I hate all those recipes that tell you how easy it is to make pâte brisée (tart dough) – rub the butter and flour together, add a little ice water, don’t handle too much, and you are done. If it was that easy, there’d be way more good pies and tarts in this world.
I set out on the tart dough quest 6 years ago (after spending a semester in France). 50+ tarts later I can finally say that I have achieved perfection. Though I don’t see a reason why perfect pie dough should take this much experimentation.
If only the recipes spent more time on the basics and less time on the “butter vs. shortening” and “all-purpose vs. pastry flour” debates, I think I'd be all set. The thing is -- it’s all about the technique, not the ingredients. All-purpose flour is just fine. And I prefer using all butter since it gives the dough more flavor. The rest as they say is “in the wrist.”
So, if you’ll stop at nothing to achieve delicate, buttery, flaky tart dough, keep on reading.
Illustrated Guide to Pâte Brisée (tart and pie dough)
These instructions describe how to make tart dough with a stand-up mixer, which I find to be the easiest method. You could also use a food processor or a pastry blender.
For two 10 inch tarts (savory or sweet)
2 1/2 sticks butter, chilled (refrigerator temperature)
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (13.5 oz)
1 tsp table salt (or 2 tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt)
2 tsp sugar
1 cup ice water (you'll only need about half of it)
1 tsp distilled white vinegar
Step 1: Freeze the bowl and the flat beater of a stand-up mixer until cold, about 5 minutes.
Step 2: Cut the butter into 1/4 inch cubes. Place on a plate and freeze for 10 minutes (but no longer).
Step 3: Measure the flour. Precision is extremely important here. If you end up with too much flour (which is what happens if you scoop it with a measuring cup), your dough will be tough and hard to roll out. Measuring flour by weight is the only accurate way. So if you have a scale, use it to measure 13.5 oz of flour.
If you don’t have a scale, stir the flour with a spoon to fluff it, spoon it into a measuring cup, and level off excess with a knife. Do not scoop flour with a measuring cup as you will compress it.
Step 4: Attach the chilled bowl and the flat beater to your mixer. Add the flour, salt, and sugar. Mix on low speed until combined, about 30 seconds.
Step 5: Add the butter and toss with your hands to coat each butter cube with flour.
Cover the mixer with a towel to avoid flour splashes, and mix on low until the butter lumps are the size of peas and the mixture is the consistency of oatmeal. It’s better to under-process than over-process. Since the bowl is covered with a towel, stop the mixer every 20 seconds to see how it’s going (it is likely to take about 1 minute total). If chunks of butter get stuck, scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula.
Here is what the mixture should look like when you are done.
Step 6: Add the vinegar to the ice water and mix well. Measure out 1/2 cup of this liquid (without ice-cubes).
With the mixer running on low, slowly drizzle in 1/2 cup of liquid into the dough. After all the water is in, give it another 5 seconds and turn off the mixer.
Pick up a chunk of dough and squeeze it in a fist. If the dough holds its shape, it’s done. If it still feels sandy and falls apart as soon as you let it go, turn the mixer back on, and drizzle in more water 1 Tbsp at a time. Test after each addition.
Step 7: Turn out the dough onto a clean counter and arrange it into a large rectangle (8 inch by 15 inch).
Starting on one short side of the rectangle and working your way to the other, smear each bit of dough with the heel of your hand in short quick strokes. The whole procedure should take about 30 seconds, so be quick or the butter will start to melt. This creates layers of butter and flour and will make your dough more flaky.
Gather up the dough with a pastry scraper.
Divide the dough into 2 piles.
Step 8: Force each pile into a thick disk.
It might not want to stay together, but you need to show it who is the boss. If it is too crumbly, kneed it shortly (just 4-5 folds and turns).
Sprinkle each disk with flour on both sides, wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate at least for 2 hours and up to 2 days, or freeze for up to 2 months. Phew, you are done!
Hmm, I believe this is the longest post I’ve written since starting this blog, so I saved the rolling out and baking instructions for the next post.