Basic tart dough: a way with cold butter, a way with warm butter
There is myth worth honoring, a right of passage, some sort of standard for how far up the -I can cook- ladder you have climbed without falling off, and as simple as it sounds, it is: can you fry an egg? Truth said, frying an egg might not be that simple and who does know how to do it knows that there are many ways to make them, perhaps as many as connoisseur ways to make coffee. Once you can fry an egg you basically have a good hand on an essential skill in the kitchen.
Getting a basic tart dough down pat is another -good one to have- in the kitchen. A tart shell, crust, dough, Pâte Brisée, anyway you call it, is a unique vessel for anything fruit, cheese, veg, meat, chocolate, and from here let your imagination carry on. It does not take a lot of time to make and it looks and tastes delicious.
All along I had been making tart dough with cold butter and thought that was the only way, but a few years ago I learnt to make a warm butter version from David Lebovitz site. It is a gasp. As Lebovitz does, I recommend using the warm butter version for dryer or more solid fillings, as it is flakier and does tend to have a few cracks.
Cold butter dough
[I use white, whole wheat, buckwheat or a combination of all. I sometimes use potato flour, the results are fab.]
115 gm chilled diced butter
1 small pinch of salt
1-3 Tbsp of chilled water (add more if needed)
You can add sugar to the dough if you like. I prefer brown raw sugar, 1 or 1 ½ Tbsp.
As a general rule, just because I do not fancy eating with a lot of sugar, I leave the dough palin and let the filling be the source of sweet or savory flavour.
Mix the flour, salt and butter together using your fingertips, breaking up the butter into the flour until it becomes flaky, in other words you are not kneading or putting pressure on the dough, more so you are fluffing the butter and the flour together until they look like dry oats. Avoid using the palms of your hands as this will melt the butter. Once the butter is broken down into lots of flour coated flakes, add the cold water and knead quickly into a ball. The less time you spend at kneading the better the results. Press the ball into a flat disk, powder the outside with flour, wrap it in a clean t-towel and put it in the fridge. You can also use plastic wrap instead of a t-towel. The dough can rest in the fridge anywhere from a few minutes to the following day before using.
Preheat oven to 200° C
Fresh, pre-baked or fully baked dough:
Fresh shell [one used without pre-baking]: roll out on a floured surface, thin, to about 3 mm and transfer to a 23 cm loose bottom tart pan, or press the dough out, straight in the pan with your fingers. In both cases pressure the dough with your fingers up the sides of the pan to secure it in place and prick the bottom with a fork to stop the dough from bubbling up. It will change shape once baked and might look irregular in the end. This is not problem.
Half cooked shell, same as for the fresh shell instructions above, followed by:
To keep the dough from drooping down the sides of the pan lay a sheet of parchment paper over it and fill the surface with dried beans. I usually keep a jar of them in my larder and reuse them multiple times on the tarts. This step can be omitted for a dryer filling that does not require a good tart edge to hold in liquid at the sides, but comes in handy for a quiche for instance, that will set after baking. Place the tart shell in the oven for 15 minutes at 200° C. Remove from the oven, take off the parchment with the beans and fill the shell and finish baking according to recipe time.
Full cooked shell, same as for a fresh and half baked shell, but leave in oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Until the dough looks golden and the edges and well browned.
Warm butter tart dough
90 gm unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
3 Tbsp of water
1 Tbsp sugar
⅛ tsp salt
150 gm flour
Preheat oven to 210° C
Combine the water, butter, sugar and salt in an oven proof bowl. Put the bowl in the oven for 15 minutes until the butter starts bubbling and turning brown on the edges. Remove bowl from the oven, remember that it will be very hot and that it will stay hot for quite a while. I keep a oven mitten hanging on the edge to remind me, or anyone else in the kitchen. Add the flour and stir around [I use and old silver spoon] or a whisk. Keep in mind that the flour will splatter a bit when it touches the hot butter and water mixture. Once all is well mixed in, transfer to a 23cm loose bottom tart pan and as soon as it is cooled enough to handle spread it out with your fingers to cover the pan all the way up the sides. Press in well on the sides. Prick the dough with a fork so that it does not bubble up whilst baking and put it in the oven for 15 – 20 minutes or until it has browned.
You can patch up both versions of the dough with leftover pieces of dough after baking. This can be important if the filling is liquid.