tart shells

tart shell tutorial

This page will cover a recipe for a classic, crisp tart crust, and a couple techniques for lining small tart rings and baking them without baking weights!

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tart pastry recipe

Sometimes recipes for the same thing diverge more than you would expect – take pâte sucrée (sweet tart crust) is one example. In the table below I’ve compared the ratio of key ingredients between a variety of recipes. Recipes with more flour to butter generally also have more egg to make up for it but the composition can still vary widely (note – some of these also have icing sugar, which I didn’t account for).

reciperatio of flour to butteregg to butter ratioother
Leite’s Culinaria1.20.18
Bon Appetit1.50.27+cream
Pretty Simple Sweet1.60.43
Olivia Cuisine1.90.4
Tartine (book)2.00.4
Meilleur du chef2.00.5
Mine (gradually adapted from Tartine)1.80.43

Most often in the past I’ve been working with the Tartine recipe which I like for it’s relative simplicity – just flour, butter, granulated sugar and salt. But I often found the pastry a bit dry so I’ve slowly worked back the flour to butter ratio until I found something that usually works for me. Edit: I actually really like the additional tenderness that using powdered sugar brings to the pastry and so I’ve actually been leaning towards that lately! I have updated the recipe to reflect that, though the original proportions with granulated sugar are also included depending on your preference.

creaming method or food processor?

tart shell tutorial

The two methods I see the most often are either a creaming method (cream the butter and egg together, then add the flour) or rubbing the butter into the flour first, whether by hand or food processor, before adding the egg.

In a side-by-side comparison (see above picture), they both bake and hold their shape quite well – I can hardly tell them apart. I think the dough bakes just a little bit more uniformly with the creaming method, however, the food processor method is faster and easier!

creaming methodfood processor method
making the doughNeed to have butter and eggs at room temperature
Takes a bit longer
Can use fridge-cold butter and eggs
If you have a food processor it’s very fast!
lining the tart shellsDough is a bit more brittle and trickier to work withDough is more flexible and a bit easier to work with
holding its shapeShrinks minimally and uniformly during baking; holds its shape very wellStill holds it shape just about as well
textureTexture of the baked pastry is a bit finerTexture is a bit less fine, though (at least when the butter is worked in very finely) it’s not any more flaky
when to use this methodWorks rather well for lining small tart rings using the methods described on this page where the flexibility of the dough is not so much an issueDue to the flexibility of this dough, I prefer it when lining large tart rings or small fluted tart tins using just one piece of dough

how much pastry do you need?

I used to always try to make the minimum amount of pastry needed but it’s always much easier if you have a bit extra! You can save your leftovers, squish them together, and use them for the next project.

I think of the quantity of pastry in terms of sticks of butter (approx 115g). In the table below “1 recipe worth” = “1 stick of butter worth of pastry”. Note that these quantities may vary depending on how thick you like to roll your pastry – I roll mine 2-3mm thick, usually on the thinner side of that range.

tart tin sizeamount of pastry
four to six 3″/7.5cm tart rings1 recipe worth is easiest but if you roll the pastry to 2mm thick and re-rolling it, at least 4 can be done with 1/2 recipe
four 4″/10cm rings1 recipe worth is easiest
6 1/2″/16cm round ring1/2 recipe worth should be sufficient
8-9″ round tin 1 recipe worth
14×4.5″ rectangular tin1 recipe worth

the recipe

tart shell tutorial

This recipe makes a crisp, shortbread-like pastry. One of my favourite things about this recipe is that the tart shells don’t need to be blind baked with weights! However this method does produce a rather delicate dough, especially if you use the creaming method. It can be a bit finicky to work with unless it’s sufficiently chilled.

I don’t call it pâte sucrée any more because I’ve cut most of the sugar. To prevent the pastry from tasting bland, there’s a decent amount of salt (and half whole-wheat flour) for flavour and a nice contrast against a sweet filling.

For savoury applications, cut out the sugar entirely. You may need more flour if you use 100% all-purpose as generally whole wheat flour is a bit more absorbant.

tart pastry

  • Servings: 1 stick of butter worth of pastry
  • Print

food processor method

  • 190g flour, half all-purpose, half whole-wheat (or you may substitute 100% all-purpose – you may need a tad more)
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 25g powdered/icing sugar
  • 115g cold butter, cut into small cubes
  • 1 large egg, cold from the fridge

Place the flour, salt and icing sugar in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until combined. Add the butter and process until the butter is incorporated and the mixture has the consistency of fine crumbs. Finally, add the egg and process until the dough comes together – it will take about 30 seconds of processing.

