Ah, a class I was definitely waiting for, where we get to make Pies and Tarts. I love pie! Pies and Tarts are simple and yet require proper technique to get a great end result, a balance between flaky and tender, textures that are at opposite ends of the spectrum.
Chef Deb provided a brief history of pie and tart making and specifically Pâte Brissée in Europe and American influence on fillings, preparation and look. We discussed the difference between a traditional American crust, usually made with everything mixed in a bowl and Pâte Brisée (European) where butter is broken into flour. Pâte Brisée is also usually rolled thinner than an American crust. A variant of Pâte Brisée, Pâte Sucrée (sweet version) was also discussed allowing us to compare savory versus sweet products.
Pies as compared to bread, which we’ll cover in a future class, require the control of gluten. Gluten is our “enemy”, as too much will result in tough crusts. Just enough is needed for structure and nothing more.
Chef Deb went over different fats that go into crusts ranging from butter, oil to lard and shortening. Each have pluses and minuses with respect to the end texture and flavor.
We also went over a blanc (blind baking) techniques and when to use them depending on what we’re making, a pie, tart or savory item.
A final key element is the rolling pin and the balance of rolling and shaping vs. overworking the dough. Properly flouring your work area is important and is a learned skill. Too much and you’re changing the ratio of lour to other ingredients. Too little and you might find your dough sticking to your work surface.
Chef Deb gave us a demo from start to finish for mixing ingredients, adding water and rolling that helped round out everything we went over and then set us out to pick recipes and get to work. I selected the Honey Walnut Tart.
Chef Recommended Books: Pies & Pastries by Time Life Books (out of print)
For this lab I ended up with a recipe that didn’t call for working with the dough by hand although there were some other components that I needed to work on that were likely going to be challenging for me, caramel and ganache.
I set out my mise for the first part, the dough more quickly this time which felt great. It allowed me to get to work quickly, which was necessary given the timing and components to my recipe.
I started out with my dough so it could be chilled while I worked on other components. As it came together in the mixer it was hard to tell if it was ready or if I needed more water.
The dough seemed dry and I kept adding more water until I thought it was ready for chilling.
As the dough was chilling, I moved on to making the batter for the filling.
The batter called for making caramel, something I’ve seen other classmates make, but I haven’t done myself. As I was making mine, Chelsea was making hers. She was using a brush to wipe the sides of her pot and I wasn’t. Uh-oh. Chef Deb had suggested she do that to stop the formation of sugar crystals which would ruin the caramel last time Chelsea made caramel. I remembered hearing that but didn’t know the technique. Fingers crossed, I moved forward until my caramel started boiling.
I got a brush with water and wiped the sides just like Chelsea was, but I couldn’t get some of the harder chunks to disappear. Chef Deb came over at one point and immediately noticed the sugar crystals starting to form and recommended we add some lemon juice to the sugar water as an interfering agent with the hope we could save my caramel.
Unfortunately it didn’t work as I was too far gone. I had to start over. Chelsea’s caramel was looking great and she carried it over to complete her recipe. As her luck would have it, the cast iron pan she was using for her Tarte Tatin was so hot that the caramel burned and she had to start over.
We both laughed at our fortune, and yet nervously worked on our next batch hoping to get it right. We did prevail and I combined the rest of my ingredients to finish my batter.
I rolled out my dough and placed the bottom into a flan ring which is a ring mold with rounded edges instead of sharp ones. I had to cool down the batter filling first so that it wouldn’t melt my dough.
Once cool, I added my batter to the dough inside the mold, spread it out and then put a top on, and rolled the edges closed. With it ready, I put it in the oven to bake.
Next was the ganache. It was quick and simple to make. With everything mixed together, I pulled it off the heat and left it on the back of the stove until I was ready. Big mistake. With my tart baked and cooled, it was time to pour on the ganache. The ganache wasn’t terrible, but it was grainy, likely from too much heat exposure. Chef Deb gave us a demo on how to easily cover a tart with ganache.
The end result was delicious, although very sweet! We also got a demo on how to decorate a fresh fruit tart.
With one final recipe to go, Chef Deb gave a brief demo on how to spin sugar or caramel with a fork. Pretty cool!
Combined with all of the other delicious items we go to eat, I definitely left class thankful for my stretchy chef pants.
My recipe, Walnut and Honey Tart
Tomato and Eggplant Quiche
La Tarte de Demoiselles Tatin
Fresh Fruit Tart #1
Fresh Fruit Tart #2
Key Observations and Learnings
- Caramel requires constant attention to make right
- Chocolate also requires attention. Too much heat or activity can result in an undesired texture.
- Everyone could have done better with their crust. It’s hard to know what was not done correctly when your crust is baked. Control for variables and overtime improve your technique.
- Pie weights and docking your dough are important for blind baking.