I love making crust. Part of me loves it because, let's get real, crust is amazing--it's the best part of the cake. But part of me also loves it, selfishly, because a lot of people are scared of it, but I'm not. And let me tell you why....
I'm not scared of crusts because I approach the crust-making process with optimism and an open mind, and an aim to enjoy myself. I think it's all about your state of mind. Like in the (highly underrated) movie Waitress starring Keri Russell, I think the emotions you're feeling as you're making a recipe impart a certain je ne sais quoi into the finished product. Feeling stressed about what you're making? You'll feel that tinge of trepidation in the texture. Feeling excited about trying something new? A spark in the crumb. Feeling optimistic and hopeful with that pie filling? Lightness and breathability in the taste.
So, a good perspective in embarking on the journey. And a good, clear recipe with minimal directions to trip you up. Here's my strategy: (1) pop your butter in the fridge or freezer for 5 minutes before starting, (2) have your ingredients ready, and (3) rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips (or press with a pastry blender) until you feel like you're at the beach. That's what gets you to breadcrumb stage, and that's half the battle.
The other half is mixing in the liquid. Honestly, this is where I usually feel like I did something wrong, so don't worry if you do. I usually start mixing it in lightly with a rubber spatula, then when things stop splashing around, even if not all dry ingredients are moistened, I turn it out onto a surface and use my hands to bring it all together. If you've ready any "Tips and Tricks" articles about pie crusts, you'll feel like you're working the dough too much and it'll come out "tough" like all the experts say it will. But don't worry: food is way more forgiving than Food Network makes you feel it is.
Mary Berry, foxy minx as she is, had a very cool idea when it comes to rolling out the dough. Usually, you roll it out on a floured surface, then roll it up like a fruit roll or fold it like a crepe to transfer it into the baking dish, but because tart pans have a removable bottom, she recommends you roll it out directly on the bottom, then lift that into the outer ring of the pan and press it in.
A couple tips in doing this.... First, if you don't roll it out big enough, like me, you can always patchwork the dough, tearing off pieces from where you have too much, and pressing it into sections where you don't have enough. Second, make sure to press the dough firmly into every crevice of the tart pan. Third, chill the dough for 10-15 minutes in the fridge before baking. I didn't, and as you'll see, I had a good amount of shrinkage, which messes with the amount of filling you can fill the tart with, and could cause overfilling--again, happened to me.
This post is just full of tips--bookmark it! My next tip has to do with "parbaking" or "blind baking" or basically, baking your crust before you put the filling in, so your custard filling doesn't give you a soggy wet mess. Or, as they put it so deftly on GBBO, the dreaded "soggy bottom."
I don't have any pie weights, and I don't like beans, so I didn't have any of the normal things you put into the crust to weigh it down and prevent bubbling. The cheapo way to do this is to just prick it with a fork a bunch like I did. The biggest piece of advice for blind baking though is don't be afraid to get it brown. Like, really brown. The lighter it is, the less cooked it is, and the more filling will soak into the crust. If you have a crispy golden brown-to-brown crust before filling, then you'll have a crispy, flaky crust after filling.
The filling here couldn't be more simple. Take everything and whisk it all together. I was hesitant at first, because it called for four lemons. After Mary Berry's EXTREME lemon soufflé bonanza, I thought this would end up too tart (ha - pun not intended), but it was actually the perfect balance for me. Still a little tart for the husband, but if you're a fan of lemon desserts, you'll be a fan of this. Especially after sprinkling with powdered sugar and a nice heaping pile of whipped cream. I mean, it's dessert--don't limit yourself.
If you're wondering why my sugar is in a magic bullet container, it's for DIY caster sugar. See the recipe below.
Because I had shrinkage in my crust, I had too much filling for the tart, but I didn't let that stop me from using as much of the filling as possible. Were I competing on GBBO, this obviously would not be ideal, so I was cool with the overflow, but I would recommend trying to not overfill your tart pan. It makes it more difficult to remove from the pan, because the filling cooks into a rather sticky custard, and acts a glue between the crust and the pan.
