I enjoyed tasting the chocolate-orange pie that my niece Renana Kahn baked recently at her parents’ home in Jerusalem. Not only was the filling delicious; the buttery crust was perfectly baked and delicately crisp. When I asked how she made the pie shell she said, “I baked it blind.”
Renana, who is taking a professional baking course, clearly knew what she was doing. Baking blind, sometimes called prebaking, is a patissier’s technique used for tarts and single-crust pies. The term means baking a pastry shell on its own before adding filling, to help the shell stay crisp. But the shell is not baked empty. If you baked it empty, wrote my friend Susan G. Purdy in As Easy as Pie, the oven heat would cause “steam in the dough to push up large bubbles in the crust.” To prevent this, and to inhibit shrinkage, you cover the dough with foil and weight it down during baking. You can buy pie weights or simply put uncooked rice or dried beans in the foil.
Although many home bakers and even restaurant cooks skip this step, baking blind is beneficial to tart and pie pastry, helping it to become pleasingly crisp. It can prevent what happens all too often with homemade and restaurant-baked pies; the filling is tasty but the crust is disappointingly soft.
Because baking blind acts as a kind of insurance against soggy pastry shells, European patissiers consider it an essential step in tart making.
Margit Stoll Dutton, author of The German Pastry Bakebook
, makes all her tarts from murbteig, which she defines as “a first-class cookie dough, tender and crisp with a fine butter flavor.” It is quite similar to French pâte sucrée, the sweet buttery pastry preferred for dessert tarts. Dutton feels that “the variety of murbteig doughs coupled with the enormous range of fillings constitutes one of Germany’s finest contributions to baking and gastronomy.” Her recipes for murbteig dough, which are flavored with vanilla, lemon zest or rum, vary in their degree of sweetness and proportion of butter.
Sweeter dough gives crisper pastry but is harder to roll out. Dough with less butter has baking powder to lighten it.
Dutton bakes all her tarts blind, whether she partially bakes the shell in order to continue baking it with a filling, or whether she bakes it completely before adding fillings that need no further cooking. She uses pie weights to hold the pastry against the pan during baking. “Otherwise the sides will slip down and air pockets will form in the bottom.”
For her fresh Italian berry tarts, Michele Scicolone, author of La Dolce Vita
, also prebakes her buttery lemon-flavored dough. Before putting the pastry in the oven, she pricks the bottom of the tart shell with a fork. Parisian pastry chefs I have studied with explained that doing this, in addition to baking blind, prevents the dough from bubbling up and cracking.
Before baking any type of pie shell, chill the shaped dough for at least 30 minutes. Purdy explained that this firms the dough and “relaxes the gluten, thereby helping to make the pastry tender, and also reduces shrinkage.”
Whether you are baking cream pies, fruit tarts or the citrus-scented almond tart below, using these simple techniques will produce finer results.TIPS:
✦ To make rolling rich dough easier, roll it on a cold, floured surface, such as marble, or on floured wax paper.
✦ If the dough gets too warm and soft while you are rolling it, refrigerate it to firm it up before continuing to roll.
✦ If you are using rice or beans as pie weights, save them so that you can reuse them for this purpose.LEMON-ORANGE ALMOND TART
The crisp, citrus-scented cookie-like base and rich almond filling give this tart Mediterranean flair. Teri Appleton, a former testing assistant of mine who became an innovative professional pastry chef, used a similar tart as a base for delicious fruit tarts by setting seasonal fruit, such as halved strawberries or mango or peach slices, on top of the baked tart.Makes 8 servings
✔ Sweet Citrus Pastry (recipe below)
✔ Dry uncooked beans or rice (to use as pie weights) rolling pin and unroll it over pan. Gently ease dough into pan. Roll rolling pin across edges of pan to cut off dough. Push up sides so they will be slightly higher than edge of pan. Refrigerate for 2 hours; or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Set oven to 200ºC and heat a baking sheet in oven (see Notes below). Prick dough all over with a fork. Line dough with parchment paper or aluminum foil, shiny side down, and fill about half full with dried beans, making sure that they reach edges. Bake for 5 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 190ºC and bake for 10 minutes.
Remove paper and beans and bake for 5 more minutes or until base is just beginning to turn golden. Remove tart pan from oven but leave baking sheet in oven. Let tart shell cool. Reduce oven temperature to 175ºC.TO MAKE FILLING
Grind almonds with 2 tablespoons of the sugar in a food processor until very fine and remove. Puree strips of orange and lemon zest with remaining sugar in processor until zests are ground in very fine pieces. Beat eggs and zest-flavored sugar until smooth. Stir in ground almonds and melted butter. Last stir in lemon juice and orange juice. Pour into baked tart shell. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until filling is golden brown and set. Serve at room temperature.
Note 1: Setting the tart pan on a hot baking sheet during baking helps to keep the pastry crisp.
Note 2: Watch rich tart pastry recipes with a high proportion of sugar like this one extra carefully because they brown rapidly. If the pastry is becoming deep brown and the filling is not yet set, cover the pastry edges with pieces of foil to prevent burning.SWEET CITRUS PASTRY
This cookie-like dough is my favorite type for fruit tarts. You can save leftover dough or trimmings to make cookies; wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and freeze it.Makes enough for a 25-cm. round or a 23-cm. square tart.
✔ 11⁄4 cups all-purpose flour
✔ 1⁄4 cup cake flour or additional all purpose flour
✔ 6 to 7 Tbsp. sugar ✔ 1⁄4 tsp. salt
✔ 110 grams (1⁄2 cup) unsalted butter or margarine, very cold, cut into bits
✔ 1 large egg, lightly beaten
✔ grated zest of 1⁄2 orange
✔ grated zest of 1⁄2 lemon
To make pastry in a food processor: Combine both types flour, sugar, grated orange and lemon zests and salt in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process briefly to blend. Scatter butter pieces over mixture. Mix using on/off turns until mixture resembles coarse meal. Pour egg evenly over mixture in processor. Process with on/off turns, scraping down occasionally, until dough forms sticky crumbs that can easily be pressed together but does not come together in a ball. Transfer dough to a work surface.
To make pastry by hand: Sift both types flour onto a work surface and
make a well in center. Add egg, sugar and salt and mix them using your
fingertips. Pound butter to soften it and cut it in pieces. Add it to
well and quickly mix with other ingredients in well until partially
mixed. Gradually draw in flour to make coarse crumbs. Toss mixture,
rubbing it between your fingers, until crumbs begin to stick together.
Blend dough further by pushing about one fourth of it away from you and
smearing it with heel of your hand against work surface. Repeat with
remaining dough in 3 batches. Repeat with each batch if dough is not yet
Using a rubber spatula, transfer dough to a sheet of plastic wrap, wrap
it and push it together. Shape dough inside its plastic wrap in a flat
round disc or square, according to shape of your tart pan. Refrigerate
dough for 4 hours or up to 2 days.Faye Levy is the author of the award-winning
Chocolate Sensations, of
Fresh from France: Dessert Sensations and, in Hebrew, of
Sefer Ha’ugot (the book of cakes).