Holdiay Food Guide

“Pastry-making…is one of the most important branches of the culinary sciences. It unceasingly occupies itself with ministering pleasure to the sight as well as the taste.” So said Mrs. Isabella Beeton in The Book of Household Management, first published in 1880.

A rather staid way to describe the near-magical creation of a glistening, chocolate-glazed caramel tart, or the conjuring of delicate squares of thyme-scented shortbread, no?

There is nothing staid about pastries, of course, and that has much to do with what is arguably the most important ingredient in the art and science of baking: butter.

  • Butter Basics
  • Shortbread
  • Tarts
  • Coffee cakes
  • Cream puffs
  • Recipes


Tarts, while similar to pies, are not quite the same thing. Like crusts, tarts are filled crusts baked in a pan, but they are shallower and wider than pies, and they almost always are prepared open-face. And while we serve pies straight from the pan, we usually remove a tart from its pan to display it before cutting.

Although tarts can be made with flaky pie dough or many-layered puff pastry, they more often sport a crust made from butter-plush, egg-enhanced short dough, which is less fragile than pie crust and much, much easier to prepare than puff pastry. Eggs provide flexibility in the dough and structure in the crust. (You can also use egg yolks instead of whole eggs, for their rich yellow color. Free-range, organic chickens are most likely to have the richest color and nutrients.) Butter, of course, lends its oh-so-special, signature flavor, as well as the fat content that it needs to produce a crumbly, tart-worthy crust. Most bakers add sugar to the crust dough when the tart will be served as a sweet dessert.

Tarts come in many shapes—round, rectangular, square, even free-form—and the filling possibilities are nearly endless; think fruit tarts, chocolate tarts, nut tarts, cheese tarts, vegetable tarts. In addition to being delicious, they are elegantly beautiful, a “step-up” from pie.
And now for some tart-making tips:

  • Start with cool or cold butter to make short dough for a tart crust. If the butter is too soft, the dough will be, also.
  • Beware of adding too much flour to tart dough, lest it become too crumbly and difficult to work with.
  • Likewise, be careful not to over mix tart dough, or it will develop too much gluten and become tough. After you have formed the dough, you can help the gluten to relax again by chilling it. Then let the dough warm up just a little before rolling it out.
  • Use metal baking pans that conduct heat well and don’t warp for baking tarts. Professional bakers typically use round pans that are 10 to11 inches wide and 1 to 2 inches deep, with fluted edges for an attractive presentation and a removable bottom for fuss-free tart removal.
  • To remove a tart from its false-bottomed pan, first use the tip of a sharp knife to loosen the sides all around, and then gently push the tart up from the bottom. Run the knife around between the crust and the metal bottom, then slide—do not lift—the tart onto the serving platter.
  • To let the quality of the butter and the flavor of the filling come through, serve a tart at warm or room temperature.

Click for the following recipes: Caramel Walnut Tart and Lemon Tart.

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