Pâte sucrée (pronounced pat-sue-cray) is the sweet, crumbly dough that gives tarts a sturdy, tender base for custards, creams, and fruit. When it's made well, pâte sucrée has the crumbly texture of a buttery sable cookie. It tastes like shortbread but is able to support even the heaviest filling without falling to pieces. The most basic version contains just butter, sugar, eggs, cream, flour, and salt, but I like to experiment with flavors that complement the filling within by adding cocoa powder, coconut, or extracts accordingly.
When making a simple dough like pâte sucrée, the devil is in the details. Taking the extra time to mix the dough properly is always important, and so is having the patience and planning for chilling the dough, carefully rolling and shaping the dough to ensure that it's of uniform thickness so that it bakes evenly and doesn't break, and allowing the tart shell to properly cool before filling.
When you are making a tart shell with pâte sucrée, be sure to follow these guidelines:
- Plan ahead for full chilling. The dough requires two turns in the fridge, at least two hours to chill down after mixing (it can be made up to two days in advance or frozen and thawed for use), and then an additional hour once the dough has been formed in the tart pan.
- Avoid over-mixing the dough. More mixing than necessary will cause the gluten to develop, making the dough difficult to work with and producing a tough crust.
- When chilling the formed tart, leave some overhang around the sides to compensate for shrinkage.
Click through the slideshow to learn tips and tricks along the way. Then, check out this recipe for basic pâte sucrée, bake yourself a tart shell, and fill it with pastry cream and fruit, caramel and chocolate, or whatever else your heart desires.
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About the author: Lauren Weisenthal has logged many hours working in restaurant kitchens and bakeries of Brooklyn and Manhattan. She is a graduate of the Artisan Bread Baking and Pastry Arts programs at the French Culinary Institute. You can follow her on Twitter at @evillagekitchen.