Whilst scouring Youtube for new recipes and techniques, as I often do, I stumbled across a video which has been an absolute revelation for me; I’ll spare the waffle and link you right to it: A technique to make a tart shell that looks damn near perfect!
And after a few attempts, I’ve pretty much perfected it 🙂
There are a couple of caveats though – it does take more time, and you can’t use it when you cook a filling that will expand – so no quiches, and no egg based desserts like tart au citron. BUT if you just want to make a tart shell to fill with delicious goodness, this is now my go-to technique.
I think what makes it look so perfect, is that the sides are completely straight. If you roll out your pastry in one sheet, you always seem to end up with a curled bottom edge when the pastry contracts after leaving the oven. And whilst that’s not unattractive in itself, it’s certainly less impressive than this almost geometric looking magnificence staring back at you now 🙂
So, how is it done? Well, basically it’s a jigsaw. You need to roll out your pastry and score it to make the shapes you need, and then rest in the fridge. When the pastry is firm enough, you can easily manoeuvre everything into position and seal it all together. Genius!
I decided to use the pate sucree recipe from the video demonstration, which is different to my usual Michelle Roux version. I find that this recipe makes a little more than is needed for the tart, but it’s always better to have too much than not enough; I think that pastry can really only be rolled out once before it starts getting tough, so always better to give yourself extra to play with.
It’s also a great idea to prepare the pastry and creme pattisiere the day before if possible, so that the pastry can have a good long rest, and the creme pat is fully chilled and firm. It’s not only a great way to break up the work, but enables you to rustle it up at the last minute with minimum effort – double bubble!
Having made this pastry a couple of times now, I like to start by cracking an egg and beating it, and weighing it out into a small bowl. If you have any of those posh eggs that come in variable sizes, this is a great way to use up those small ones. I then place the bowl back in the fridge to ensure that it’s at least cool when it’s added to the pastry.
As with most pastry, it’s better to keep this pastry as cold as possible. I’ve always thought that this is to stop the fat saturating the flour, to keep the final bake flakey and crisp. It’s just occurred to me that I don’t know if that’s the actual reason. Anyway…
The best tool for softening your butter is an electric hand mixer. I did this straight from the fridge, after cutting it in to cubes to make the job a bit easier, and had no problems.
After getting the salt and egg incorporated, you can start to add your flour. As per the instructions (I’m very good at following instructions), fold the flour through a few times, and then tip everything out onto your work surface to incorporate fully by hand.
My hands are crazy hot, so not ideal for this step. I find that if I put my hands under cold running water for 30 seconds, my hands will cool down for long enough to handle the pastry without melting the butter 🙂
Press and squash the pastry gently until it has just become homogenous, and then STOP! You don’t want to work the pastry any more than it absolutely necessary, or it will become tough and unappetising. At this point you can either rest your pastry in the fridge for 30 minutes, if you’re going to roll it out the traditional way, or proceed directly to cutting the pieces to form your ‘perfect’ tart shell.
Pull out a couple of pieces of baking parchment, and squash the pastry out between them to form a large rectangle. For the pedantic amongst you, this rectangle measured about 25cmx35cm, but I just eyeball it. You should try to get the pastry a maximum of about 3mm thick.
The added bonus about doing it this way, is that because you’re not introducing any flour whilst rolling it out, you’re not running this risk of changing the flour ratio. Perhaps you could even roll it out like this to help you line a tart shell the traditional way; maybe I’ll try that someday.
Anyway, once you’ve reached your desired thickness, you can peel back the top layer and start to score out your shapes. I’m using a 20cm tart tin, so I need to cut a 19cm circle of pastry. Fortunately I have a 19cm mousse ring, which I can use to punch out the circle easily. You could either find a bowl or plate of the appropriate size, or maybe cut around your 20cm tart shell, and cut a slightly smaller circle just inside it.
Next you need to cut a series of strips that are the same height as your tart shell. My tart shell is 2.5cm in height, or about 1 inch. I happen to have a quilting ruler that is exactly an inch wide, so I am able to score down either side of it to cut my strips. Otherwise, you can measure regular intervals along both sides of your pastry, and then connect them with a ruler. Make sure you have enough strips to go around the circumference of your tart ring. And also allow for extras, just in case!
