Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Tart Crust: A Perfectionist's Nightmare

Five years ago, I made my first tart from scratch.  It was Thanksgiving.  I had no prior experience to compare it to so I didn't stop to overthink or analyze the hell out of the technique.  I just read the recipe and went with it and was proud of my creation when it was unveiled at the dessert table.  It wasn't until this past weekend that I realized just how much of a nightmare a tart crust can be for someone with occasional perfectionist/OCD tendencies.

It's a lot like riding The Spider at a local carnival.

This is a toy.  The real thing looks much scarier and doesn't have a marching band in front.

As a kid, I was all gung ho about those pack-and-play amusement rides.  At 7 years old, "what if"s are the last thing on your mind when you're surrounded by all sorts of colorful, flying, cotton candied stimuli.  For nostalgia's sake, I decided to ride the Spider at the 4-H Fair last summer and, I'm not exaggerating, it was absolutely terrifying.  I had this bizarre, clown-like grin frozen on my face for the duration of the ride, a futile attempt to convince myself that I was having fun.  In reality, my mind was going through every terrible, apocalyptic scenario imaginable until it eventually settled on the fact that the guys who pieced together this death machine probably didn't tighten the S-bolts or whatever they're called and the little round car that Berry White and I were riding in would be hurtled into neighboring Reston.

That's what tart crusts are like. 

This recipe is from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook.  It's a simple recipe and makes for a pleasantly sweet, sugar cookie-like crust.

Tart Crust
Recipe by Ina Garten
Makes one 10-inch round tart

3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
pinch of salt

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to mix the butter and sugar just until combined.  Add the vanilla and mix again.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt and add to the butter-sugar mixture.

Mix on low speed until all of the ingredients are combined.  The dough will be crumbly, like this:

At this point, you can pour the mixture into the tart pan or pour it out onto a work surface and slowly add it to the tart pan, a handful at a time.  Start pressing the dough into the bottom of the pan and work your way up the sides.

And this is where the OCD kicks in.

No joke, I must have worked my fingers around the pan at least 10-15 times, trying to make every single fluted edge uniform.  If I pushed down just a little too much in one area, I had to make sure the others were pushed down evenly as well.  You know what happens when you cut your own bangs, right?

Once the tart crust has been formed to your liking (45 minutes later in my case), chill it until firm.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Place a piece of buttered aluminum foil on the crust, buttered side down.  Fill it with dried beans or rice to weigh it down.

Bake for 20 minutes.

Remove the foil and beans/rice, prick the crust all over with a fork then bake for another 20-25 minutes until lightly browned.

(I forgot to set the timer so my crust is wee bit browner than I like.  Oops.)

Let the crust cool before filling.

Oh right!  We need to fill this shell with some sort of deliciousness.  More on that tomorrow.


  1. I came across your blog while working on a course assignment and I'm glad I did!
    I love it!

  2. Maybe if the marching band were in playing then it wouldn't be so scary? Maybe it would add to it? I've been watching An American Werewolf in London in bits and pieces because the darkness comes too quickly. :)

    Mmmm, the agonizing wait for what will go in the tart!

  3. Aww, man - that's like the Swinger, or whatever it is called - that one with all the innocent looking swings hanging from it. I wanted to ride that one so bad as a kid. Never decide to ride something before you see it go!! Damn thing goes so fast the swings end up parallel to the ground. I screamed the whole time.

  4. True story - When I was about 8 or 10, my grandmother made the ride operator stop The Spider and take me off because she said I looked like I was about to throw up.

    Can't wait to see what you fill this lovely shell with.

  5. Oh wow - that sounds like so much work for ...crust.

    That's why I consider OREOS dessert.

    It looks mighty delicious however.

  6. Kanika - welcome! And thanks :D Hope you'll stick around for a while...

    Margie - maybe if the marching band played something Ferris Bueller-y like Twist and Shout, I would have enjoyed it more.

    Breadandputter - YES. Those swings are nothing like the standard playground swings - it's a mean trick! And all of us have fallen for it.

    Wendi - I can't think of a better time for a grandmother's intuition to kick in. You poor thing. That Spider is no joke.

    The Shanner - let's compromise. How about an Oreo tart crust?

  7. I can see it now. This time tomorrow, I'll be figuring out how, when and where to buy a tart pan.

    So back in the dark ages when I was in college, I spent a year studying in Vienna. My parents came to visit me that Easter. One day, we decided to go to the Prater amusement park, and then to the world-famous Hotel Sacher for a slice of Sacher Torte. Worst agenda decision ever. Prater was deserted, so the operator for a ride that looks eerily similar to The Spider decided to let us stay on the ride a LOT longer than normal. We were green by the time we escaped his evil clutches. And then we were supposed to go partake in of one of the world's best pastries? Right.

    Moral of the story: Sacher Torte and Prater should always be enjoyed on separate days. Always.

  8. oh god, I hate rides, really I am like the waeakest person..an ocd crust..I love it, cuz I do the same thing, over and over, lol
    I also cut my bangs one year, wow I've had better days!

  9. Debbie - Oi. I've not tried Sacher Torte but have heard about its wonderfulness. Please tell me that didn't ruin your Sacher Torte experience for good...

    Sweetlife - I need to give myself a serious pep talk before getting on a ride. It's not easy! Glad to hear someone else shares my OCD tendency with tart crust :D

  10. Oh no, it didn't ruin my Sacher Torte experience for good. It would take a lot to do that. Now, the Mrs. Grass chicken noodle soup in a cup that I hurled over the side of my grandpa's boat when I was a kid? Done for. But Sacher Torte is still a-ok.

  11. You should make homemade pop tarts some time.