Crumbly Pastries: Short Pastry, Pâte Brisée

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Crumbly but firm pastries are especially prominent in French cooking, where thin but robust crusts support quiches, various savory pies, and fruit tarts. Where American pie crusts are too tender to support themselves and are served from the pan, French tarts are almost always removed from the pan and stand on their own. In the standard French version of crumbly pastry, pâte brisée, coarse pieces of butter and egg yolks are placed in the midst of the proper amount of flour, and the liquid and solids gently worked together with the fingers to form a rough dough. The dough is then kneaded by pushing it into and along the work surface with the heel of the hand, an action that disperses the butter finely into the dough. The butter separates small flour aggregates from each other and prevents them from forming a continuous, tough mass, while the egg yolks provide moisture, fats, and proteins that will coagulate during cooking and help hold the flour aggregates together. The butter may be replaced by vegetable oils, poultry fats— chicken, duck, goose—and lard and beef tallow, depending on the nature of the filling. The dough is allowed to rest in the refrigerator to firm its consistency for the subsequent rolling out and shaping.