I’ve tried many recipes for sweetened pastry over the years, but this one still tastes and handles the best. It’s also known as pâte sucrée. The addition of egg and sugar makes the pastry shell richer and sweeter, yet less flaky, than an ordinary piecrust.–Flo Braker
Baking guru Flo Braker has the following to say in explanation of some best practices for pastry making and baking…
Chilling reduces the strength of the gluten in the flour when the dough is rolled. It also makes it easier to roll without sticking. Correct butter temperature is the key to making sweetened pastry by hand successfully. It shouldn’t be too firm (cold) or too soft (warm); the best description is cool and malleable.
Kneading the dough by smearing it with the heel of your hand is called fraisage.
It not only forms the dough into a smooth, cohesive unit, but it develops just enough structure so the dough is less likely to tear or crack while being rolled and lifted.
Place the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and process with 2 or 3 pulses just until blended.
Mix the egg and vanilla in a small bowl until combined.
Cut the chilled, firm butter into 12 to 16 pieces and scatter them over the dry ingredients in the food processor. Process the butter and dry ingredients until the mixture resembles bread crumbs, 15 to 20 seconds.
With the processor running, pour the egg mixture down the feed tube in a steady stream and continue to process just until the ingredients come together.
Remove the dough from the bowl and place it on a clean, dry work surface. Then, with the heel of your hand, smear a small amount on your work surface by pushing it away from you. Repeat with small amounts of the remaining dough. When you’ve worked all the dough in this manner, give it a couple more strokes to bring it together into a smooth, homogeneous ball.
Divide the dough into thirds. Each portion should be 8 ounces each (or a scant 1 cup). Flatten each third into a round disk 4 to 5 inches across and wrap each in plastic wrap.
Refrigerate the dough for at least 1 hour, or until the dough is chilled and slightly firm. (If you refrigerate the dough for several hours or days and the dough is cold and firm throughout, remove it from the refrigerator and let it rest at room temperature for 1 hour or until it’s cool room temperature and feels malleable, though it may crack at the edges slightly when pinched.
These doughs may be pressed with the fingertips into pans rather than rolled. However, rolling is faster, gives a more even thickness and requires less manipulation than pressing. Dust the work surface lightly with flour. Position the rolling pin across the center of the disk and push the pin away from you in one stroke; use just enough pressure to extend the dough about 2 inches. Let up on the pressure as you near the edge. If any tearing or cracking occurs as you roll, press the edges together, sprinkle with a little flour, and continue to roll. (If the dough cracks too much, it’s too cold; if it’s soft and sticky, it’s too warm. Should it crumble into pieces as you begin to roll, repeat the kneading process; this will not overwork it.)
Gently lift the dough and rotate it a 1/8th turn in one direction. Repeat rolling, working from the center out, always rotating the dough a 1/8th turn in the same direction. Lightly flour the surface when necessary to prevent sticking. If the dough does stick, carefully slide a metal spatula under that portion, lift, and dust with flour. Rub off any particles adhering to the rolling pin; they could puncture the dough.
Continue rolling and rotating until the circle of dough is 1/8 inch thick and measures the diameter you need. The most important guideline for lining the pans is an 1/8 inch thickness; any thicker will not work.
Lay the rolling pin across the upper 1/3 of the circle of dough. Carefully lift the edge of that section on and fold it toward you, draping it over the pin. (The ends of the rolling pin will remain exposed.) Roll the pin toward you, wrapping the remaining dough loosely around the pin.
Lift the rolling pin and suspend it 1 inch above the farthest edge of the tart pan to allow for a 1 inch overhang. Unroll the dough toward you, easing it into the pan’s contours as you go. (Unrolling the dough toward you, rather than away from you, is best since you can see the pan and guide the dough precisely.) When the dough is completely unrolled, mold it into the pan’s crevices, pressing down slightly with fingertips until it fits snugly against the sides and bottom. If it tears, patching is easy: press the two torn edges together.
Rest the rolling pin on top of the pan, and roll across with enough pressure to cut off the overhang on all sides. (The overhang can be as much as 1 ounce for an 8-inch quiche pan, but that is preferable to not having enough dough to fill the pan evenly and efficiently.)
At least 15 minutes before baking, position the oven rack in the lower third position and preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).
To parbake the tart shell (to be used with a custard filling that’s only briefly baked), line the pastry with a large sheet of parchment paper and weigh the crust down with dry beans or pie weights to keep the crust from bubbling or shrinking. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until firm and lightly browned. Let cool and then remove the parchment and beans or weights. To prebake the tart shell (to be used with a filling that isn’t baked), bake the tart shell for 17 to 22 minutes, or until the shell appears golden, looks done, and contracts from the side of the pan. After the initial 5 to 7 minutes in the oven, the shell may blister; if so, prick the bottom in 3 or 4 places with a metal skewer, allowing the steam to escape so that the dough will fall snugly in the pan again. It’s important to prick it before it bakes too long and sets its shape.
Let the pastry cool in the pan on a wire rack. After 5 minutes, place it on top of a can smaller than the baking pan, releasing the pan’s metal rim from the baked crust. Fill the tart shell and serve the day it is baked.