière” in this old CBC Radio show.

Tart Dough

A rhubarb custard tartIn North America, this style of dough is called tart dough, or possibly short dough.  In France it’s known as pâte brisée.[1]

Pie dough has clumps of butter that separate the sheets of flour and water, creating a tender, flaky crust.  Tart dough is not flaky.  It has a very fine, even texture, and a delicate crispiness.  Actually it’s kind of like a thin shortbread cookie.  The butter is incorporated as tiny uniform pieces, instead of the irregular chunks in pie dough.  The cook also has to be careful not to develop too much gluten, otherwise the cooked tart will be tough.

Besides being the base for classic tarts, this dough could also be used for custard-type pies, like pumpkin pie.  The recipe actually uses the same rough ratio as the pie dough, only the nature of the liquid component is different, and a bit of sugar is added.  Also the ingredients are mixed differently to manipulate the final texture of the dough.

Tart Dough Ratio – 3:2:1:1 flour, fat, liquid, sugar

  • The flour is cake and pastry flour.  Actually cake flour would be ideal, as it has the highest starch and the lowest protein content, and therefore won’t develop too much gluten.
  • The fat is unsalted butter.
  • The liquid is the biggest change from normal pie dough.  Instead of using ice water, we use an equal blend of egg yolks and heavy cream.  The extra fat will further prevent the development of gluten.
  • The sugar, added in equal amounts as the liquid by weight, will sweeten the dough and help it develop a crisp texture.
  • A pinch of salt is a good thing.

 

Mixing.  Combine the flour, sugar, salt.  We want the butter in very small pieces, evenly distributed throughout the dough.  You can use a traditional cutting-in method if you’re very thorough, but it’s easier to put the dry ingredients and the butter into a food processor and pulse the blades until the fat is incorporated.  Then add the liquid.  Mix to combine, then knead briefly, until the dough is smooth.  Wrap tightly and refrigerate at least an hour before rolling out.

Shaping and Baking.  As mentioned above, this dough can be used in all sorts of baked goods, including individual, cup-shaped tarts, pumpkin pies.  The most elegant mold for this dough is a classic French tart shell.  These are about 1″ deep, 10″ across, and have distinctive fluted edges.  Most French tart recipes call for the dough to be blind baked, that is, partially or completely baked baked before any filling is added.  Some fillings require no baking (eg. tarte au sucre), and in that case the dough should be fully baked beforehand.  Other fillings, like those based on custards, require a gentle bake, in which case the dough should be partially baked beforehand.

For blind baking, we line the tart shell with the dough, then “dock” the dough, which means punch hundreds of little holes in the dough sitting on the bottom of the tart pan.  This can be performed by a “docker,” which looks like a tiny lawn aerator, or by a fork, repeatedly jammed into the pastry.  Docking prevents the formation of bubbles and blisters during blind baking.

Blind baking also typically involves lining the tart dough with parchment and then piling some beans, or other dried legumes, or pie weights on top.  This also prevents bubbling, and keeps the dough in place during baking.

There’s one more trick to making the perfect blind baked tart dough….

It took me a long time to figure out how to make French tarts look good.  For a while, no matter what dough recipe I used, or how thoroughly I chilled it, or how high I filled the shell with baking beans, the pastry would slough down the sides of the pan during baking.

I finally came across a simple solution in Marco Pierre White’s autobiography.  One of the classic dishes he served at Harvey’s was tarte au citron, lemon tart.  He would roll out the dough so that when pressed into the pan it draped over the edge.  After baking he would trim the dough so that it was perfectly flush with the sides of the pan.

Trimming excess dough from a blind baked tart shell

Again, exact baking specifications will vary, but a modified two-stage method is usually employed.  Maybe fifteen minutes on a lower rack at 375°F to brown the bottom, then fifteen minutes on a higher rack at 350°F.  That’s just a guideline, mind you.

 

Footnotes

1.  Sorry to be a dick about this, but do you see the difference between “pâte” and “pâté”?  “Pâté”, as in, the ground mixture of meat and liver, ends with an “é”, with an accent, so it’s pronounced, “pat-EH.”  “Pâte,” as in the tart dough we’re presently discussing, has no such accent, and is therefore pronounced, “PAT.”