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How to prepare the ultimate pate brisee for savory pies and quiches

and everything you need to know about baking and storing tarts and quiches

We’ve said it many times – we love pies. And all types of savoury quiches, tarts and tartlets, too. Once you get the basic rules this kind of dish gives you an incredible freedom – every piece of cheese, ham, bacon, meat, poultry or vegetable could be incorporated in it. You can prepare almost every step of the recipe well in advance – freeze the shortcrust pastry or bake it first and then refrigerate or freeze it. Or, freeze the ready quiche and heat it, when you need it. Now, how about that?

Savoury tart with tomatoes and feta cheese

Having said all of the above, you should never miss the opportunity to have a homemade dinner made from scratch. And this is one clever and easy way to do it… that is to have a freshly made savoury pie or quiche in no time.

In our not so extended cooking experience we managed to try and test lots of recipes for pies and tart crusts. Some were … well, let’s say not that bad but others were really good (like the one for the savoury tart with tomatoes, feta and basil). Nevertheless, until recently I had the feeling that the search for the ultimate pastry crust was somehow not complete.

Different sources recommend various fat-to-flour ratios from “half-fat-to-flour” ratio to four-fat-five-flour parts. Fat is rubbed into the flour to create a loose crumbly mixture that is then bound using a small amount of ice water.

After reading about the subject in number of books, culinary blogs and articles, we finally found the right ratio for us. Well, it may not be a surprise, but let’s tell you once again – Julia Child is great! This post is based mainly on her notes about Pâte brisée – because it is all you need to know in order to prepare incredible tasty and tender crumbly crust for any savoury quiche, tart or galette.

Basic rules for a really good pate brisee (and any other pie pastry):

  1. For best results, keep everything cold – butter, water, hands and utensils.
  2. Always sift the flour and salt, after measuring, together into the mixing bowl; this helps to lighten the mixture.
  3. Good flaky pastry is judged by the evenness of the flakes and their distribution – this is achieved by even size and distribution of the butter particles that have to be smaller than a pea.
  4. Take care that fat and flour are blended thoroughly before the liquid is added – this will ensure that gluten is less likely to develop.
  5. Handle the pastry as little as possible and always use the finger-tips, and not the palm of your hand.
  6. Be careful not to overwork the dough – this makes the gluten strands longer and creates a tough greyish product, rather than light and crumbly or flaky.
  7. When ready always keep the pastry in a refrigerator, so it remains firm.
  8. Roll in one direction only and rotate the dough between the rolls. Avoid stretching the pastry as this causes shrinkage in baking.
  9. Pastry requires a hot, well-preheated oven. Low oven temperature causes pale, hard and flat pastry.

Pâte brisée - grated cold butterHere is the basic recipe:

Ingredients:

140g / 5 oz / 1 ½ cups plain white flour
112g / 4 oz / ½ cup chilled butter
½ tsp salt
½ tsp sugar
4 tbsp ice cold water

And some commentary about them:

This quantity of dough is sufficient for an 8- to 9-inch shell. For a 10- to 11-inch you need to prepare 1 ½ times this amount.

This proportions (5 parts flour to 4 parts butter) works better for soft wheat flour blended with some hard wheat, like the British plain white flour or the French flour. But if you live in a country, where plain white flour is made mostly from hard wheat, like America, you can slightly change the recipe in order to achieve a more tender crust. Substituting part of the butter with vegetable fat or leaf lard will help counteract the brittle quality of hard wheat. In this case butter will give the pastry a rich flavor, whilst the lard ensures optimum texture.

Julia Child, as many others recommends cutting the cold butter into small cubes ( ½ in. / 1 cm). Diced butter is better if you going to prepare the pâte brisée in a food processor, but if you want to do it by hand, I found working with roughly grated cold butter to be much easier. You can also use the so called pastry blender.

Pâte brisée - adding the cold waterHow to prepare the dough:

Place the sifted flour, salt, sugar and butter in a big mixing bowl. Rub quickly the flour and butter together between your finger tips until the fat is broken into pieces the size of oatmeal flakes.

The mixing of the pastry should be accomplished rapidly in a way that the butter will soften as little as possible. Julia Child recommends the use of “very quick, light finger movements” and not to “linger on the dough at all with the warm palms of the hands”.

Add the water and blend quickly with one hand and rapidly gather the dough into a mass. Press the dough firmly into a roughly shaped ball – it should just hold together and be flexible, but not damp or sticky.

Now we came to the so called fraisage - place the dough on a lightly floured surface, and with the heel of one hand (and not the palm) press the dough down and away from you in a firm, quick smear. This will ensure an even blending of fat and flour.

Gather the dough in a mass again and knead it briefly into a fairly smooth round ball. Wrap it in a cling film or greaseproof paper. You can now leave the dough in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or in the freezer for about an hour, until it’s firm but not congealed.

Pâte brisée - rolling out the pastryRolling out the dough:

Because of the high butter content rolling out must be as quick as possible, in order to work with cold dough. Once it starts to soften, it will become sticky and difficult to handle. Place the cold dough on a lightly floured surface and form a flat circle. It must be just enough flexible so that it can be rolled out with no cracking.

Lightly flour the top of the dough and start rolling the pin across centre back and forth with firm but gentle pressure. First you just need to start moving the dough. Then, with a movement from centre away from you roll to the far edge. Lift it, turn it at a slight angle and give it another roll. Continue this way, sprinkling some flour over the board and the dough if necessary.