I find it easiest to roll out the dough now. If you’re lining small tart rings, divide it into half and roll out each between two sheets of parchment paper, while it’s still soft, then chilling it completely before use. Roll out the dough to a thickness of 2-4mm. 3mm is the most classic thickness, though 2mm lets me stretch the dough further. That being said, I highly recommend erring on rolling out the dough a bit thicker (~3mm) when you’re first getting started as it will make it less delicate and it will be easier to seal the seams

creaming method

  • 115g butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 25g powdered/icing sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 190g flour, half all-purpose, half whole-wheat (or you may substitute 100% all-purpose – you may need a tad more)

Cream the butter with the salt and icing sugar.

Crack the egg into a bowl and whisk to break up the yolk and white. Add 1/3 to 1/4 of the egg to the butter and beat it – sometimes this is easiest using a loose wire whisk (a wire whisk without too many wires). Add the remaining in 2-3 additions, beating in each before the next – eventually as the mixture becomes looser you can switch back to a wooden spoon.

Sometimes, if the egg is a bit too cold or you add a bit too much egg at a time (and sometimes even if neither of those are the case), the butter will form little lumps floating in a sea of egg instead of emulsifying. In that case, I microwave the mixture for 5 seconds, then whisk it vigorously. Repeat as many times as needed (usually 2-4 times is sufficient), being sure to only microwave for 5 seconds at a time, to slowly bring up the temperature until the mixture becomes smooth. 

Lastly, add the flours all at once and stir together with a wooden spoon until a cohesive dough is formed. Roll out as described above

Note: to use granulated sugar – increase flour to 210g and use 2-3 tsp granulated sugar instead of icing sugar.

Note: to use tart shells for a savoury recipe – increase flour to 210g and leave out icing sugar.


lining small tart rings

It’s the process of lining small tart rings that I generally find the most difficult and tedious so this tutorial will focus on those. Using rings gives you tarts a sharp, clean sort of look that I quite like, but compared to fluted tart tins, they’re a bit more difficult to line with a single piece of pastry. Here I show alternate methods of patching the rings together with a couple pieces of pastry.

equipment

tart shell tutorial

Tart rings, especially perforated tart rings, tend to be expensive and I don’t actually know where to buy them so my “tart rings” aren’t actually tart rings – rather, they’re conveniently ring-shaped other pieces of equipment. There are two sizes I have, pictured in the photo above.

The 3″/7.5cm rings on the left are egg rings (i.e. to make egg McMuffins) which I got for a few dollars each at a restaurant supply store – at first I found the handles a bit frustrating (I kept knocking the rings over) but now I’m quite used to working with them. The 4″/10cm rings on the right are cookie cutters which were a couple dollars each.

(And, for that matter – the “marble countertop” in the photos? Obviously not a real marble countertop either – rather it’s a picture of marble printed on vinyl. Like the “tart rings”, it works just about as well!)

tart shell tutorial

Place the rings on a tray lined with parchment paper when you’re ready to line the tarts. Make sure you have enough room for the tray in your fridge so you can chill the tart shells. Other equipment that’s good to have is a pizza cutter and a ruler to help guide your cutting – or use a knife/sharp bench scraper.

methods

tart shell tutorial

Imagine a muffin liner: it’s originally a circle, but we make it fit into the muffin cup by pleating the edges. That’s exactly what a fluted tart tin does and why it’s quite easy to line it with a circle of dough. On the other hand, these small straight-sided tart rings are a bit more difficult because you don’t have that fluting.

That’s why I like to use different methods to line these tart rings in two pieces. We’ll be cutting a long, thin strip of dough to go along the sides and circle of dough to line the bottom. There are two main methods I’ve come across/figured out from sped-up fancy pastry instagram videos. The process differs only in the order in which the two pieces of dough are used to line the tart rings.

