Monday, February 14, 2011

Pâte sablée

In French pastry, the short-crust dough can mean a lot of things. 
It can be the pâte à foncer (or brisée), the pâte sucrée or the pâte sablée

What's the difference among them all? The point at which the butter is added and the ingredients.

The pâte à foncer is the most basic of them. It's made by cutting the butter into the flour and it does not use any sugar or baking powder. It's the shortcrust dough for savory tarts and some sweet tarts like the classic tarte aux pommes.
The Pâte Sucrée contains icing sugar and is made by creaming the sugar and the butter first before adding them to the dry ingredients. The result is a base that's firmer (less crumbly) than the pâte à foncer. It's used for dessert tarts, from the classic French pear tart, to the lemon or chocolate tart.
Pâte sablée, is a variation of the pâte à foncer. It's made in the same method by cutting butter into the dry ingredients but it has the addition of icing sugar and baking powder. It's the most crumbly of all the doughs and, in fact, it is the dough for shortbread biscuits.

The similarity? The mixing of the dough. The aim of any tart-making process should be to prevent elasticity and developing gluten in the tart. In other words, to handle or knead the dough in the least amount possible. Why? Because gluten will make the tart hard as cardboard and coarse as sandpaper. The tart base should have visible layers of dough. The method they taught us in school is strange but it does the trick. 

Pâte sablée

250g all-purpose flour
5g baking powder
125g icing sugar
125g cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 egg

  1. Sift together the flour, baking powder and icing sugar onto a work surface
  2. Add the butter cubes and using your fingertips, rub them into the flour until no large pieces remain (pea-sized butter pieces are fine).
  3. Scoop up the flour and rub them between your palms, around 6-8 times, until the mixture resemble breadcrumbs.
  4. Make a well in the middle of the mixture and crack the egg in it.
  5. Break the yolk and slowly mix it into the mixture until it forms a dough. Don't knead. If there are dry pieces of flour, take the formed dough in your hand and 'dab' it onto the dry pieces.
  6. Gather the dough into a rectangle, and using a metal scraper, cut a small part of the dough and push it down onto the work surface with the blade. Do this 3-4 times on the same piece of dough. It should look curled in the end.

   7. Do this to the rest of the dough and gather the curls in a cling wrap.

   8. Pat to flatten and refrigerate until needed.

A pie and the foolproof way to make caramel sauce

One other flavor that can rival chocolate in its sweet, velvety and comforting goodness is most probably caramel. In the past, I tended to overlook this ingredient. It was too sweet, too sticky and plain difficult (i.e. scary!) to make. The first time I made caramel, it burnt. The second time, it was way undercooked. After that, I stayed away.

However, the past week had given me a fresh perspective.

I had just completed the second week of pastry internship and the major task was to make caramel. Caramel ice cream, soft caramel candies and caramel ganaches for chocolate bonbons. I had no choice but to face my fear. Thank goodness for my leader. He showed me some tips on how to avoid caramel disasters and most important of all, the color to pour in the cream. Seeing the whole process put caramel in a new light for me. It is tricky, but it is amazing how something as simple as sugar can be transformed to taste, smell, look and feel differently. Not forgetting, the best partner of caramel is the salted butter.

Then there was the cafe. At first glance, Le Loir dans la Théière's maroon walls and dim-lighted interior don't stand out much. Look further, and it's one of those rare places in Paris with armchairs, wall-posters and a not-trying-too-hard ambience that you can sit in all day. They have a long table filled with the desserts of the day. Homey desserts. There is always a tall, bursting lemon meringue pie (their specialty), a crumbly chocolate tart, big slices of almond cake and a towering, long millefeuille. Last monday, they had Banoffee.
The banoffee came in a rectangular slice: the top two thirds was whipped cream, then a layer of banana slices in a brown sauce (coffee came to my mind) and finally a biscuit. The first bite confirmed that the filling were bananas in caramel and the base a crispy, crumble-like tart dough. The caramel was the ingredient that brought all the elements together.

I couldn't stop thinking about the Banoffee after my caramel week. I googled the recipe and strangely enough, the original dessert (from Britain) doesn't even use real caramel! The recipes said to boil an unopened can of condensed milk for 3 hours. I couldn't believe it at first, but now...
Yes, the color did change. The result is not as nutty or fragrant as the real deal but it still tastes great for this pie. Best of all, it's easy to make. Guaranteed. Just make sure that you cover the can fully with water at all times. Otherwise it might explode.

makes a 22cm tart
adapted from here

250g Pate Sablée or any other shortcrust pastry dough
1 can (375g) condensed milk
3 large bananas, sliced
300ml whipping cream
3 tbsp mascarpone cheese
1/2 tsp instant coffee
1 tsp caster sugar
vanilla extract
cocoa powder, for garnish

  1. Immerse the unopened can of condensed milk in water and boil it for 3 hours. Check every 15-20 minutes to ensure there is enough water to fully cover the can. Add more if necessary.
  2. Preheat oven to 190C.
  3. Butter and line a 22 cm tart pan with shortcrust dough
  4. Bake the tart shell filled with weights for 25 minutes. After, take out the weights and bake for a further 8 minutes or until golden brown.
  5. Cool the tart shell and the can.
  6. Fill the tart shell with the caramel filling.
  7. Layer with the banana slices.
  8. In a medium bowl, whip the cream until soft peaks.
  9. In a separate, smaller bowl, mix the mascarpone cheese, instant coffee, sugar and extract until the cheese is soft and the coffee granules well dissolved.
  10. Add the cheese mixture to the cream and whisk until well combined.
  11. Spoon or pipe the cream onto the banana layer.
  12. Sprinkle with cocoa powder.


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