French Tart Dough

In my second baking class at the French Culinary Institute I learned a lot about the different French tart doughs, what their components are, working and molding them and of course tips to baking them.

As mentioned in my Baking School – Week 2 post, the 3 most frequently used tart shell doughs are:

  • Pâte Brisée – “Broken Dough” – Flaky with little flavoring
  • Pâte Sucrée – “Sweet Dough” – Used exclusively for sweet tarts
  • Pâte Sablée – “Sandy Dough” – Very similar to a Pâte Sucrée, but with a high proportion of sugar – becomes crumbly, almost cookie like – Frequently referred to as shortbread dough.

The Pâte Brisée is the most basic and can be used for sweet or savory tarts. When you begin adding  a hint of sugar to the basic Pâte Brisée mixture, the dough becomes a Pâte Sucrée and when even more sugar is added the structure of the dough changes and it becomes a Pâte Sablée.



Flour                           Butter                      Sugar                      Water

The basic ingredients, flour, butter, sugar and are mixed differently for the 3 basic doughs. The choice of one specific dough over the other depends on the requirement of the recipe and on whatever feels good to you that day. If you’re having a strong sweet tooth that day, go with the Pâte Sablée!

The best flour to use in a tart dough is cake or pastry flour. This will produce a dough that is tender and low in protein. This is important because with less protein, there will be less gluten developed as the dough is worked and the pastry will stay tender.

Butter is almost always used in classic French pastry. I don’t know about you, but whenever I think of French baking I always think about Julia Child. Her favorite ingredient was butter. She said that “Fat gives things flavor” and I completely agree! The butter plays 2 roles in the tart doughs:

  • Tenderize – Prevent the build up of gluten by separating and lubricating the proteins in the flour
  • Provide Flakiness – Keeps the components of the dough separate until the dough starts to set its structure during the baking process

The butter must be VERY cold when added to the flour or it will just soften and melt which is not what we want.

Sugar affects the flavor, color and texture in a tart dough. When added to the Pâte Sucrée, it imparts sweetness and when added to the Pâte Sablée, it imparts both sweetness and texture. The difference in color that you’ll notice with the different level of sugar in the doughs is created from the caramelization during baking. Sugar also prevents the gluten development which in turn makes the crust more tender.

The liquid used in classic French pastry is usually water, but this can be substituted for milk, eggs, juice, sour cream or cream cheese. Water however, gives the least flavor and contributes to gluten development. It is important to add the liquid in small increments so that you can judge when the dough is moist enough. A dough that is too dry will be hard to roll out and may crack whereas a dough that is too moist will stick to the work surface, be difficult to mold and will shrink when baked. Another important thing to remember is that the liquid should always be VERY cold when added to the flour-butter mixture so that you don’t melt the butter.

A very important part of the pastry making process is chilling the dough before working with it. Any pastry dough should rest in the fridge for a minimum of 30 minutes after it’s made. This allows the gluten to relax and will create the flaky, tender crust and will prevent the dough from shrinking when it’s baked. The dough should also be chilled for a second time after it has been molded in the tart shell before you fill it.

There are several different baking method for tarts. The simplest, and the one we used in class this past Saturday is the one-step method. The raw shell is simply filled and the tart shell and the filling are baked together. This is the most common way to bake a tart and probably the method you’ve seen the most of. The second method is used when making a fresh fruit tart or others where the filling cannot be baked or must be baked quickly like a ganache tart. This is the 2-step method which is referred to as “blind baking” or cuire à blanc. This method requires the tart shell be partially or completely baked and then cooled before any filling is added.

Now that you have all this new knowledge about tarts, you’re ready to create your own!



7 Responses to “French Tart Dough”

  1. Shaina Vogenthaler January 18, 2012 at 5:44 pm #

    I dugg some of you post as I cogitated they were extremely helpful very useful

    • Anna March 17, 2012 at 7:14 am #

      Best PIE DOUGH EVER!!! Wel I haven’t tried it yet, but i know that it will be easy and fun to make coz I hate recipes of pie dough that calls for Add eogunh water to make a ball of dough I hate that because the pieces of dough keeps falling .I like your recipe coz it’s soft and I can knead it Thank you for sharing all of you wonderful recipes!!! I LOVE IT LOVE IT LOVE IT!!! ^_^

  2. Kyra Farhart January 19, 2012 at 5:59 pm #

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  3. Stormy Duin February 23, 2012 at 4:04 pm #

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  4. Sonu March 2, 2012 at 8:24 am #

    I did use bread flour, it was not a particularly humid or cold day. When I mrausee flour I try to not pack it but gently spoon it into the cup and level off. After going through the breadmaker dough cycle, the dough poured onto the cookie sheets and only rose a tiny bit more in half an hour in a slightly warmed oven. It was liquid enough that scoring it with a pizza cutter left no lasting impression. It made about 8 breadsticks and did taste amazingly like crazy bread- it was very light, too, not heavy like bread I’ve made that didn’t rise or messed up in some other way. I did the topping a little differently too, I pressed fresh garlic and left it in the earth balance. I made an almond meal/nutritional yeast/salt sprinkle. It really was crazy good! Other than the extremely liquid condition of the dough before baking, I would consider it a total success.


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