Why did I think that pastry, being something that the French embraced and refined, would be uncomplicated. I’m not saying that the process can’t be simple, even forgiving, once you know what you’re doing or even, what you’re looking for. It’s just that in true French style, there is a standard way and then there are variations which are defined and documented. It’s not just a matter of addng some sugar to my mom and aunt’s perfect short-crust pastry, taking it from a pâte brisée to a pâte sucrée. There is pâte sucrée, pâte sablée, pâte å foncer, and which is best for apple tart and which for custards, juicy fruits and chocolate. Zut!
I started doing my research. I have some go-to French gurus that I turn to via blog, sites and books, and I’m sure you turn to some of the same ones. The confusion set in when some used some of the names interchangeably and some cited different methods completely for the same pastry. Some said no, there is no sugar in pâte å foncer, then one very famous, old French cookbook absolutely includes sugar in pâte å foncer and refers to it, in fact, as “sweet pie dough”. Another time it’s stated that the butter is creamed before proceeding with pâte sucrée, others simply add sugar and cut the butter in as with pâte brisée. Others make tweaks like adding vanilla bean or orange zest, which isn’t a big deal, but some add baking powder to pâte sablée, which is actually going to change things, and which is never mentioned by other authorities on the subject.
The only relief came when I started seeing similarities in one regard: ratios. For the most part, the recipes I trusted used approximately a 2:1:1 flour/butter/sugar ratios. So I basically went back to my short-crust pastry dough and added sugar. I chose not to roll out the dough, which meant I didn’t have to chill it. I just poured and pressed it into my tart pan. I didn’t blind bake this, but I might have if I’d rolled it out. To not might have been risky since I’m totally new at this and only skipped that step because pressing in the dough, it felt like it was so glued to the base and sides of the pan that it wasn’t going anywhere. Yep, I went on a feeling and it still turned out. So in the end, this is another uncomplicated, even easy recipe, but you could argue the finer points of it for longer than it would take any tart to bake.
Sweet Short-crust Pastry Dough (Pâte Sucrée)
Note: I’m calling this tweak to my mom and aunt’s short crust pastry “pâte sucrée” because it leaves out almond flour and egg yolks which I have seen pop up in recipes for pâte sablée. If you tell me you have read that this is pâte sablée, I will believe you. I found that baking authorities contradict each other regarding these names. It’s my understanding that pâte sablée produces a shortbread-like crust, and this isn’t quite that, though it’s somewhere between it and pâte brisée.
This recipe prouduces enough dough for a 9 or 10-inch tart pan, for an open pie. If you wish to create a lid or lattice for your pie, double the recipe.
If you are rolling our your dough, chill it first, wrapped in plastic wrap, in the fridge for about an hour after it comes together. The procedure below explains a pour and press method which is quite simple. Also, feel free to blind bake your dough before using, which prevents it from possibly shrinking–though I did not do this (alternatively, I hear you can freeze your crust once in the shell prior to baking which also solves the problem). To blind bake: line your pre-cooked crust with enough parchment paper to go up the sides of the dough and then fill it with pie weights, dried beans or rice, and bake in a 375-degree pre-heated oven for 15 minutes.
Special equipment: a well-buttered 9 or 10-inch regular tart pan or one with a removable bottom.
150 g all-purpose flour
75 g granulated sugar
75 g unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour and the sugar well, stirring with a whisk or fork, then add the butter. Work butter into flour with cold hands (chill them for seconds in ice water if necessary), or cut it in using a pastry cutter, breaking the cubes into small pieces. The dough should look crumbly and dry but moist to the touch with butter so that when you press it, it clumps together. You could also use a food processor up to this point (add the flour and sugar together first, pulse to combine, then add the butter and pulse until you get a course meal). Transfer the mixture to the buttered tart pan, pouring it evenly over the bottom. Press the dough quickly and evenly into the bottom and up the sides of the tart pan using your palms and fingertips. Fill with your jam, custard or fruit mixture and bake.
If you are wondering what kind of pie I baked in the picture above, it was a rhubarb and strawberry pie, sans lattice top.