I’ve put this post off for a while. Mostly because I was rather traumatized by the epic fail of it all; and obviously as a result had no desire to relive the disappointment. I mean what could go wrong; stunning short crust pastry, amber salted caramel, silky valrhona ganache and a sprinkling of fluer de sel? Well apparently, everything.
A couple of months on however, now that the sweat has dried and the tears are all but a distant disagreeable memory I can look back with a touch more objectivity. Surely after all that work something good had to have come of it! After all, it was a disaster of circumstance rather than of formula, performance or method and the much anticipated, overly planned salted caramel tart was just not meant to be.
You see, it was the height of summer with temperatures soaring, sun blazing in through kitchen windows and humidity off the charts. It was also in fact a frantic aside to the main event of this particular Saturday, the Hoppy Birthday Cake. Basically, right recipes, wrong time, wrong temperature. Moral of the story? However much you want it, however great you think your AC system is, however much you think you can defy Mother Nature, you can’t, and some recipes are just best left to chilly winter months (in which I will most definitely attempting the awesomeness which is a salted caramel chocolate tart!)
At this point you’re probably wondering if you’re actually going to get a recipe out of me or is this just a self-indulgent sob story. Well good news people, despite all of the odds being against me, what I can now share with you is one of the most beautiful short crust pastry recipes I have ever come across. Whether you call it short crust, tart, quiche or flan pastry or by its French title pâte à foncer, there is no denying that this recipe by my new hero, Michael Roux is amazing… and ridiculously simple. It’s delightfully buttery and very delicious and though less delicate than a traditional pâte á sucre, no less light or crisp. Leave your pastry apprehension and angst at the door and get ready to find your inner pâtissier!
Pâte à Foncer
Makes about 480g dough
Keeps in the fridge for a week / Keeps in freezer for up to a month.
Suitable for sweet or savoury tart shells (flans)
- 250g plain flour
- 125g butter cut into cubes
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp. caster sugar
- ½ tsp. salt (fine)
- 40ml cold water
The recipe calls to mix the pastry on a work surface. Although a stone or marble worktop would be suitable (in terms of temperature) and obviously a more traditional method I opted for something different. I have a large wide stainless steel mixing bowl and due to searing summer temperatures, I placed the bowl in the freezer for ½ an hour then proceeded to mix and work in that. It worked very well (and limited clean up too!)
MAKING THE PASTRY
Pour flour into chilled bowl. Make a well and add the butter, egg, sugar and salt.
Mix and cream the ingredients with your fingertips (I was hesitant this was something only experts would be able to do confidently but actually it was as easy as it sounds)
Slowly draw the flour into the mix, again with your fingertips. The texture will be somewhat grainy. Now add the cold water and continue to mix until the dough comes together. NOTE – The amount of liquid a pastry needs to come together is dependent on numerous factors such as moisture content of flour and weather i.e. humidity.
Once this happens, knead the dough gently by pushing with the palm of your hand a few times. You should notice the texture of the dough become smoother.
Roll into a ball, cover with cling wrap and put in the fridge. I actually roll into 2 balls or whatever size I’m intending to work with. That way the remainder can stay in the fridge. Refrigerate for at least an hour to allow the gluten to relax.
ROLLING AND LINING
Lightly grease flan ring, tart pan or pie tin. Loose base is probably most stress free. Flour a clean work surface/pastry mat and rolling pin and keep them LIGHTLY floured throughout.
Begin rolling the ball of dough. Start in the middle and roll upwards and then from the middle again, downwards. The aim is to keep the thickness of the dough as even as possible while not rolling it too thin. Approx. 3mm is a good general guide. The more you make pastry the easier it will be to gauge the suitable thickness.
If aiming for a circle turn the ball of pastry a quarter every few rolls. When the desired thickness is reached, drape the sheet of pastry over the rolling pin, this allows the fragile pastry to be moved in one piece, and cover over tin. If you prefer, or for individual tart cases, use a plate or something just larger than your pan as a guide to cut out a circle of pastry that will fit more neatly.
Gently fit the pastry into the tin. Be sure to get it into the corners and up the sides but don’t poke with finger tips.
Place back into the fridge to rest and chill for another 20 mins or up to 2 hours. Preheat oven to 190°C/375°F – Use a blunt knife of pallette knife to trim the excess pastry. Prick the base of the pastry with a fork before placing in hot oven.
Large Flan (approx. 20-23cm) / 20 mins blind / remove beans bake for 15 more min.
6 Individual (approx. 10-12cm) / 10 mins blind / Remove beans bake for 5 more min.
Baking Blind – Cut squares of greaseproof paper just bigger that your tart – I just leave them as squares. Place baking beans/pastry weights in the tart shell on the paper (I have a bag of dried chick peas I use) and bake for the required time. Take the shells out, remove baking beans and bake for the rest of the time.
When cooked, the pastry cases should be cooled on wire rack then can be used straight away or can be wrapped carefully in cling wrap and stored in freezer for up to 2 weeks – remove 30 minutes before needed, remove cling wrap. These versatile yet delightful pastry cases can be filled with any number of fillings from caramel, crème patisserie and fresh fruit or poached fruit to mascarpone, ricotta and even ganache. Also equally delicious with savoury fillings. The possibilities are endless and trying different combinations can be a lot of fun. Give it a go, you won’t be sorry!