Method 1 lines the sides first, then the bottom. Method 2 lines the bottom and then the sides. As apparent in the above picture, both methods produce tart shells that look nearly identical apart from the location of the seam. Method 2 is a definitely easier, but method 1 looks cleaner. As method 1 is a bit more complicated and I haven’t seen it described in detail elsewhere, that is what I’ve focused on showing below.

method 1: lining the sides first

The photos show lining 3″ egg rings using one recipe’s worth of dough.

1. Rolling out the dough

tart shell tutorial

Roll out the dough while still soft. Divide into two pieces. Roll out the first between two sheets of parchment to about 2-3mm thick, or thicker if you prefer. Take off the top sheet and roll the second piece of dough between that sheet and one more sheet of parchment paper. Stack this piece of dough ontop of the first to create two pieces of dough sandwiched between three pieces of parchment. Place the dough in the fridge and chill completely.

This uses a lot of parchment so I always make sure to use it at least once more for something else. When baking, you can bake the tarts on top of the one of the sheets of parchment. And you can save any extra parchment and use it for baking other projects.

2. Lining the sides

tart shell tutorial

When lining the sides of the rings, we want to cut a strip that is longer than the circumference of the rings and a wider than the height.

Take out one of piece of dough and trim the edges to form a straight rectangle. I find it easiest to to this by using a ruler to guide the pizza cutter to ensure that the dough is cut straight. Cut strips of dough.

tart shell tutorial
tart shell tutorial
tart shell tutorial

To be flexible, the dough needs to be a bit warmer than fridge temperature! Either let the dough warm up a bit or you can help it along the way by picking up the strips gently and carefully press along the length of each strip to slightly warm and flex the dough so it doesn’t break. Use it to line the circumference of a ring.

Use a knife to cut any excess length so there’s only about a 0.5cm overlap. Press along the overlap to seal the seam.

tart shell tutorial

If your dough wasn’t rolled long enough to line a tart ring completely with one strip, that’s fine. Use two pieces as shown above.

3. Cut the bases

tart shell tutorial
tart shell tutorial
tart shell tutorial

We’re going to need a base about 0.5-0.7cm smaller in diametre than the ring to account for the thickness of the sides. If you happen to have a circular cutter that is 0.5cm smaller in diametre – great! Use that.

Otherwise, what I do is use an extra ring to cut the base. I then place it on the round of dough about 2mm shifted and use it to trim a bit of dough off that edge. Repeat multiple times, trimming a bit from all around until you have a smaller circle.

4. Line the bases

tart shell tutorial
tart shell tutorial

Now nestle the base into the bottom of each ring. To seal the seam, I press along the edges of the base and the bottom of the sides to spread the dough out a bit further and seal the pieces together.

Always lift up the ring to check if the seam is properly sealed.

tart shell tutorial
tart shell tutorial
tart shell tutorial

Sometimes the base of dough is a bit too small and there can be a gap as depicted above. In that case, those little trimmings of dough created while cutting the bases can be placed along a gap and pressed in to seal the opening.

5. Trim the edges

tart shell tutorial

Trim the excess off the edges by running a small sharp knife along the edge. At these times the handle on the egg ring is actually maybe helpful!

6. Baking

Now cover the tarts and chill the tart shells completely. Ensuring they’re completely chilled (give it at least a couple hours to be sure) helps them keep their shape when baking.

tart shell tutorial

Preheat the oven to 400F. Dock the bottom all over with a fork to help prevent the bottom from puffing up.

Bake for the first five minutes at 400F, then lower the temperature to 375F. Check around 5-10 minutes into baking to make sure the bottoms aren’t puffing up – if they are, so long as the pastry is still flexible, you can pat the bottoms down.

If you’ll be baking a filling in the tart shells later, bake for a total of only 7-15 minutes depending on the size, or until the tart shells appear dry but not browned. If the tart shells need to be completely baked, continue baking for a total of about 20-30 minutes (depending on size) or until the tart shells are browned.

If you like, after baking you can use a fine grater like a microplane to smooth down the edges of the tart shells.

If you’re using 1/2 recipe worth of dough: first roll out and chill the dough in one piece. Cut out the bases and store covered in the fridge. Re-roll the dough and chill completely – then proceed with lining the sides as described.

method 2: lining the bottom first

tart shell tutorial
tart shell tutorial

In method 2, first use a tart ring to cut out a base. Then cut a strip of dough to line the sides and press along the seams to seal. Proceed with trimming, chilling, docking and baking as in method 1.

