How to Make Perfect Tart Shells
Getting perfect tart shells is something that can look very easy when you watch cookery shows. The reality though is that getting a perfect shell is made up of lots of small processes. All the details add together to make a thin, secure and even tart base that isn’t going to break but is also thin and crisp.
Most of the time success comes down to having the right recipe to start with. Sweet pastry should feel like fabric in your hands. Firm and pliable, but not dry or brittle is the perfect texture. Dry pastry is the worst thing to work with. Every time you attempt to move it the pastry starts to crack and you end up having to patch it up in the tin. This causes bumps and lumps on the sides and the base making it look a mess. It also ruins the structure so the shell is more likely to break when the filling is added.
I have a recipe below that I use for my tart’s pastry. In our members area there are also multiple videos of the process of how to line and bake your shells. All the video recipes for my fillings from Chocolate tarts to raspberry tarts can also be found in the members area.
Basic Sweet pastry for tart shells
250g Unsalted butter (room temperature)
200g Icing sugar (sieved)
100g (2 medium) Whole eggs at room temperature
500g Plain flour
Pinch of salt (3g-4g)
Firstly, cream together the butter and sugar lightly with a mixer on a low speed. You don’t want to beat too much air into your pastry.
Then whisk the eggs gently to break them up before slowly pouring into butter and sugar mix as it mixes on a medium speed.
Once all the egg is incorporated, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula to make sure everything is mixed evenly before adding the flour and salt.
Mix everything to a smooth dough and divide into pieces ready to rest in the fridge (see video)
The most common mistake people make when making tart shells is not letting the pastry rest.
At each stage of production the gluten in the pastry is stretched and needs to be left in the fridge to contract slightly before moving onto the next stage.
The process should look something like this:
Make dough and shape > rest > roll out dough > rest > cut and line tart shells > rest > bake.
Unrested pastry will shrink rapidly and unevenly in the oven. During cooking the pastry will retract and leave you with sides that are half of the height you would like. This stops you being able to put in much filling. Most shrinking is uneven, so you could end up with one side shallow and the other with a huge lip of excess pastry.
Another mistake is using big baking beans, these leave big dents in the pastry and don’t get into the corners.
The best thing to use for baking tart shells is raw rice.
Remember to cover the inside of your tart shell with clingfilm to stop any rice getting into the pastry. It is the best way to ensure a nice flat surface and also get into all of the little corners and cracks. This keeps the nice shape of the shells and stops air bubbles from forming underneath.
How to store pastry
A lot of people tend to steer away from making tarts in favour of quick bakes and cakes that don’t require too much preplanning.
The time it takes to make, rest, and roll out the pastry before you start building and cooking your tart can sometimes be off putting. That is where you just need to be smart with the way you work and store your pastry.
I always have some sheets of pastry in the freezer that keep for up to 3-4 months. This means that whenever I have the need for it the pastry is ready to go and I can take out a sheet. I let it warm up for 15 minutes and then start lining my tarts. So whenever you make pastry just double or triple the recipe and keep the rest for next time.
That will save all of the mixing and resting time you need when making pastry from scratch without any effect on the quality.
Using the freezer seems somewhat of a taboo in kitchens since we associate it with frozen pizza and ready meals. In a pastry kitchen the freezer is possibly the most important piece of equipment.
Making things easier
Getting dough, pastry and mousses to an almost finished state and then freezing them is the only way to ease the workload. Also most of the things pastry chefs and bakers need to do couldn’t be done without freezing items, such as glazing and spraying.
The quality isn’t affected with most things if you are not freezing cooked items such as baked cookies or cooked croissants. Please steer away from freezing anything that is is ready to serve.
Also, be sure to wrap items in the freezer very well or store in an airtight container. If you let things sit open in an freezer they will take on a musty taste. Especially more porous things like mousses and doughs. They will also get icy, dry out and cause freezer burn if left for more than a few hours uncovered.