The Art of the Tart…and other Pastries
A simple pastry crust, prepared with flour, fat, salt, and water, becomes a great vehicle for diverse preparations both sweet and savory. While sweet pies are an American favorite, savory ones like the Pot Pie were traditional English offerings that date back to ancient Greece, and today they are found in many cultures around the globe. Pot Pie, said to have swept into British culture in the 16th century, can be traced to the lavish banquets of the Roman Empire.
Pies are often sealed in pastry, or when left open become tarts and are presented in a variety of sizes, large or individual, shaped in pans or molds. Rustic ones, like French croustade or gallette, are hand shaped. In Italy similar versions are referred to as croustata, coppi, or sfogliate.
Hand-pies are the American version, empanadas are the Latin American version which originated in the Spanish Catalan region, and Italians have the calzone made with a yeast dough.
When baking a crust without filling, known as blind-baking, the shells can be finished with custards and fresh fruits. Tarts can also be baked with flavored custards, citrus, or butter fillings. Open-faced savory versions include the French quiche.
Pies and tarts often use a simple pastry or pie dough, also known as a pâte brisée, if 3 parts flour, 2 parts fat and 1 part water. Fats, including butter, lard, or a vegetable shortening, are cut or rubbed into the flour to a coarse crumble resembling the size of peas. Water is added to pull the dough together into a mass. The ingredients should be kept cold and mixed only until combined since over-mixing will result in a tough, hard to work dough. The trick is to mix minimally so the gluten is not activated. The flakiness of the pie crust depends on the flour-to-fat-ratio because the more flour that is used the harder the crust.
1 lb./450 g Flour, all-purpose
1 tsp./5 g Salt
8 oz./225 g Butter, lard, shortening, chilled
4 oz./240 ml Water, cold
Step 1 – Combine and Cut int Fat
Combine flour and salt in a bowl
Cut the fat into the flour with a pastry blender or rub in by hand
Step 2 – Add Liquid and Shape
Add the water to the flour and fat mixture and work the dough until it comes together into a ball
Shape into a round disk and wrap with plastic wrap
Chill for 1 hour
Rolling & Filling
When rolling out pastry dough it’s important to have the dough at the right temperature; too warm and it will become sticky and if it is too cold it will crack instead of roll out. Have the dough in the shape of the pan.
Lightly flour the work surface and apply a dusting of flour to the rolling pin. Roll from the center outward easing up near the edge to bring the rolling pin back to the center after each roll. Lift the dough from the surface so it doesn’t stick and rotate the dough by 1/8 to ¼ turns to ensure an even thickness. Apply small amounts of flour as needed to the top or underside of the dough. The dough should be approximately 1/8”/3mm thick.
Fold the dough in quarters or roll it up on the rolling pin to transfer it to the pan. Lay the dough in the pan gently lifting it so it relaxes into the edges. Avoid stretching the dough because it will shrink and pull away from the sides. Allow it to hang slightly over the edge so it doesn’t shrink and fall below the rim of the pan. Chill or freeze the dough for about 30 minutes.
Some applications call for the pastry shell to be baked before filling. In this case the dough is docked by pricking it with the tines of a fork or a dough docker. The holes allow steam to escape, which otherwise would build up and expand the dough creating unwanted bubbles. The pastry shell is then lined with parchment or plastic wrap and filled with pie weights or dried beans before baking.
Strawberry Rhubarb Tart with Pecan Streusel Topping
Caramel Apple Tarts