Replace the top layer of baking parchment, and transfer to the fridge to chill completely. I’m going to leave mine overnight, but you will require at least 4 hours, or I’m told that 30 minutes in the freezer can also work, although I’ve never tried it.
So now on to the creme patissiere!
Simply heat the milk until almost boiling, and in the meantime whisk the eggs and sugar, and add in the flours. Don’t be confused by the 20g in the above picture – I decided to reduce the recipe slightly, as you don’t need that much for this tart.
Whisk the hot milk into the egg mixture, and then return everything back the pan and the heat. Whisk continuously as the creme pat cooks, and after you see bubbles popping on the surface, cook for one more minute. Remove from the heat, and allow to cool a little, before transferring to your storage container.
The more shallow the container, the more quickly the creme pat will cool. Cover it directly with clingfilm to prevent it forming a skin, and then place in the fridge overnight. Job done. Time for me to go to bed and pick things up tomorrow!
By the next morning, it’s fair to say that the pastry has had a nice long rest, so get your oven up to temperature, and then begin the swift assembly job. Upon removing your pastry from the fridge, which will probably be as firm as a piece of cardboard now(!), it’s wise to remove and replace both pieces of baking parchment. This will make everything much less likely to stick when you try to move the individual pieces.
So get some parchment on your baking tray, oil/butter your tart ring, and let’s get on with the fun part!
Start by selecting your nicest strips, and place one firmly against the inside of the tart ring. You should overlap your strips very slightly, and press together well. Keep going until your entire ring is lined, trimming the last piece as necessary. I like to go in with a paring knife now, and tidy up any little overhangs or bulges from things being pressed together. We can always tidy things up later, but it’s always better to make everything as neat as you can, as you go along.
Working quickly, you can now place your disc of pastry inside, and should find that it’s just shy of the edges. As the pastry softens in the heat, you can gently squidge the disc towards the edges, to encourage a good seal. I find the back of a large spoon can be useful for this, especially if you’re worried about leaving fingerprints!
As with any pastry case, give it a good docking all over, remembering to get the sides as well. This should prevent the pastry from puffing up and away from the metal.
Now for the most important piece of information you’ll find in this whole post, and possibly even my blog! For years I’ve head chefs and bakers talk about ‘ovenproof’ clingfilm, but I have never been able to figure out which brands are ovenproof, let alone find somewhere to buy them. Until now! The stuff you’re looking for is Cuki Microwave clingfilm, which can be purchased cheaply on Amazon! You’re welcome!
The advantage of using cling film to blind bake your pastry cases, is that it can easily mould to every nook and cranny, and when filled with rice, you can get a pretty perfect fit. Use a double layer of the clingfilm in a cross shape, and push the rice into all the corners. The clingfilm will shrink back in the oven though, so gather it loosely on top, so it doesn’t envelop your bakeware!
After the initial bake, you should remove your clingfilm and rice, then ease off the tart ring to help the outside brown in the second bake. The pastry will begin shrinking back the second you take your clingfilm out, but in a uniform manner that doesn’t distort the lovely circle you spent so long creating!
Bake your tart shell by itself for a few more minutes until nicely browned. I actually took this one a bit too far, so aim for something a fraction lighter than this.
Unfortunately, the pastry will still come out looking a little imperfect, no matter how careful you’ve been. I like to run a potato peeler around the bottom edge, and use a fine microplane zester to level the top. You’ll be surprised how much better you can make it look with just a few little shavings taken off!
Once your tart shell has cooled to room temperature (this really won’t take long), you can spread a generous layer of your creme pat into the bottom. You are strongly advised to give it a through beating to remove any lumps that have formed during the night spent in the fridge. Like most things in life, this is made significantly easier with the help of electricity.
All that remains then, is to cover your tart in strawberries, and glaze.
I’m someone who can spend quite a lot of time planning and arranging my fruit. Although you’ll only need about 400g of fruit to cover a 20cm tart, I like to buy a couple of carefully selected punnet of small, ripe strawberries, and pick out all the best ones. I like to filter out all the large and ugly strawberries first, and then roughly match the sizes of what’s left. Your outer ring of strawberries will be the most visible, so get that right, and the rest will fall into place!
