Kitchen Basics: Pâte Brisée
One of my favourite tart doughs is the pâte brisée, also known as "broken" dough. Pate brisee is an all purpose dough that's great for both sweet and savoury dishes. In short, this buttery and flaky dough is made by cutting butter into flour, and adding just enough cold water to hold it together.
Chef Toni, a legendary pie queen who used to sell pies to Macy's New York, showed us her trick to an extraordinary brisée dough. To achieve a super flaky tart crust that shatters into delicate shards as you bite, she uses a technique called fraisage. Basically, it's a way to combine ingredients by smearing them with the heel of your hand. Now this is my favourite part. Take the dough sheets and layer them on top of each other, just like the laminations of a puff pastry. Look at all those layers! I used this technique at a practical exam and even the instructor was impressed. 😎
At school we used this tart crust for dark chocolate tart, banana cream tart, quiche and many more. Below is the recipe we used which I expanded on, but feel free to try this trick on any of your brisée dough recipes!
Makes two 8" tarts.
I like to make this by hand with the help of a pair of bench scraper. Make sure the temperature in the room is low enough and you're working on a cold counter.
250 g pastry flour or all purpose flour, plus extra for sprinkling
½ t salt
½ t sugar
125 g cold unsalted butter, cut into ¼" cubes
90 g ice water
1. Prepare your ingredients.
How? Make sure everything is cold or at least cool to touch, including your tools. Measure out the water in a spouted measuring cups and place a few ice cubes in it, making note how much the ice has melted as you are working. Cut the butter into cubes and keep in a refrigerator until ready to use.
Why? Gluten forms when glutenin, a protein in wheat flour, is mixed with water and agitated. Keeping everything cold ensures minimum gluten development.
2. On a cool surface, combine flour, salt and sugar. Cut butter cubes into the dry mixture.
How? Mix the dry ingredients with your fingertips. Using bench scrapers, cut-in the butter with chopping motions, until the butter pieces are more or less the size of lima beans and are well coated with flour.
Why? The cut-in method is similar to the rub-in method, which some recipes describe as rubbing butter into the flour with your fingertips. It's the same idea, but there is still some heat in your hand, and that temperature differs between people. Using a bench scraper eliminates that variance.
3. Add the ice water and mix until just combined.
How? Make a well in the center of the flour. Pour in about a third of your water and starting from the center, slowly mix in the flour with your fingertips. Continue adding water and mixing until all the flour are mixed in. The dough is ready if it holds together when you gently squeeze it - it may seem a little shaggy with large-ish chunks of butter still left in the dough, but that's OK.
Why? To achieve a flaky texture, it is important to not overwork it, or you will end up with tough, chewy tart shells. If there are any dry bits, simply dab your fingers with some water and gently pat the dough.
4. Fraisage the dough.
How? Gently roll the dough into a thick cylinder. Divide the dough in 4 pieces lengthwise. Lightly flour your surface and lay one piece of dough cut side down. Press dough with the heel of your palm, pushing away and smearing the butter pieces into sheets of butter. Repeat with the remaining pieces of doughs.
Why? Fraisaging ensures that the butter and dry ingredients are well incorporated without being completely homogenized.
5. Now make your dough extra flaky.
How? Peel fraisage-d doughs from your surface with a bench scraper and lay them on top of each other. You should be able to see streaks of butter all over. Gently press the dough together and wrap with plastic. Chill for at least 30 minutes. Your pâte brisée is now ready to use.
Why? This technique replicates the layering of butter and dough in the lamination of puff pastry. Fraisage-ing creates thin sheets of butter coated with flour, which is layered on top of each other.
6. To store your brisée dough, wrap well with plastic and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, or freezer for up to 2 months.