Every year, during elementary school, we made something for Mother's Day as a class project. If your mother really did you love you, she probably still has a stash of butterfly and heart shaped cards as reminders of how sweet you were before you entered puberty and stopped making gifts out of construction paper and glitter glue. In France, a tart is a traditional gift for Mother's day. A French tart with a tender sugar cookie like crust, filled with chilled pastry cream and topped with cold raw fruit is worth turning the oven on for, even in this heat.

Unlike most recipes that show you how to prepare pâte sucrée under perfect conditions, with perfect ingredients, and perfect execution, we'll show you how to fix common errors.

Foolproof recipes largely exist in theory only, because there are no foolproof human beings and ingredient qualities and properties can vary widely. Only Martha Stewart is perfect, at least on her show. Our test kitchen is not a television show, and we have twenty-nine years of restaurant industry experience. We've witnessed the most experienced chefs make mistakes with recipes and we've plenty of our own.

Failed Pate Sucree Dough; Credit: Patricia Escusa

Failed Pate Sucree Dough; Credit: Patricia Escusa

Pâte Sucrée is a buttery short dough used in France for tarts and filled cookies. The shell is blind baked until entirely cooked for raw fruit tarts filled with pastry cream (crème pâtissière). It's a simple dough to prepare: the trick is adding just enough liquid to pull the mixture together quickly. Some recipes include adding small amounts of water “just until the mixture comes together”; others don't list water at all.

What most recipes don't explain is that pâte sucrée is, in some ways, a forgiving dough. If your dough starts to crumble, even practically disintegrate, when you try to lift it in the tart tin, you can use a patch method. Slide the base of a French tart tin underneath the dough, place the base inside the fluted outer ring; then take small pieces of dough and press them against the inside ring. The inside of the shell won't look as perfectly smooth as Martha Stewart's, but it will even out during baking and the exterior will look just fine. More importantly, the texture and taste of the baked crust will not be negatively affected at all.

Salvaged Pâte Sucrée Dough; Credit: Patricia Escusa

Salvaged Pâte Sucrée Dough; Credit: Patricia Escusa

Pâte Sucrée: La Méthode à la Main par Sablage (Sugar Dough: Rubbed Method)

From: Farid Zadi

Note: Our version includes a little salt to heighten and accentuate flavors and lemon zest. We don't use machines because we believe that learning how to really cook involves all your senses. A sense of touch, a little finesse and some restraint are integral to making beautiful pastries. Always keep rubbed doughs cool when working with them. You can chill an aluminum baking sheet in the refrigerator and use it as a work surface for incorporating the ingredients. You can easily double or triple the recipe. Leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for 2-3 days or can be stored in the freezer for a month or two.

Makes: Enough for one 8″ or 9″ tart pan.

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1 stick unsalted butter, cut into small cubes, chilled

1 large egg yolk

1 zest of medium lemon

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons (or more) ice water

1. Create a mound of flour on a flat work surface, such as a large cutting board or baking sheet. Sprinkle on remaining dry ingredients: sugar, zest and salt. Make a small well in the center and add the cubed pieces of butter.

2. Working very quickly, rub the butter and dry ingredients together with your fingers until the butter has broken down into tiny rice sized pieces. Make a small well in the center of the mixture, add the egg yolk and sprinkle two tablespoons of ice water over the entire mixture. Combine all the ingredients with your hands, working quickly. Do not knead the dough, it should have a mealy texture. Take a little dough and squeeze it in your hand, it should bind together, if not sprinkle a 1/2 tablespoon more ice water and mix again.

3. Place the dough on a sheet of plastic wrap, flatten gently into a 5″-6″ inch disk, wrap to cover, place in refrigerator and for at least an hour.

4. Preheat oven to 350F half an hour before you plan to bake the tart shell.  Remove dough from refrigerator, unwrap and place on a flat work surface lightly dusted with flour. Roll out in 1/8″ thick disk, at least 11″-12″ in diameter, transfer to tart tin, gently press the dough against the fluted ring, trim off excess dough with your fingers.

5. Blind baking means to bake a tart shell without any filling. Prick the bottom of the dough allover with the tines of a fork. Line the dough with aluminum foil or parchment paper and top with pie weights such as beans, rice or lentils. We use pinto beans. Pricking the dough and weighing it down will prevent the dough from puffing up.

6. Place tart shell in oven and bake for 10 minutes, remove weights and lining, continue to bake for about ten more minutes or until the shell is dry and lightly golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool completely before adding the pastry cream. If the edges start to brown too much, cover the edges with strips of aluminum foil.

7. Fill tart shell with pudding or pastry cream; top with sliced fruit.

Farid Zadi is the Dean of Culinary Arts at the Ecole de Cuisine. You can follow him on Twitter or join him on Facebook.

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