Pâte sucrée

The patisseries of Paris make everyone swoon and Pâte sucrée is the base for those fabulous tarts and biscuits that stand at the front of the shop window. Rich yet light, works perfectly with chocolate, fruit, cream, custard, cheese cake, citrus filling and tastes as delicious raw as it does cooked – it really is a wonder of the pastry world. Trust me, when you learn to make this pastry you might not go back to any other! Save for the near-holy american apple pie that is, which undoubtedly calls for short crust… or does it?

It’s not the easiest to make but when you get it right it is oh so satisfying. The recipe and method I am using is adapted from the Leith’s How to Cook book, which I highly recommend. You can of course make it in a Magimix or other food processor if you want to, or bung the wet ingredients in a bowl and knead in the dry, but it won’t be as good. Besides, pastry making really is for those who get pleasure out of the cooking process as much as the eating, so I’m going to show you the old fashioned way.

As with most good things baked, butter, eggs and sugar enrich this dough to decadence. Use it for mini fruit pies as I have here, citrus or chocolate tarts, accompaniment biscuits… anything you think needs a sweet base really. One thing to remember though: as this pastry has more sugar than a usual one it should be blind baked (i.e. without filling) at a slightly lower temprature of 190°c/375°f and on the top shelf of your oven for high heat. If you are using a fan oven adjust accordingly, usually down 20°c.

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INGREDIENTS
(Adapted from Leith’s HTC)

250g plain flour
1/8 tsp salt
125g unsalted butter (cool but slightly soft)
125g caster sugar
3 large egg yolks (cold)
3 drops vanilla extract

METHOD
(Adapted from Leith’s HTC)

Have out: weighed ingredients, a pallet knife, cling film (two layers) and a butter knife for the initial stages.

Start by sifting the flour and salt onto a clean smooth surface, then use your fist to make it into a large ring. You’ll be working in the middle of the ring so make sure to leave plenty of space. Now for some hand movement instructions. Remember when you used to make shadow puppets when you were a kid? Make a goose. Ok now you are going to keep the goose’s beak almost all the way shut while you push down with the pads of your fingers rather than your nails. Once you get started you’ll get what I mean… a bit like pecking.

First separate cold eggs, reserve whites if you like and keep egg yolks cold until ready to use.

Put the cool butter in the centre of the circle of flour and push it into the surface with the pads of your fingers so it is smooshed down. Then pour the sugar over the butter and, using only one hand, mix it it in with your finger tips.

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Use a few scooping motions if needed to flip sugar back over the butter and pinching motions to smoosh it together. You want to do this step efficiently so that the butter does not melt or become greasy.

Peck in sugar

If necessary use your second hand to help move more quickly but ideally keep it to one so you have your other hand free to move flour away if you need to.

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Once you have fully incorporated the sugar into the butter, add the egg yolks. I swear these yolks are actually this colour orange. Amazing eggs.

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The fact that they are cold will help to cool down the butter again to stop it becoming greasy.

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Again, efficiency is key here so move quickly until you can no longer see any streaks of colour from the yolk.

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Next, scrape off what you can and then wash your hands. Flick flour over the top of the wet mixture with your pallet knife until it is fully covered.

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Using the sharp edge of your pallet knife, push down through the flour and wet mixture in an up and down motion, moving forwards and then backwards continuously to cut the flour through the fat and sugar.

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Make sure not to move the knife in a way that will squish the mixtures together. You are effectively combining the fats and sugar with the flour as you would when making short crust pastry, just using a different method. The idea with this entire method of pastry making is to touch the pastry as little as possible with your warm hands to ensure the pastry is never over worked and at no point becomes greasy.

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Scoop under the pile to flip over any flour with your pallet knife as needed and carry on cutting in until there is very little dry dust left.

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The pastry starts to come together into large flakes with almost no dry dust left and will look a little like cheese curds.

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Form the pastry flakes into a length of sorts, set out two sheets of cling film, one atop the other, to the side and have a cutlery knife handy. Using your pallet knife, tilted with the flat edge on a diagonal open towards you, squish a very small amount (about enough to make between a teaspoon and a tablespoon) of the pastry and scrape it towards you.

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This brings the pastry dough together just as if you were to knead it with your hands, but without melting the butter to make it greasy. I generally do 4 scraping movements before using my finger to push the dough off my pallet knife onto the cling film square. You can do three to four movements at a time but any more is unadvisable as it gets a bit messy and you can’t be sure that you are bringing the dough together properly.

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Scrape the dough off your pallet knife with the cutlery knife onto the cling film. It is not good practice to use your finger. Repeat this action until all the pastry is frasiered and on the cling film square. Bring it together into a disc using the cling film and without allowing too much heat to pass from your hands to the pastry. Wrap tightly and chill in the fridge for at least 20 minutes before rolling out to blind bake.

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Roll out thinly to about about 3cm over a lightly flour surface and line any number of tins and shapes.If using small tins roll out a little thinner. This amount of dough will easily line a 24cm flan tin and leave a bit for some biscuits. Use a loose based tin and insert a parchment paper disc or shape to fit into the bottom to ensure the pastry doesn’t stick. Chill until firm.

Blind bake lined tins weighed down with parchment and baking beans for roughly 15 minutes at 190°c. Remove the beans and parchment and cook for a further 5-8 minutes. The pastry should come out with a sandy feeling bottom, no gray patches of uncooked dough and a light golden colour.

mini tart cases

While baking your pastry cases, prepare fruit and any other filling. For a simple dessert best served with whipped or ice cream, I have tightly layered in thinly sliced apples, baked the tart for a further 20 minutes in a 180°c oven directly after removing the parchment the first time (not fully baking the pastry first) and then glazed with a little warmed, slightly watered down apricot jam.

apple tart

However if you want to try something even more impressive, pipe Crème Diplomat, which is equal parts Crème Pâtissière and plain whipped cream mixed together into a fully cooked pastry and cover with fruit and apricot glaze.

mini fruit tarts

These are a true labour of love but the options are endless and the results are endlessly delicious. They should certainly be eaten fresh on the day of making them.

Honestly though, do you really need to be told? Bon Appétit!

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