The art of patisserie is not to be scoffed at. It takes a large amount of skill, precision, accuracy and patience to perfect patisserie. To become a master pastry chef (maître pâtissier) in France, you have to spend a lengthy period as an apprentice and pass a written examination at the end of your apprenticeship. Michel Roux Jr started his culinary career in pastry, spending two years apprenticed to one of the finest pastry chefs in France – master patissier Hellegouarche. I lack both the patience and the precision that it takes to become a pastry pro, plus my French extends no further than the rudimentary basics (“I’ll have two of those please.”)
Whilst dreams of becoming a master pastry chef may seem far-fetched, there’s nothing stopping you from being a pastry perfectionist. One of the most impressive patissiers (in my hungry opinion) is the tart. Melt in your mouth pastry filled with rich, decadent crème pâtissière and adorned with berries like the gleaming jewels in an edible crown. A little patience, plus the help of our top tips will having you mastering the art of the tart in no time.
1. MAKING THE PASTRY
Pâte sucrée is the sweet shortcrust pastry that gives tarts a sturdy base. It’s made with butter, flour, caster sugar and egg yolks and is close in texture and taste to a shortbread biscuit. You start by creaming the sugar and butter together, adding an egg yolk for extra richness and finally adding the flour to form the pastry. This can be done either in a food processor or by hand. Wrap the pastry tightly in clingfilm and place in the fridge to firm up before attempting to roll it out.
Bridget Colvin teaches our Patisserie - The Roux Way class and recommends making sure you have cold hands before you start making your pastry. If your hands tend to run warm (perfect for bread making, not so much for pastry), try running your hands under cold water just before you start working with the pastry.
2. LINING THE TART TINS
The next step after resting the pastry is to roll it out and line your tart tins. Make sure to lightly flour your work surface and rolling pin to stop the pastry from sticking and roll the dough gently in one direction, rotate 90 degrees and roll again. It’s important to make sure you have an even thickness so the pastry cooks evenly. Roll the dough over the rolling pin and ease it into the sides of the tin, using a rolled up ball of pastry trimmings to gently press the pastry into the edges and up the wall of the tin. Make sure to leave an overhang of pastry around the sides of the tin. Return to the fridge to rest for a further 30 minutes – by chilling the pastry, you decrease the risk of it shrinking in the oven.
Bridget suggests keeping a palette knife on hand which will enable you to not over handle the pastry too much. Use it to make sure your dough isn’t sticking to the worktop.
3. BLIND BAKING
Remove the tarts from the fridge and prick the bottoms with a fork as this will release any trapped air whilst cooking, which will cause the centre to ride up. Line the tins with greaseproof paper or baking parchment and fill with ceramic baking beans or any dried pulses you have in the cupboard. Bake until the pastry is firm and feels sandy to the touch, then remove the beans and continue to cook until golden brown. Due to the sugar content, the pastry will burn quickly so make sure to keep checking it.
Bridget says if you want to ensure you have a crisp tart shell, brush the inside of the case with beaten egg once you have removed the baking beans. Return to the oven for 5-10 minutes until golden. The egg glaze will give your tart shell more resistance to moisture. Adding a layer of melted chocolate to the finished tart shell also has the same effect.
4. FILLING AND DECORATIONS
The world is your oyster when it comes to fillings. A classic is crème pâtissière topped with fruit, alternatively you could use lemon curd and top with meringue to create a lemon meringue tart. Remember to glaze your tarts to give them a shine – simply heat some apricot jam and a couple of tablespoons of water until the jam has loosened. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the fruit to glaze before dusting with icing sugar and then serve (or eat yourself).
Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can easily take a recipe and make it your own. Try adding grated lemon, lime, or even orange zest to your pastry. Pastry doesn’t just have to be flour + butter + water, in fact you don’t even have to use plain flour. There are so many alternatives on offer – switch out the plain for rye or even spelt flour.
To make gluten free pastry, try using a combination of rice, tapioca and cornflour with a little Xantham gum.