When it comes to making chocolate or lemon tarts, the two most obvious choices for the crust would be the pâte sucrée and the pâte sablée. Today we’ll be focusing on the pâte sucrée, or sweet shortcrust pastry, which is a sweet, rich and sturdy dough that can handle fillings without losing its wonderful texture.
I recently discovered a new method of making pâte sucrée taught by chef Philippe Conticini. If you have encountered issues with dough retracting in the oven or would rather prepare the dough by hand (isn’t it soothing?!), then you’re in for a treat! No mixer required!
What is Pâte Sucrée?
When you are just starting out in the world of French tarts, determining whether a recipe is actually for a pâte sucrée (as opposed to a pâte sablée) can be quite challenging. Michel Suas1 clears it up nicely: a pâte sucrée is usually composed of 100% flour, 50% butter, 50% sugar and 20% egg.
If you aren’t familiar with baker’s percentage, the idea is that the weight of the flour is at 100% and everything else is measured against it. In our recipe below for example, we use 250 g of flour and 125 g of butter. So the butter is actually 125/250 *100=50%.
- A digital scale
- 2 mixing bowls
- A whisk
- 1 dough scraper (or rubber spatula)
- Parchment paper
- A rolling pin
- Pie weights
- A tart pan or tartlet molds
Pâte Sucrée Ingredients
You will need:
- Unsalted butter: We will be creaming the butter so it should be very soft. Take it out of the fridge at least 1-2 hours ahead depending on the temperature of your kitchen. You don’t want it to be melted though.
- Icing (Confectioner’s) sugar: Icing sugar will be easier to incorporate into the butter.
- Almond flour: adds flavor.
- Salt: used for flavor.
- Egg: The egg is the primary liquid which will contribute to gluten formation when mixed with the flour. It also yields a more flexible dough by binding the ingredients together. The egg yolk, rich in fat, adds flavor.
- All-purpose flour: The flour will provide the structure of the tart.
- Lemon zest: Adding the zest of a citrus fruit is optional but adds a nice twist to the dough.
Making Pâte Sucrée
Pâte sucrée is generally made using the creaming method as opposed to the sanding method used for pâte brisée.
- The first thing you will do is whisk the butter with the icing sugar and it should look as if you had creamed it with the mixer. If you are trying too hard to combine everything, then you probably didn’t take the butter out of the fridge early enough. It’s probably best to let it warm up a little bit more so you don’t whisk too much.
Incorporating too much air by overmixing will lead to a dough that doesn’t hold its shape well during baking. By using icing sugar that dissolves easily and very soft butter, combining the ingredients should be very easy and quick.
- Once it’s smooth and homogeneous, add the almond flour and the lemon (or lime) zest. Give it a stir and then add the egg and whisk until combined.
Avoid using a cold egg or else the dough will curdle. The butter will cool down and solidify again.
- Add a pinch of salt (I use Fleur de Sel) to the flour and whisk it for a few seconds.
- Empty the flour bowl onto a clean work surface and create a well in the middle. If you aren’t crazy about making a mess on your table and would rather use a bowl, just have the flour in a large bowl, create a well in the center and continue as explained below. You will be a bit more constrained by the edges of the bowl while trying to mix but you’ll still get a fantastic tart dough!
- Carefully pour your butter mixture into the center of the well. Using a dough scraper (or just a simple spatula), cut into the flour-butter mixture in small, repetitive movements all along the mixture. Gather everything back towards the middle occasionally. You will notice that your dough will slowly start getting smoother. Once it looks fully combined, gather all the pieces with your hands into a ball.
This method of cutting into the dough allows for gentle mixing without overworking the dough and developing too much gluten (which would make the dough elastic). If done correctly, you shouldn’t encounter any issues with the dough retracting when baking. And avoiding the use of a mixer reduces the formation of air bubbles which might cause the dough to rise in the oven. In theory, you shouldn’t need to use weights. In reality, it’s probably better to be safe than sorry! I’d still recommend putting the weights on large tarts!
For more tips, read How to make a French tart, 7 steps explained.
Storing the dough
- Place the dough on a piece of parchment paper or cling film. Flatten it into a disk or shape into a rectangle and wrap tightly.
- Refrigerate for at least 3 hours, ideally overnight.
It is better to flatten the dough than to shape it into a ball. This will make it easier to roll out later. It will also cool down much faster in the refrigerator and come back to room temperature easily when needed.
And that’s it! You can now use this dough to make amazing tarts! If you need help figuring out how to put the dough in the tart pan, read How to line a tart pan with pastry.
In case you missed it, head over to the tart baking calendar to see all the delicious tarts we will be making this month.
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1Suas, M. (2008). Advanced Bread and Pastry: A Professional Approach (1st ed.). Delmar Cengage Learning.