You know, it does come quite close to perfection. The fact that it turned out right on my first attempt has already raised my esteem for Monsieur Hermé by quite a number of notches. I’m not sure what your experience with making tart dough has been like, but mine involved attempting every single pie crust/tart recipe in my possession. I chilled everything, froze half my butter, used shortening, played with pastry flour, and experimented with lemon juice. I stopped short of consulting the stars before I embarked on each tart-related endeavour. So, after working my way through a significant number of recipes, I finally arrived at Pierre Hermé’s Perfect Tart Dough (or pâte brisée). He literally calls it Perfect Tart Dough. And I can see why. It isn’t a classic pâte brisée, but I do adore the richness of this crust. It is crisp and flavourful, and equally delicious with a sweet or savoury filling.
For a quick lunch earlier this week, I sautéed some diced onion and oyster mushrooms in butter before tossing in an eighth of a batch of Chef Roberto Galetti’s Braised Duck Sauce (I tweaked it for more family-friendly portions by using 250g each of celery, carrots and onions, 1.5 kg or six duck legs, 850g or 2 cans whole peeled tomatoes, 400ml red wine, and just enough chicken stock to cover the duck legs; incidentally this sauce freezes well). Next, I grated some Parmigiano-Reggiano into it before spooning the mixture into pre-baked individual tartlets. Served with a small salad, it made for a satisfying meal.
370g unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (90ml) milk, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 ½ cups (500g) all-purpose flour
Put the butter in the bowl of your KitchenAid fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on low speed until creamy. Add the milk, yolk, sugar and salt, and beat until the mixture is roughly blended. (At this point, the mixture will look curdled. Further mixing will not make it look any better, so stop after a minute or two.) With the mixer still on low, add the flour in three or four additions (if your mixer has a plastic pouring shield, use it). Add the flour steadily. There is no need to wait for the flour to be incorporated thoroughly after each addition. Mix just until the ingredients come together to form a soft, moist dough that doesn’t clean the sides of the bowl completely but does hold together. Don’t overdo it.
Gather the dough into a ball and divide it into three or four pieces: three pieces for 10 ¼ inch tarts, four for 8 ¾ inch tarts. (With four discs, you should be able to make eight to ten 3 ½ inch tartlets.) Gently press each piece into a disk and wrap each disk in plastic. Allow the dough to rest in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or for up to 2 days before rolling and baking. At this stage, the dough can be wrapped airtight and frozen for up to a month.
For each tart, butter a tart ring and keep it close at hand. Work with one piece of dough at a time; keep the remaining dough in the refrigerator.
Working on a lightly floured surface, roll the dough between 1/16 and 1/8 inch thick, lifting it often and making certain that the work surface and the dough are amply floured at all times. I found that simply flouring the rolling pin was adequate (I rolled my dough on sheets of GladBake). Although the recipe cautioned that the rich dough might be difficult to roll, I found it relatively easy to handle; especially since it responded well to careful patching with scraps of unused dough.
The recipe proceeds directly to instructions for lining your tart ring. However, my un-airconditioned kitchen in the tropics makes this a bit of a challenge. I refrigerated the rolled out dough for 15-20 minutes before I fitted it into the tart ring. The regular rules apply: don’t stretch the dough as you line the ring; run your rolling pin across the top of the ring to cut off the excess; patch cracks with scraps. Prick the dough all over with the tines of a fork (unless you intend to fill the tart with runny custard or a loose filling) and chill for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator or freezer (I opted for the freezer). Repeat with the remaining dough if necessary.
To bake the crust, preheat the oven to 350 degree Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Line each crust with parchment paper or aluminium foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans or rice. To partially bake, bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until lightly coloured. If the crust needs to be fully baked, remove the parchment and pie weights and bake for another 5 to 8 minutes, or until golden. Transfer the crust to a rack to cool.