Optional steps: sealing the tart shells to prevent leaks

Docking (and any thin cracks that might form) can allow leakage of thin/liquidy fillings. While fillings such as pastry creams, curds and ganaches will be fine, very thin fillings such as unset panna cotta or jelly could seep through. Sealing can also help preserve the integrity of the tart shell if you’re making the tarts ahead of time, regardless of filling thickness.

  • At the end of baking, brush the inside of the tart shells with a bit of beaten egg and bake for another couple minutes to cook the egg
  • I find an even better seal is to melt some chocolate (white or dark, whichever better suits the flavour profile) and brush a thin layer on the inside of the cooled tart shells. Allow to set completely before sealing.

troubleshooting

1. the pastry isn’t coming together

Sometimes the flour is a bit drier, the stick of butter is cut a bit small or the eggs are a bit less than usual. If that is the case and your pastry appears a bit dry, you can always add more egg as needed to bring it together.

2. the dough breaks when i try to line the rings

Breaks happen with delicate dough! If they’re small, try using a bit of extra dough to patch any cracks or breaks.

Breaks can happen more easily when the dough is rolled very thin. Try to roll out the dough a bit thicker – aim for around 3mm.

It may also be due to temperature. Sometimes the dough can be a bit brittle when it first comes out of the fridge. In this case, allow the dough to sit a bit longer at room temperature to soften. When it comes to lining the side of the ring, you can hold the strip of dough between your thumb and forefinger and gently press along the length to slightly warm and flex the dough so it’s able to form a circle without breaking.

Conversely, this can also happen if the dough warms up too much and becomes too soft. In that case, put the dough back in the fridge. To help the dough stay cooler for longer, place the dough on top of a chilled cutting board while working with it.

3. the bottom of the tart shells puffed up

This is the most common problem I have! To avoid the issue, begin by docking the bottom of the unbaked tart shell very well. While baking, check the tart shells after about 5 minutes to see if the bottom is puffing up. If so, remove the tray from the oven. At this point the dough is still quite malleable so press down the centre (it won’t break!) and give it another few good pokes with the fork. You can gently repeat this again later in the bake if necessary. This may not completely solve the problem, but can help a bit.

I find this tends to happen most often with thicker dough and the food processor method. Try the creaming method instead and try rolling the dough a bit thinner (closer to 2mm).

4. the tart shells came out of the oven wonky

If your tart shells collapsed or baked up into a strange shape, make sure you’re sufficiently chilling the dough. The tart shells should be refrigerated until they’re completely chilled (give it at least an hour to be super safe) before baking them to encourage them to hold their shape.

5. the tart shells cracked/broke after filling

Lining tart shells with two pieces of pastry will always mean it’s not a strong as when you line it with a single piece. And while I love how I can stretch out a bit of dough by rolling it to 2mm, this also increases the fragility.

To prevent any breakage, I’d begin by keeping the tart dough a bit thicker at 3mm. Depending on the type of filling, I also recommend the following:

Baked filling (ex. frangipane) – In this case I usually partially prebake the shells before adding the filling as it helps ensure the pastry is crisp and completely baked; however it does make the risk of breakage during baking higher! To minimize that, be sure to keep the shells in the tart rings while baking a second time with filling. The ring will provide a bit of additional support. Occasionally I’ve had a crack in the tart shell (usually along a seam) form during baking, but if you keep the tarts in the rings, the tarts can’t fall apart very far and can come out looking quite okay! Once they’re baked, the filling will hold together the tart shells so they’re quite sturdy.

Unbaked filling (ex. pastry cream) – In this case the culprit is usually moisture. Try the following:

  1. It’s best to chill the pastry cream before putting it in the tart shells as this helps maintain the crispness of the tart shell and prevent softening and breakage.
  2. I prefer to fill the tart shells the day that they’re being served. I’ve sometimes found that after a couple of days of sitting with pastry cream in them, tart shells can soften and break, again often along seams. That being said, it’s best to leave yourself enough time to chill the filled tarts for a couple hours before serving as the pastry cream will firm up a bit (enabling much cleaner slice shots!)
  3. You can also brush the interior of the tart shells with a bit of beaten egg yolk or whole egg (just watch out for globs of egg white) and bake for an extra few minutes. This can help create a seal to prevent the tart shells from softening from a moist filling.