I’m A Failure! Everyone Hates Me! I Can’t Roll A Tart Pastry!

Break out the violin, here comes another sad story of Adam failing in the kitchen. It’s happened before—the last time I made a tart, in fact. But when I follow that link and look at those pictures, my trouble then is NOTHING compared to my trouble now. Oh woe is me!

You see, tomorrow night my Forms of Drama teacher, Carol R., is having us to her apartment for a dinner party. We’re each supposed to bring something. I volunteered dessert and people expect things of me. I am a food icon, at least in my school. For the past few months, I’ve fed my classmates rugelach, pecan bars, mudslide cookies and much much more. This was my chance to really knock their socks off. Maybe I still will…

See, my tart’s not ruined. It’s just not what it’s supposed to be. I got the recipe from the Bouchon Cookbook. The dough contains butter (11 Tbs), confectioners sugar (3/4 a cup plus a few Tbs), salt and flour. I combined it, as directed, in my electric free-standing mixer. Then, as directed, I dumped the dough out and formed a disc. I wrapped it in plastic and refrigerated for one hour.

Even here, I knew I was in trouble. When I made the disc, the dough began to crumble. It was a crumbly dough! I said to myself, right then and there: “This will never roll out.”

But I had faith. I believed in Thomas Keller. I believed that when I put my mind to it, I can accomplish anything. I believed I can fly… I believed I can touch the sky…

So anyway, one hour later… the dough comes out. I’m ready to roll. As per someone’s suggestion way back when, I sandwiched the dough between two pieces of plastic wrap. I whacked it with my rolling pin to begin the flattening process. I did everything I could to ensure no cracks and this is what resulted:

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Now from your vantage point in the safety of your office, living room or bathroom, this may look a-ok. It looks like it held together, but look closer. There are cracks, my friends. These are the cracks that cause earthquakes, that end marriages, that make plumbers a household nuisance. And this is what happens when you transfer cracked dough to your tart tin:

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Oh ha ha, very funny…I hear your derisive laughter echoing across the internet. THEY’RE ALL GOING TO LAUGH AT YOU!!!! No no no!!! Make it stop, mama, make it stop!

Where did I go wrong? How did this happen? Am I cursed when it comes to pastry? Was I born to microwave hot dogs for the elderly? Where do I go from here?

Dejected, I almost gave up, but then I remembered those lyrics—I believe I can fly—and they reminded me of some other lyrics—I believe the children are our future—and that reminded me of Disney world and Futureland and this ride they used to have called Delta Dreamflight. My stream of consciousness was drowning me, so I scrunched up the dough, made another disc, tried to roll it out again, it didn’t work, i sprinkled some water on it, that was dumb, I rolled it out some more and then plopped it in to the tin and pushed it all around until it looked halfway decent, I baked it and this is what resulted:

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No bad, hm? I mean, ok, sure, I’d get fired from The French Laundry, no question, if I presented this to Tommy K., but for the purposes of this dinner party tomorrow, I’m sure it will pass. And looks don’t matter, it’s what’s inside that counts, right? RIGHT?

Speaking of which, what’s inside? It’s a pastry cream and it came out really nice. I simmered milk, sugar, and a vanilla bean, then added an egg, 4 egg yolks, and corn starch and whisked and whisked until it firmed up. Then I added 4 Tbs of butter and 2 Tbs of Grand Marnier (which I just purchased for the first time). I poured it all (as directed) into a baking pan and let it cool to room temperature. Here’s what it looked like:

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Custardy, pastry cream goodness. It’s refrigerating now and the flavors are melding. JEALOUS?

So the pastry cream will be good. Did I tell you what kind of tart this is? It’s supposed to be a strawberry tart, but I’m using raspberries. Tommy says not to assemble until 4 hours before serving so I’ll assemble it tomorrow night before the party. I purchased piping tips the other day at Williams Sonoma so maybe I will pipe this pastry cream into the tart shell. Then I’ll arrange the raspberries (which, I must tell you, I won’t wash because The Barefoot Contessa says not to wash raspberries–they trap water and it’s not worth it–so if I die and the guests die, you’ll know why) and, finally, sprinkle it all with powdered sugar. Powdered sugar makes everything ok. In fact, I’m going to sprinkle myself with some powdered sugar and go to bed. Sweet dreams…unless I have another pastry dough nightmare!

14 comments

  1. I don’t know what to say…this is exactly what happened to MY CHRISTMAS COOKIES DOUGH last year. Had to refridgerate it a few times, but there were still cracks. We’ll find out why and get to the bottom of this!

  2. When pastry dough cracks like that from the beginning, there is not enough moisture in the dough to hold it together.

    If you are going to roll it out, it needs just a little bit of water in it in order to get a little bit of gluten action in the dough, otherwise it will not have the resilience to roll out and stretch as it needs to.

