My thanks to Suzanne of Kitch’n coach in Singapore for teaching me this recipe several years ago. It’s based on a recipe by Pierre Herme, the doyen of French pastry. I have never made another sweet pastry crust since. I always double the recipe, which is quite handy as I can use 1 pack of butter (as it usually comes in packs of 250g). Freeze half for another time.
Sweet pastry crust (Pâte sucrée)
What I love about the dough is that you can roll it really thin, and so it's not doughy and makes for a thin crisp crust. The almond powder adds a lovely bite to it, but do make sure it’s ground fine, if not then run it through a spice grinder before using. Just remember the dough needs resting, preferably overnight, so make it the day before you plan to use it. The recipe below is perfect for a an 9” tart tin.
Making the dough:
Using an electric mixer or a handheld beater beat the butter and icing sugar until creamy. Add the scraped vanilla beans, salt, ground almonds and mix again.
Add the egg and mix well. Sift the flour into the butter/egg cream, and then mix just until the dough comes together. At this stage, it’s important not to over mix the dough, to avoid the pastry from becoming tough.
Remove the dough from the mixer, pat into a disc and cover in cling wrap. Refrigerate for at least one night before using.
The dough can be frozen at this point. Just pop it into a zip lock bag and defrost in the fridge before using
Rolling the dough:
Most recipes suggest using a floured counter to do so. I find it much easier to sandwich the pastry in cling wrap (I use the wrap that I stored the pasty in) or use pliable baking sheets. This way you avoid adding too much flour.
Take out the pastry from the fridge about 15-30 min before using. It should still be quite hard. Give it a few bashes with a rolling pin to soften it a bit and then use 2 sheets of baking paper or cling wrap, to roll it evenly thin. If you can use a rolling pin without handles as these encourage you to press down at the ends, which leads to thin edges and a thick centre. Aim for an even thickness of 3-4mm, and ensure that the size is right to come up the sides of the tart tin.
If it's warm in your kitchen, and the pastry starts sticking, sprinkle on some flour. A little extra flour at this stage won't harm the dough, as it has enough butter and almond powder. If the pastry starts softening too much and becomes unmanageable, place an ice tray or ice pack on top (separated by a cling wrap or baking paper). That will cool & harden the pastry down so you can continue working with it.
I find it easiest to invert the pastry by lifting bottom sheet of wrap onto the pie tin, and gently easing the dough in. Never ever stretch the dough, it will shrink right back whilst baking and leave you with a very shallow base to fill. Pierce the bottom several times with a fork, and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or longer before baking or using. There will be some left over scraps. Keep those; you might need them later as you will see.
Several recipes call for the crust to be baked blind, i.e. without the filling to ensure the base is crisp and cooked through. Preheat the oven to 175C / 150C fan.
Pierce the chilled base all over with a fork. Place a sheet of baking paper (use the same one that you used for rolling) or a sheet of aluminium foil, over the dough and weigh it down beans. The beans need to fill the crust. The idea behind using these “weights” is to prevent any bubbles forming on the crust that would result in it baking unevenly. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes with the beans, remove the beans, and then bake until golden at the edges, another 5-10 minutes more.
Take out of the oven and check for any cracks. Use the left over tart dough to “patch up” the cracks, as the filling may leak out if you don’t. The crust will be warm, so the raw dough will meld easily into any cracks. Then brush the base and sides immediately with some beaten egg. This is the “waterproof” coating, and prevents a soggy bottom, especially when using liquid fillings. Return to the switched off oven for a 2-3 minutes for the egg to set. Remove from oven and use as needed.