When setting out to make a tart the French way (and most pastry chefs do) you’ve got two basic choices in dough: pâte brisée or “short dough“ and pâte sucrée, or “sweet dough”. Sweet dough is both richer and sweeter than short dough, which means it’s more tender, but it’s still firm enough to hold its shape when cut into slices and served.
What’s the difference between tart doughs and pie crusts? you might well ask. It’s a good question, because the ingredient proportions can be strikingly similar: lots of butter relative to the flour. One big difference is the amount of sugar that’s added. Pie crusts contain very little (if any) sugar. Tart doughs call for quite a bit, usually in powdered form to speed its incorporation into the dough (crystal sugar can cause graininess). Tart doughs also usually call for eggs (or egg yolks) and cream.
The big process difference between the two is that whereas pie crusts are usually made by hand, tart doughs are made (ideally) in a food processor. I should insert the obvious here: food processors are not an authentic part of the tart-making process. However the spinning blades give tart dough a uniformity of texture that’s very hard to replicate by hand. And that uniformity, once the rolled crust is put into the oven, helps prevent cracking and the loss of precious filling.
There are a lot of recipes out there for pâte sucrée, and a lot of people expend a lot of energy arguing over which one is more authentic than the other. This one just happens to be my favorite. The formula is:
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons heavy cream
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups (7.5 ounces) all-purpose flour
3 ounces powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons (4 ½ ounces) butter, cold
Begin by combining the egg yolk, cream and vanilla in a bowl.
Now combine the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the plastic pastry blade, and process for 30 seconds or so until they’re blended.
Add the cold butter and pulse for one or two seconds at a time until the butter is incorporated (it could take a couple of dozen pulses).
Yes, I forgot to take a picture of that phase. Oopsie. Now then, with the motor running, add the egg mixture. Wait for the mixture to collect into a single mass — then stop the machine immediately. It should look about like this:
Pat the dough into a disk, wrap it in plastic and put it into the fridge for a minimum of an hour, maximum of two days.
Freeze it for up to two months. There, that was easy, wasn’t it?