    That dough is basically a shortbread, which you never roll out. You just pat it into shape–what you did with patting it into the pan was exactly correct for that kind of dough. You did nothing wrong. Without a tiny bit of water extent in the dough in order to promote gluten formation, you -cannot- roll it out. Cannot. It will not happen.

    You did fine. Stop thinking it was you–it was the recipe.

  3. regarding what Barbara said about not having enough moisture in the dough, i looked up the recipe. did you add 8 ounces or a scant 2 cups of flour? if you measured by volume, that may have caused you to add too much flour. just a thought.

  4. I suck at rolling out dough, so I now use another little trick – instead of forming a disc before you put it in the fridge, form a log. Slice thin slices of the cold log, put them side by side in your dish – mosaic-style – and push them all together. Voila! Perfect, every time. Or at least as perfect as I can make it.

  5. ┬┐In that case is it the dry measure versus liquid measure situation? -which I am yet to figure out- I know that they are somehow different from each other.

    Let’s go metric and finally solve the whole problem.

  6. Adam, I worked in one of Australia’s best French restaurants whilst on a sabbatical from my real job (academic economist) last year and my mentor, chef Alain Fabregues, used to push (and probably still pushes) a similar pastry into a tart tin with his thumbs, bypassing any rolling out beyond a basic roll to thin. It always came out brilliantly. So, the lesson I learned was don’t beat yourself up if you don’t roll a pastry into the tin as per the usual instructions! Thumbs do a great job! Don’t panic! The pros do it too.

  7. I think this would be one of my worst nightmares when it comes to cooking with pastry. A crowd to please and standards to meet.

    I hope it goes well. And hopefully there will be a little pic to see the tart with raspberries

  8. but…but…but, AG, dear AG, have you forgotten the triumph of your glorious Lemon Sabayon Tart? I certainly haven’t, since it inspired me to make the dessert. So you certainly have had tarty triumphs, although it’s true that no rolling was involved. And perhaps therein lies the truth that your other readers are driving home…press-in dough is sooooo much less stressful than roll-it-out dough…

  9. don’t worry. tart dough is a bitch to get perfectly pretty the way it looks in the cookbooks. you did the right thing with the shortbread dough. i think it looks fabulous. i use francois payard’s recipe from “simply sensational deserts”. it rolls out enough to stay together to put in the pan if sandwiched but is nice and shortbread-y when done.

    i am so jealous of your theatre friends for getting to eat something that sounds so good. hmmm…i think there are raspberries in the kitchen. maybe i need a tart too?!

  10. May I suggest the pâte sucrée from Chez Panisse Fruit? It’s a dream of a dough and if you don’t feel like tart-ing you can use it to make the most delicious jam thumbprint cookies. I’m paraphrasing the directions here because I’m too lazy to type them all out.

    “This dough is easy to make, it never gets tough from rolling, and it doesn’t shrink when baked.”

    1 stick unsalted butter, room temp.

    1/3c sugar

    1/4t salt

    1/4t vanilla

    1 egg yolk

    1 1/4c unbleached ap flour

    Beat butter and sugar together in medium-sized bowl until creamy. Add salt, vanilla, and egg yolk and mix until completely combined. Add flour and mix until there are no dry patches. Wrap ball of dough in plastic and press into a 4″ disk. Chill until firm.

    When rolling out, dust a 14″ square of parchment with flour, center the disk of dough on it, then dust dough with flour. Put another 14″ parchment square on it and roll the disk into a 13″ circle about 1/8″ thick. If the dough starts to stick to the paper while you are rolling, peel the paper back and dust with flour again. Then flip the whole package over and repeat on the other side. If there is excess flour on the dough when you are done rolling, peel back the paper and brush it off. Chill the whole thing for a few minutes.

    To make an 11″ tart, remove the top sheet of paper and invert the dough into the tart pan. Peel off the remaining piece of paper, press dough into edeges of pan, and pinch off any overhang. Use dough scraps to patch any cracks. Let tart shell rest in freezer 10 min before baking.

    To make cookies, roll dough or dough scraps into 1″ balls. Roll balls in sugar and place them 1″ apart on baking sheet. Thumbprint them, then bake 12 min at 350°F. Then take them out of the oven and fill with jam, lemon curd or something else yummy. Return to oven for about 5 min, until dough is light golden.

    Recipe makes enough for one 11″ tart or 30 cookies. (Somehow it always makes only about 24 cookies for me.)

  11. Oh whoops, here are the instructions for prebaking the tart shell.

    Transfer shell directly from freezer to oven, and bake at 350°F until slightly golden, about 15 min. Check pastry halfway through baking and pat down any bubbles. Cool before filling!

  12. I am sitting at my desk at work and just cracking up- I’m not laughing AT you, I’m laughing at your brilliant comedy writing! I am your new biggest fan.

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