The pear and almond tart turned out so beautifully that I reproduced it at the weekend, but this time also did the pastry from scratch. I am a bit of a pie purist and truly believe that the effort of one’s hands makes for a tastier pie, and gives you control over the ingredients. As you probably know, one normally makes shortcrust pastry by cutting up cold butter into cubes, turning that into a breadcrumby mixture with sugar, processing everything with flour and a hint of salt, then possibly adding an egg yolk and/or water to bring it all together. This dough then sits in the fridge an hour to relax before it’s rolled out, placed in a tart pan, pricked with a fork and baked.
Enter the no-roll, no-fridge, no-processing, quick-mix pastry.
A friend in France said that she knew some baking types to bake the butter and sugar first when they prepare tart dough. I’m familiar with how you introduce heat to the making of choux pastry (the butter is melted first with some sugar) but not for tarts, so I did some research and was intrigued by David Levovitz’s account of how he observed Paule Caillat, who teaches cooking in Paris, make tart dough by baking a butter/oil/sugar mixture in the oven for 15 minutes, then adding flour.
Anyway, with all due respect to David, I tweaked the recipe he provided because in his beautiful pictures, the dough looked a bit fragile and thin and there didn’t seem enough for one tart. Here’s a revised version for French tart dough in which – heaven forfend – I skipped the butter baking, saving 13 minutes (used the microwave instead) and turned to the oven only to eventually bake the tart shell. If I had more almonds, I would substitute a quarter cup of the flour for ground almonds. Next time perhaps! Could be next week, going by the pear tart’s popularity.
Warning: If you are a natural klutz, as am I, be doubly cautious about extricating the hot-butter bowl and also the baked tart shell from the oven. As it turns out, David’s clever marketing gods were watching over him even as my clumse-preventing ones neglected me. I dropped the first piping-hot tart shell, upside down, flat-smack onto my clean floor.
Whereupon I had a chance to taste it and slightly upped the sugar amount for shell#2. This pastry takes about 5 minutes to prepare anyway, so, with a French shoulder shrug, here we go:
- butter, 75g (3/4 of a stick)
- salt, 1/4 tsp
- sugar, 3 tbsp
- veg oil, 1 tbsp
- almond essence, 1 drop
- plain flour, 1 1/2 cups and more for dusting
- Preheat oven to 410F (180C)
- First, in a glass bowl, heat the butter, oil, salt, sugar, essence for about 3 minutes on High in the microwave. It will foam a bit, and bubble
- Using oven gloves, carefully remove the bowl and add the flour, being careful not to splash the hot butter
- Whisk the batter till it comes together. Takes 5 seconds
- If it’s cool enough, use your hands to pat the dough to shape and press it into your tart shell
- Using your palm, ensure the bottom is flat and that the shell comes up the sides of your tart pan
- I didn’t prick any holes in it and it turned out beautifully
- Bake 10-12 minutes, till golden, and remove from the oven to cool