For the past two Tuesdays, I’ve left the office early, made a mad dash through Harvard Square and up Mass Ave, searched for a parking spot, and stood at a long table in a hot room with a bunch of strangers. It’s an exhausting end to a full day at work, but after the first week, I was ready. I brought a pair of ballet flats to change into. I wore a short sleeve dress. I mentally prepared myself to be patient.
There was squishing cold butter and flour between fingers and crumbling it into little pieces. There was scooping and tossing sandy dough with fingertips to mix it with water. There was pushing dough with heels of hands and smearing it across the counter.
I let my mind wander. I let my hands feel. I let my day slip away.
There was banter as my neighbors and I got to know each other while working the dough and making sure not to overwork it. We checked out each other’s progress, comparing doughs as they just barely came together. We wrapped up dough and piled parcels into the refrigerator.
There was slicing and stirring and whipping and melting and tasting while doughs chilled and we made fillings.
There was pushing and pulling of French rolling pins, sliding of palms over tapered ends as dough flattened and thinned across the floured counter.
There was divvying up of tart pans and cutting up of dough. There was light pressing of dough into the slides of pans. There was rolling of pins across edges of pans and trimming of excess dough.
There were rogue pie weights to chase as they spun out of reach.
There were tart crusts to check in the hot oven. There were fillings to fill and filled tarts to bake.
We admired our handiwork.
Pâte brisée (short pastry) by hand
The key to makng a flaky crust is to start with very cold ingredients, to not overwork the dough, and to not add too much liquid. I love all the French terminology, so you may find a few quick French lessons thrown into the recipe.
This recipe makes one tart/pie crust. If you are making a double crust pie, you’ll need to double this recipe.
- 1 1/2 C flour
- 1/8 t salt
- 4 ounces (8 T) unsalted butter
- 3-4 T ice water
Combine. Combine the flour and salt on the countertop.
Cut. Weigh or measure the very cold butter. Cut it into 1-inch cubes.
Pinch. Place the butter on the counter and cover it with the flour-salt mix. Pinch and gently smush the butter into the flour until you get pea-sized pieces.
Sabler. Sabler means to reduce into sand. (Sable is sand and French sables are crumbly cookies such as pecan sandies.) Cut into the butter flour mixture with a bench scraper until it resembles sand.
Papillon. A papillon is a butterfly. Spread the sandy mixture into a long rectangle and form a trough down the center. Drip a tablespoon of water all along the trough, and then with your fingers spread, fluff and flutter the sand into the center to gently incorporate it into the water. Using a bench scraper, gather the forming dough and repeat the papillon step a tablespoon of water at a time. The dough will start to come together in shaggy pieces. The dough is ready when you squeeze it and it sticks together. Don’t add too much water, or when you bake the dough, it will shrink down and away from the tart pan sides and your tart will be too shallow. Weather will affect the dough – if it’s humid, add less water.
Fraisage. Gather the dough together into a pile, and then with the palm of your hand, push it away from you against the counter a few times. The etymology of fraisage is a little complicated, but here’s my best attempt. The non-cooking definition of fraisage is the act of drilling. The verb fraiser means to sheer. Though it’s spelled differently, I’m convinced that fraiser (and therefore fraisage)) s related to the shear forces of physics. Remember your physics? I remembered just barely enough to look up the phrase. Essentially shearing is the deformation of a material in which parallel surfaces slide past each other. So, you push the pâte with the heel of your hand, and the flour and butter slide past each other. When I did this, I could imagine the layers of flakiness starting to form. Check out the second picture – you can see distinct flaky layers on the front left edge of the tart.
Chill. Gather the dough together and press it into a disc (about an inch thick). Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes.
Roll. Lightly flour the counter. Place the disc of cold dough on the counter and using a large rolling-pin, push the dough away from you, pull it towards you, and then turn the dough 90 degrees. Repeat the push-pull-turn combo until you’ve rolled the dough out into a circle 1/8-inch thick.
Cut. Place a tart or pie pan on the rolled-out dough and use a sharp knife to cut out a circle (or whatever shape your pan is) an inch from the pan edge for a tart or two inches for a deep-dish pie. You want to make sure that the dough will be large enough to go up the sides of the pan.
Press. Lift the dough and place it on top of the pan. Gently press it into the corners and up the edges. Roll a rolling-pin across the top of the pan to trim off the excess dough.
Chill. Chill the pan in the refrigerator for 1 hour or the freezer for 15 minutes.
Blind bake. Preheat oven to 425ºF. Prick the chilled dough all over with a fork, cover it with parchment paper and then fill the pan with pie weights. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Carefully remove the hot pie weights and parchment, and continue to bake for another 5 minutes until the crust is light golden.
Reduce heat. Lower the oven to 350ºF.
Fill. Fill the crust with whatever filling you’re using.
Bake. Bake for 30-45 minutes (will vary from filling to filling).
After blind-baking a pâte brisée crust, fill it with this pear and dried tart cherry combination. This tart is not particularly sweet and the addition of rosemary provides a savory note. A friend of mine called it a sophisticated, subtle, and grown-up tart.
- 6 firm ripe Bosc pears
- 1 1/2 C dried tart cherries
- 1/2 C light brown sugar
- 3-4 sprigs fresh rosemary (1 t chopped)
- 2 T lemon juice
- 1 T cornstarch
Preheat. Preheat the oven to 425ºF.
Cut. Peel and core the pears and cut them into 1/2-inch pieces. Chop the rosemary leaves very finely.
Cook. Cook the pears, cherries, brown sugar, and rosemary in a pot over moderate heat, stirring frequently. It should take about 20 minutes until the pears are tender.
Thicken. Whisk together the lemon juice and cornstarch in a small cup. Then stir into the cooked pear mixture and bring to a boil for about 1 minute until the mix thickens.
Cool. Let the fruit cool before adding to the tart crust.
Prepare tart crust. Make, roll, and blind bake a tart at 425ºF for 15 minutes. Remove the pie weights and bake for another 5 minutes.
Fill. Fill the tart crust with the cooled fruit.
Bake. Lower the oven to 350ºF. Bake the tart for 30-40 minutes.