For those daunted by pie and tart dough, a pat-in-the-pan crust can be a saving grace. The method, which involves pressing crumbly dough into the base and sides of the pan, is both simple and ultraforgiving, allowing novice bakers to commit a multitude of sins. But the technique has its limits: Pat-in‑the‑pan crusts are nearly impossible to distribute in an even layer, so they always bake up a bit chunky, leaving less room for the contents. This means that either the filling must be assertively flavored or you have to build above the edge of the tart, as you would for a classic fruit tart. For a truly elegant, slim crust that can cradle the maximum amount of filling, the training wheels have to come off: You must graduate to a classic rolled-out crust.
Now, before you panic: You needn’t be a professional pâtissier to attain such a shell. While many methods for this type of crust are intimidatingly fussy, involving repeated chilling, precise rolling, and careful shaping, I managed to find a way to simplify and streamline the process such that it’s just as foolproof as, and only a bit more involved than, patting a dough into the pan.
Picking a Pâte
Traditional French pastry doughs range from flaky and savory to shortbread-like and sweet. For an all‑purpose dessert shell, I opted for a dough firmly on the sweeter side: pâte sucrée. This pastry typically contains more sugar than pâte brisée (the French equivalent of American pie dough), but more important, the butter is incorporated differently, getting thoroughly worked into the flour rather than being left in small chunks. This results in a finer, shorter crumb.
I had only a couple small quibbles with the classic ingredients for the dough. In addition to flour, butter, confectioners’ sugar, and flavorings such as salt and vanilla, the formula often calls for an egg yolk instead of a whole egg and about 1 tablespoon of heavy cream. I’m fine with separating eggs, but I’d rather not buy a container of cream to use such a small amount, especially because the butter already provides plenty of richness. So I omitted the cream and added the whole egg, knowing the egg white would replace the cream’s moisture and its protein would provide a structural boost. The ingredients came together quickly in the food processor, forming a soft, uniform mixture that resembled cookie dough.
The shaping and baking steps were where I was really hoping to make some updates to the classic method. The process most home bakers typically follow goes something like this: Chill the dough for at least an hour; roll it out to a big, thin round; carefully transfer the delicate dough to a tart pan; and ease it up the pan’s sides, patching the inevitable breaks and cracks before chilling it once more. Suffice it to say, it’s a time-consuming and often frustrating method, but as I pulled my dough from the food processor in preparation for that first lengthy chill, I had an idea about how I could shave off some time and toil. Instead of chilling the dough in a disk, waiting for it to soften, and then rolling it out, I could roll it out straight from the food processor with the help of some parchment paper.
I plopped the dough onto a large piece of parchment and placed another on top. I pressed with my hands until the dough was about half an inch thick, and then I picked up my rolling pin. I gently rolled toward the edges of the parchment until the dough was a uniformly thin rectangle—so much easier than struggling with hard, brittle, refrigerated dough. I slid the parchment package onto a baking sheet and popped it in the freezer. In less than 30 minutes, my soft dough had transformed into a rigid plank. Perfect.
Easier Route To An Ultraslim Tart Crust
1. Using the tart pan like a giant cookie cutter, cut out a fluted base and fit it into the bottom of the pan.
2. Fit the excess strips of dough along the sides of the pan to create thin, elegant sides.
3. Trim the top to force the dough into the flutes for a pretty and clean edge.
While I was at it, I wanted to rework the inelegant step of squishing the dough into the contours of the pan. I couldn’t quite picture accomplished pastry chefs doing something so clumsy—and after doing some research, I learned that they don’t. Efficiency is a top priority in pastry kitchens, and all that squishing and patching would take too much time. Instead, pastry chefs cut out a crisp disk of chilled dough and position it in the bottom of the tart pan (or, more commonly, in a steel ring set on a baking sheet), and then they build the sides of the tart with neat strips of dough placed around the edge, spliced together in one or two places. As the tart shell bakes, the edges and bottom meld into a tidy, thin crust.
I set my chilled dough plank back on the counter; removed the bottom from my tart pan; inverted the ring over the dough; and pressed, cutting out my tart base like a huge, fluted cookie. I cut the remaining dough into 1-inch-wide strips. I lifted the round from the parchment, fit it snugly into the assembled tart pan, and then fit the strips around the sides. This tidy process took about 5 minutes and produced the neatest tart shell I’d ever formed.
I chilled the shell while the oven heated and then lined the shell with foil, filled it with baking weights, and baked it for 30 minutes. Then I removed the foil and weights and returned the shell to the oven for 10 more minutes to brown.
And there I had it: an ultrathin, crisp crust with sharp right angles and perfect flutes that wouldn’t be out of place on a pastry shop counter. And the hardest part of the whole process, arguably, was choosing a filling to go in it—with a picture-perfect tart shell, the possibilities are endless.