In France, this is the classic savory tart crust — great for quiche, pies and tarts. Although some pretty good pre-made options exist, nothing tastes as good as homemade pâte brisée. Buttery and crunchy, but sturdy enough to stand up on its own when removed from the pan.
The ingredients — flour, butter, water and salt — are similar to the standard American pie crust, but blended differently. For the American pastry, cold butter is rubbed into the flour to create a flaky, irregular texture. The French work with slightly warmer butter and blend it more thoroughly into the flour to get an even distribution of fat. The difference in technique produces a finer, uniform, less crumbly pastry that is stronger than the flaky American crust. For an even sturdier, richer crust, sometimes they’ll add an egg yolk. This type of crust is known as a Pâte à foncer.
This recipe calls for “European-style” butter. This means, at least in theory, a butter that conforms with European standards for butterfat — 82% higher than the normal 80% in the United States. The higher butterfat means less water, and less water means a flakier, more crispy pastry with a richer flavor. If you can only find standard supermarket butter, you may need to adjust the quantity of flour to achieve the same results.
Pâte Brisée Pastry
For two 9-inch (23 cm) shells
1 ¾ sticks (7 oz/190 g) European-style butter, unsalted, at room temperature
1 teaspoon (5 g) fine sea salt
3 ½ tablespoons (5 cl) cold milk or ice-cold water
1 ¾ cup (250 g) all-purpose flour, plus more if needed
*For sweet tarts or pies, add 2 tablespoons of sugar to the dry ingredients.
1. In a food processor fitted with a plastic pastry blade, pulse the butter until creamy. Add the cold milk or water and salt, pulsing to mix. Scrape down the sides.
2. Add the flour. Pulse just until the flour is incorporated. The mixture should be crumbly but moist. Turn the dough out onto a piece of parchment paper and start to work it, crushing it under the palm of your hand as you push it away. Using a pastry corn or your hands, pull it back together and work it again until it forms a homogeneous mass. Add flour if necessary. It should be soft but not sticky.
3. Divide the dough into two balls. Flatten the balls to form discs. Wrap individually in plastic film or parchment paper and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight (the disc can be wrapped in plastic film and frozen at this point for up to 6 months). If the dough is chilled longer than 2 hours, allow it to warm for 30 minutes at room temperature before rolling.
4. Line the bottom of a non-stick tart pan with a removable bottom with parchment paper, cutting the paper just slightly larger than the base of the pan. This will help you to remove the paper later.
5. Roll out the dough on lightly floured parchment paper into a 12-inch (30 cm) round about 1/8 inch (3mm) thick. Transfer the dough to the tart shell and use light pressure to fit the dough into the bottom and edges of the pan. The dough will extend over the rim. Cut the pastry so it is flush with the rim of the pan. Lightly prick the bottom of the tart. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or wrap in plastic film and chill for up to 24 hours. If your recipe ask you to pre-bake — blind bake — the tart shell, proceed to the next steps. Otherwise, you can fill the uncooked tart shell at this point and bake.
6. Heat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Place the rack in the bottom of the oven.
7. To partially blind-bake the tart shell, line the bottom of the unbaked pastry with parchment paper (crumple the paper first to help it fit better) and add pie weights (or dried beans). Bake the shell on the bottom rack of the oven for 15 minutes. Remove the parchment and weights, then fill and bake according to your filling recipe. Or to fully bake the shell to fill later, after removing the parchment and weights bake another 15 to 20 minutes or until evenly brown.
Leek Tart made with Pâte Brisée Pastry
1 tart shell lined with pâte brisée as described above through step 6
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 oz (150 g) fresh soft goat cheese
4 oz (120 g) pancetta (or bacon), diced
3 large eggs
2/3 cup (15 cl) heavy cream
Pinch of nutmeg
1. Remove the greenest part of the leeks, split the white part in 2 lengthwise and wash in plenty of water. Drain and cut into thin slices.
2. Melt the butter and oil in a large skillet, add the pancetta and cook until crisp. Add the leeks to the same pan and cook for 10 minutes, covered and stirring often, until the leeks are tender. Let cool.
3. In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the cream and the goat cheese, add the cooled pancetta and leek, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Stir in the leeks and pancetta and mix well.
4. Preheat the oven to 390° F (200° C).
5. Pour the leek mixture into the unbaked tart shell. Place in the oven on the lowest rack and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the tart is just set and the crust is golden.
6. Serve hot with a seasonal salad.
Charlotte Puckette is a Grand Diplôme graduate of Paris’s Le Cordon Bleu, co-author of The Ethnic Paris Cookbook, as well as a private chef, caterer, cooking instructor, food consultant, and hostess.