I have spent a lot of years thinking that pastry and in particular tart shells were hard and tricky things that were best avoided by the likes of me. They always looked very neat and very perfect, and whenever I tried to make them, things would just go a bit wonky and the creation on the plate never matched the vision in my head. Instead my tarts usually looked like the creation of a slightly mad and embarrassing aunt - full marks for enthusiasm but not much else. But now, I am delighted to say, thanks to Belinda Jeffrey, I have metaphorically cracked the tart shell. This tart shell was easy and lovely, as was the filling. The secret, it appears, is in not trimming all the excess dough from the tart until you are about 3/4 way through the blind baking stage. Then you trim with a rolling pin, and eventually finish with a crust that is so perfect it looks bought. I love that! In fact, I was hard-pressed tearing myself away from admiring the beautiful crust to actually make the filling (in this case a brie and pear tart, although I will be using it for everything from now on).
You start with pastry that comes together quickly and easily in the food processor. Let it rest for a good half hour or so, then roll. Bake blind, repair any cracks, and voila, a perfect shell. I was in such a rush to make the tart that I didn't take a photo of the shell by itself - I will update this post with a new photo next time I make a pie.
from "Tried and True Recipes" by Belinda Jeffrey
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1/4 tsp salt
125g cultured unsalted butter, chilled, chopped into dice
1/4 cup iced water
Put the flour and salt in the food processor and whiz them together. Add the butter and whiz again until the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs. Then, with the machine running, pour in the iced water and process only until the pastry forms a ball around the blade. (I used the cutting blade not the plastic pastry blade, and set the food processor on its slowest speed because I was worried about overworking the pastry).
Shape pastry into a ball, then flatten it slightly. Wrap it tightly in cling wrap then let it rest in the fridge for 30-40 minutes.
Pre-Baked Tart Shell
1 quantity simple pastry
1 egg yolk
2 tsps water
On a lightly floured board, roll out the pastry into a large round (I actually use my kitchen bench for this as my chopping boards aren't big enough). I find it helps also to flip the pastry over from time to time as you are rolling it so that none of it sticks to the board / bench. Don't worry if the pastry seems stiff when you first start rolling, it will relax.
Carefully lay the pastry over a loose-based tart tin. Gently press it into the tin, leaving an overhang of a couple of centimetres all the way around. Trim a little pastry from the overhang, wrap it up and put it in the fridge in case you need it for repairs later. Put the tin on a baking sheet and then into the fridge for 30 mins to chill.
Preheat the oven to 200C. Completely cover the pastry with a big sheet of foil, pressing it down into the corners. Spread pie weights, rice or beans on top to weigh it down and put the tray in the oven. Bake the pastry for 18 minutes or until it is nearly set. Take it out of the oven and run your rolling pin over the top edge of the foil on the shell to cut off the excess pastry. Flatten out any bubbles in the pastry you can see forming as well. Return the tin to the oven with the foil and weights still in place and bake for a further 10 minutes or until the pastry is set.
Carefully lift out the foil with the weights. If there are any splits or cracks in the pastry, push little balls of the reserved pastry into the cracks and spread it out gently with your fingers. Whisk together the egg yolk and the water. Brush this over the pastry and return it to the oven for a few more minutes until the glaze has set and is golden. Remove from the oven and place on a rack to cool.