It may look perfect and have a delicious filling, but a tart isn't truly great unless it has a well-made crust. That is, a short crust, similar to a thin butter cookie.
Short pastry is rich, tender and crumbly, rather than flaky. The French call this sweet dough pa^te sucree. The technique known as fraisage--pressing small portions of dough with the heel of your hand--is used to distribute the ingredients evenly.
After chilling, the pastry dough is rolled out on a lightly floured surface until it's about 1/8 inch thick and at least 2 inches larger in diameter than the tart pan.
Tart pans with removable bottoms make the shells easy to unmold after baking. Grease the pans unless the recipe specifies otherwise.
The traditional filling for fruit tarts is pastry cream, but you can also use sweetened cream cheese, thinned with a little milk, or creamy puddings. When possible, assemble the tarts just a couple of hours before serving.
PATE SUCREE (Sweet Short Pastry)
1 cup flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, softened
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon water
Mix flour, sugar and salt in medium bowl. Cut in butter with pastry cutter or quickly with fingers until flour resembles coarse bread crumbs.
Make well in center and add egg yolk, vanilla and water. Stir with fork or fingers until dry ingredients are moistened.
Gather dough into rough ball. Place on smooth work surface and push small portions against surface with heel of hand to thoroughly blend ingredients. Scrape dough back into ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate 30 minutes.
Place dough on lightly floured surface. Flatten into disk, cut into 6 wedges and form each into ball.
For each tart, flatten ball slightly with rolling pin, then roll out 1/8 inch thick and at least 2 inches larger than tart pan diameter.
Loosely roll dough around rolling pin, then unroll over tart pan. While lifting edge of dough with one hand, press into bottom of pan with fingers of other hand.
Cut off excess dough by firmly rolling pin across top of pan. Press dough against sides of pan with fingers, keeping top edge even with rim of pan.
Pierce base of shell several times with tines of fork to prevent air bubbles from forming during baking. Chill 15 minutes or until firm.
Fold square parchment paper into narrow triangle. Trim to make round 2 inches larger than pan diameter. Unfold and place over dough, pressing into edges of pan. Fill 3/4 full with pie weights or dried beans.
Bake at 425 degrees 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 375 degrees and continue baking about 5 minutes or until pastry is lightly browned.
Remove paper and weights. Continue baking 8 to 10 minutes until shell is browned.
Cool slightly on wire rack, then remove pan rings and cool completely.
6 (3-inch) shells. Each shell:
198 calories; 200 mg sodium; 76 mg cholesterol; 13 grams fat; 19 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 0.06 gram fiber.