At the end the circle must be around 0,3 cm/ 1/8 inch thick and about 5 cm/2 inches larger than the baking tin.

Any difficulties so far?

If you are not very practical in rolling, don’t be afraid – it is not so difficult. Well, probably the first few times your circle will not be even – mine were more strangely angled oblongs. If that is the case, you can cut a piece where is too much and glue it with water where you need it. Then simply press the two pieces of pastry together and smooth them with the rolling pin.Pâte brisée - transfering the pastry

The dough should be used as soon as it has been rolled out, so that it will not soften. If you can’t bake it right away, just refrigerate it with the baking dish.

Shaping

French tarts, quiches and pies are straight sided and stand supported only by their pastry shell. You can bake the shell in a bottomless flan ring or straight-sided cake tin, or shape it using two matching pie tins. You can also bake in a glass, heat-resistant pie pans, as well as in ceramic ones – they conduct the heat evenly and the crust bakes thoroughly.

Butter the inside of the tin and, reversing the rolled dough on to the rolling pin, unroll it over the tin. Another way to place it in the tin without risking to break it will be folding it in half and in half again and then lay it in the tin and unfold it there. Use that second way only with dough that is cold enough and will not stick together when folded.

Press the dough lightly into the bottom. Lift the edges of the dough and work it gently down the inside edges of the tin with your fingers. Trim off the excess dough by rolling the pin over the top of the tin or use a knife to trim it.Pâte brisée - transfering the pastry 2

Then with your thumbs push the dough a bit above the edge of the tin, to make an even rounded rim all around the tin edge. You can also press the edge around the rim with the dull edge of a knife, to create a decorative pattern.

The last thing to do before baking will be pricking the bottom with a fork here and there, line the pastry with baking paper and fill it with dried beans or ceramic baking balls. The weight of this filling will hold the pastry against the bottom and it will not rise. For this purpose I have my small, rounded river stones, well washed – I keep them in a kitchen drawer just for this reason.

Chill the shaped pastry for half an hour before baking. It can be refrigerated for up to 4 days, well covered in a plastic bag or cling film or deep-freezed.

Pâte brisée - cutting the boardsBaking

At this point you have to know what the filling of your pie will be – pate brisee can be used for both savoury and sweet tarts, but depending on the filling you can fully bake the shell – the so called blind baking, partially bake the pastry or bake the pastry and the filling all together. The last option is recommended for fillings like unbaked custard, although for the sweet tarts and pies we prefer other pastry, like pate sucre.

Generally, for the savoury fillings Julia Child recommends using partially baked pastry shells – she prefers cooking (also partially) the filling over the stove top, and then finish all in the oven. It may sound a bit too laborious, but her method gives complete control over all the ingredients and this ensures everything will be nicely cooked.

So, as we dedicated this post to savoury tarts and quiches, here the instructions for partially baked shell:

Pâte brisée - ready for bakingBake in a preheated to 200C/400F/gas mark 6 oven on the middle rack of the oven. Bake with the baking beans for 9-10 minutes, then remove them and bake for 5-6 more minutes. When the shell starts colouring and shrinking from sides of the tin, remove from the oven. If it seems to you that the sides of your shell are too fragile, bake a bit more or just don’t unmold it, until your tart is filled and finally baked.

For a fully baked shell leave it in the oven for 8-10 more minutes, until it is lightly browned.

You may need to bake a bit longer if you use ceramic baking dish – consider 5 to 8 minutes more.

Partially or fully baked, when the shell is done unmold carefully and slip it on a rack to cool. This way your tart shell will not get soggy. The shell can be baked (partially or fully) hours ahead and can be finished just half an hour before serving.

Fillings

Any mixture of bacon or ham with cream and eggs, or cheese and milk, or tomatoes and onions, or vegetables and eggs that your imagination can create can be used as quiche filling. The only thing that is important is that the mix is not too runny.

The quantity of pate brisee above is enough for 21-23 cm/ 8-9 inch shell. This size of shell can hold about 350g/12oz filling or about 1,5 cup. The filling should fill the shell by no more than 3/4 – this way it will have room for puffing slightly without spilling.

Final baking is usually made in a preheated to 190C/375F oven, in the top racks of the oven for 20-25 minutes. The partially baked shell is placed over a baking sheet and filled with the mixture. Your quiche is ready to serve when a knife plunged in the middle comes out clean.

Pâte brisée - half-baked and ready for the fillingStorage

Unrolled dough, well wrapped in plastic film, can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or 6 to 8 mouths in the freezer. When to be used, the deep frizzed dough must be thawed for 3 hours in the fridge.

The rolled pastry can also be stored under the same conditions, like the dough.

You can also deep-freeze a semi-baked pastry shell with the filling in it, but it is not recommended for other than fresh berry fillings, because both the filling and the crust will get soggy when thawed.

Fully baked quiche can be stored in refrigerator for 4-5 days. Baked quiches can be successfully frozen, wrapped in air-tight packaging, of course and should be used within 3 months.

Here the Julia Child’s recipe for an amazing Roquefort Quichе

Sources:Mastering the Art of French Cooking (2 Volume Set)
Baking 911

60 comments to How to prepare the ultimate pate brisee for savory pies and quiches

  • I love the idea of grating the butter! I’ve been using Martha Stewart’s recipe–pulsing the dough in my Robot Coupe. Very fast and easy, though I know Julia says DON’T. Any thoughts on that method–it keeps the warmth of your fingers away from the dough and sure speeds the process. Lovely photos!

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