A lot of people glaze their tarts by melting down some apricot jam with a little water, but that feels like cheating to me. And also an unnecessary cheat, as making your own glaze is genuinely super easy if you have powdered pectin.
Simply mix together you sugar and pectin, and then add it to the water as it heats up. Bring the mixture to a boil for a few minutes, and then add some lemon juice to help activate the pectin.
A handy tip I discovered recently, is that if you roll a lemon on your work surface to release some of the juice, you can skewer one end, and squeeze out a little juice without sacrificing the whole lemon. You only need about a tablespoon of juice for this recipe, so you can save that lemon for something else too!
Whisk the lemon juice in once the sugar solution is off the heat, and then simply wait for it to be cool enough to use. 35c is the magic number, where it is warm enough to spread and smooth, and cool enough to hold onto the fruit.
Brush your whole tart with the clear glaze, and then simply place into the fridge to firm up, ready to serve!
It might seem like a lot of work to make your own strawberry tart, but the steps are simple, and the work can be easily spread over a couple of days. What better way to celebrate the last of the summer strawberries before they disappear?!
100g cold unsalted butter, cubed
80g icing sugar, sifted
40g beaten egg, cold
1/2 tsp salt
200g plain flour, sifted
Beat the butter with an electric hand beater until just soft
Add the icing sugar & beat until smooth
Stir salt into egg. Add egg in 2 parts, beating well between each addition.
Add flour. Fold together briefly with spatula. Then tip onto work surface & bring together to form rough ball.
Roll out into long sausage shape. Using palm of hand, smear across work surface.
Form into ball. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate 2-3 hours then use as desired, or use immediately to make tart shell.
Roll the pastry out between 2 pieces of baking parchment into a large rectangle, at least 25cmx35cm
For a 20cm tart ring, cut a 19cm circle into one side of the flour, and then score strips the width of the height of your tart ring.
I use a 19cm mousse ring to cut my circle, and a quilting ruler that is 1 inch wide to cut my strips.
Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or for up to 3 days. You can put it in the freezer for 30 minutes if you’re in a real rush.
Preheat your oven to 165c
Brush your tart ring with melted butter, and place on a parchment lined baking sheet, ready to put your pastry in place.
You must work quickly, as the pastry will begin two soften as soon as it leaves the fridge.
Peel back both sides of baking parchment briefly, to ensure the pastry comes away easily when lifted.
Place your strips against the sides of the tart ring, overlapping very slightly, and pressing to seal.
Then put the circle of pastry in place, and as it softens, push it gently towards the edges to get a good seal.
Use a fork to dock the bottom and sides of the pastry case.
Line the pastry case with a double layer of ovenproof clingfilm (Cuki Microwave is the best I’ve found), and fill with rice.
Gently press the rice into the corners, filling the pastry case as completely as you can.
Gather the loose clingfilm loosely on top, before placing into the oven.
Bake for 20 minutes, and then remove the clingfilm and tart ring.
Return to the oven for another 5-10 minutes until pleasingly browned!
Leave to cool on a wire rack.
3 egg yolks
70g caster sugar
15g plain flour
Heat milk until just simmering in a saucepan.
In the meantime, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until pale in colour.
Sift the flours into the egg mixture and whisk again.
Pour the milk over the egg mixture, whisking vigorously the whole time.
Then return everything to the saucepan and place back on the heat.
Whisk continuously until the pastry cream starts to bubble, then cook for one further minute.
Remove from the heat. Add the chocolate at this point, if using, and whisk until homogenous.
Transfer into a bowl to store, covering the surface of the pastry cream directly with some clingfilm to prevent it forming a skin.
Place in the fridge overnight, or until completely cool.
Whisk the pastry cream thoroughly with an electric whisk before using, to ensure there are no lumps.
10g pectin powder
15g lemon juice
Mix together the sugar and pectin.
Heat the water in a saucepan until it reaches 45c
Whisk in the sugar mixture, and bring to a boil for about 3 minutes.
Turn off the heat, and whisk in the lemon juice.
Stir every 5 minutes as it cools to stop a skin forming.
Use glaze at 35c.