Once I was able to pry the crust from its pan though, I could tell it was going to be good. The crust maintained that toasty brown color, the custard filling wobbled, but wasn't liquid. I couldn't wait to cut into it.
I had to wait, though. When sprinkling powdered sugar on things, they have to be room temperature or cooler, or the sugar will melt into the baked good. So, I put the pie next to a breezy window to cool it off quicker, and whipped up some cream to make the pictures look all pretty.
When I sliced into it, I knew it was going to be good. The knife cut through the filling easily, and there was a satisfying crunch when I applied pressure to get through the crust.
And look at that: no. soggy. bottoms.
Tarte au Citron
makes one 9" round tart
175 grams (6 ounces) FLOUR
25 grams (1 ounce) POWDERED SUGAR
100 grams (3 1/2 ounces) BUTTER, chilled
1 large EGG YOLK
1 tablespoon COLD WATER
5 large EGGS
1/2 cup (4 fluid ounces) HEAVY WHIPPING CREAM
225 grams (8 ounces) CASTER SUGAR* (or granulated sugar)
4 LEMONS (juice and zest)
1. Grease and flour your tart tin
2. Measure out FLOUR and SUGAR into a bowl and rub BUTTER into those ingredients with your fingers or a pastry cutter until the mixture resembled breadcrumbs, wet sand, or your own analogy (alternatively, you can do the crust assembly in a food processor, but I refuse to clean one of those)
3. Add the EGG YOLK and COLD WATER and mix with your hands or a rubber spatula until most of the dough is moistened
4. Turn the dough out onto a surface and knead 2-3 times until it becomes smooth (if too sticky, wrap in plastic and chill for 15 minutes in the fridge
5. Take the bottom of your tart tin and place it on a piece of parchment, then put your ball of dough on the tart tin bottom
6. Roll out the dough to about 2" wider than the tin bottom (to account for the pan rim)
7. Fold the overhang loosely inwards, and lift the tin base off of the parchment paper and put it into the surrounding tin component.
8. Press the dough firmly into the tart tin, and take the overhang you rolled out and press it into the sides of the tin.
9. Place the tart tin onto a baking sheet and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes
10. Preheat the oven to 400F
11. Prick the entire bottom of the tart with a fork before placing it into the oven (optional: add a piece of aluminum foil on top of the crust and fill with beans, pie weights, or rice)
12. Bake tart crust for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown and completely dry (if using beans, pie weights, or rice, bake 10-15 minutes, remove aluminum foil, and bake an additional 10 minutes)
1. Break the EGGS into a large bowl, add CREAM, SUGAR, and LEMON JUICE and ZEST, and whisk until completely combined and smooth
2. Open the oven and place the baking sheet with the crust on the rack, then, with the oven door open and the rack accessible, pour the filling into the tart crust and push the rack back into the oven and close the oven (note: this weird process will keep you from spilling tart filling everywhere)
3. Bake 30-35 minutes, until the outer edge of the tart is set, and the center is slightly wobbly, but not liquid
4. Leave to cool about 15 minutes, then when the tart is firm enough, remove by either holding the bottom or placing it on a jar or mug, and gently pushing the tart sides down and away, then slide a thin spatula under the tart and transfer to a plate
5. Serve warm or cold, dusted with sifted powdered sugar or top with whipped cream
* a note on CASTER SUGAR: Caster sugar, while common (I think) in the UK, is not so common in America. We have granulated sugar. Granulated sugar particles are larger than caster sugar particles, so 1 cup of each will actually have a different amount of sugar, and mess with the sweetness of the final product. However, 8 ounces by weight of each type of sugar will be equivalent. Caster sugar is preferred in custard tarts such as this one because it dissolves easier in the liquid before baking. You can very much just use granulated sugar and be done with it, but in my effort to be more exact, I took the 8 ounces of granulated sugar I had and threw it into a blender for about 20 seconds until it was broken down into smaller particles -- DIY caster sugar
A personal challenge to conquer every technical challenge, and select signature bakes, from The Great British Bake Off
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