Saturday, August 13, 2011

The easiest tart shell

I think this must be the easiest tart shell recipe and I'm devoting a separate post to it so I can refer to it in the future; I know I'll be using this recipe again and again.  You don't have to roll out the dough and there's no need to use pie weights.  Does it sound too good to be true?  I thought so too but sure enough, it worked just like it should and the result is a delicious, crunchy, shortbread cookie-like tart crust. 
I love the fluted edges around a tart shell.  The crust releases beautifully using a tart pan with a removeable bottom.
I've raved about David Lebovitz's book, Ready for Dessert; My Best Recipes, in the past and this is another recipe from the book.  I think this cookbook might be my best investment yet. 

The dough for the tart literally comes together in about three minutes.  The tart dough may also be referred to as pate sucree for sweet dough in French because that's just what it is, a sweet and buttery dough.  Because you can simply press the dough into the tart pan with your hands, there's no mess with a rolling pin and flour on your countertop.  The dough gets frozen for at least an hour and because it's frozen, you do not need to weigh it down with pie weights when baking.  Genius! 
Baked for about 20-25 minutes until it turns a dark golden brown color, the crust did not shrink (a common problem I've read about) and is crisp and sweet with a shortbread cookie taste.  This tart shell can be used as the foundation for many desserts.

The ingredients for this tart shell are: 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter, at room temperature, 1/4 cup of sugar, 1 large egg yolk, 1 cup of flour, and 1/8 teaspoon of salt.  I think the amount of butter and sugar is fairly reasonable in this recipe, as I've seen many recipes using more.  You'll need a tart pan with a removeable bottom (love them) and this recipe fills a 9-inch tart pan. 

The work is done in minutes by simply beating the butter with the sugar on low speed in a stand mixer using the standard paddle attachment.  Beat for just about a minute until the two are blended together.  Then, add the egg yolk and mix for half a minute before adding the flour and salt.  Combine this until the dough comes together, without over mixing the dough.
Next, just take the dough ball and place it in the center of your tart pan and start pressing it down and around with the heel of your hand, making it as even as you can.  The dough is soft and moist, very easy to press and spread around.  It is, in essence, like a sugar or shortbread cookie dough you would roll out to make cookies.
Use your fingers to press the dough up the sides of the tart pan, trying to make it as even as possible and avoid making the corners too thick.  I mean, it's nice to have a somewhat thick corner crust but we don't want to go too crazy, and do want to make sure the dough is evenly spread out.  I took a knife and trimmed around the top of rim to make it cleaner looking.  By the way, I'm not a lefty.  When I'm home alone, I basically need to demonstrate with the left hand while I snap the picture with my right hand. 
An interesting tip in this recipe is to reserve a jelly bean size piece of dough, wrapped in plastic wrap, for later in case you need to use it to fix or piece together any large cracks or breaks in the tart after it's baked.  I literally forgot to do this but had enough dough on my rubber spatula to scrape up enough.  Refrigerate that jelly-bean size piece of dough and take it out to sit at room temperature when you bake it.
Freeze the tart for at least an hour but it can be kept frozen for a month.  Freezing it allows us to bake it without using pie weights or beans.    On the day you are ready to use it, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Take a fork and poke the tart shell about 15-20 times.  Bake the tart shell in the oven for about 7 minutes, then take a look and see if it has puffed up.  If so (and it did in my case), press it down with the back of a metal spatula.  I found that a wooden spoon worked very well for pressing down the sides and corners of the tart.  Bake for another 15-20 minutes until it reaches a dark golden brown.  You want a nice color on it so you know that the flavors had a chance to develop.  In my case, one section of the tart bottom was browning too fast and I used a little foil to cover that up in the last few minutes.
I learned that a homemade tart shell is a beautiful thing.  It looks and tastes amazing.  But then again, I've always had a love of tart shells.  I've mentioned before that I took some cooking classes back in junior high school that I really enjoyed.  As part of this class, we once went on a field trip to a culinary school in upstate New York.  I remember seeing and smelling racks of pastries lining the halls.  Well, at one point on the tour, we were offered a taste of these beautiful mini fruit tarts.  I'm not a big fruit dessert person, I'm afraid, but I remember breaking off a piece of that tart crust and tasting this ultra delicious, sweet and crunchy bite.  It made a big impression on me then and I still remember it now. 

But back to this recipe, I did not have any holes or cracks in the tart crust after it was baked but I did want to experiment with "fixing" it using that jelly-bean size dough reserved earlier.  If you do need to patch anything up, simply break off a small piece of the reserved dough and press it into the tart when it's hot.  Because it is just out of the oven, you will not need to bake it any further.  I tried this on the lower right hand side of the tart in the picture above (you can probably see it) and the dough just "melts" right into the tart.  The spot will be lighter in color but no one will ever know once the tart is filled...very cool.


Recipe:

Tart Shell
From Ready for Dessert; My Best Recipes by David Lebovitz

- For one 9-inch tart pan -

6 tablespoons (3oz. or 85 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup (50 g) sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 cup (140 g) all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt

Put butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  On low speed, beat for about a minute until the mixture is smooth and combined.  Add egg yolk and beat for half a minute.  Then add flour and salt (all at once) and beat until the dough just begins to come together.  Avoid overmixing.

Break off a small jelly bean size piece of dough and wrap it in plastic wrap.  Reserve it in the refrigerator if not using within the next few hours.  This will be used after the tart is baked if you need to fix any major cracks in the crust.  Take the dough ball and place it in the center of a 9-inch removable tart pan.  Press the dough down and outward with the heel of your hand.  Use your fingers to work the dough up the sides of the tart pan.  Avoid the temptation to make the corners too thick; you want an even crust.  Take a knife and trim off the rim.

Freeze the tart for at least one hour.  It can also be frozen for a month. 

Bake the tart the day you are ready to use it.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Remove the reserved piece of dough scrape from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature.  Take the frozen tart shell and poke it with the tines of a fork about 15-20 times all around.  Bake for 7 minutes and check to see if the dough has puffed up.  If it has, flatten the bottom with the back of a metal spatula and use a wooden spoon to flatten the sides, if necessary. 

Bake for another 15-20 minutes until tart is a dark golden color (the flavor won't be as good if you underbake it).  If a particular area of the crust is browning faster than the rest, cover the spot with a piece of aluminum foil.  If there are any major breaks or cracks in the tart shell after it's baked, you can mend it using a bit of the reserved dough while the tart shell is hot.  There is no need to bake further.  Let the tart shell cool completely and use.


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