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.
250g all-purpose flour
5g baking powder
125g icing sugar
125g cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- Sift together the flour, baking powder and icing sugar onto a work surface
- Add the butter cubes and using your fingertips, rub them into the flour until no large pieces remain (pea-sized butter pieces are fine).
- Scoop up the flour and rub them between your palms, around 6-8 times, until the mixture resemble breadcrumbs.
- Make a well in the middle of the mixture and crack the egg in it.
- 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.
- 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.