“Classic dough” in this case refers to pie and tart crust. “Pie” is English and American and refers to a filling with a top and bottom crust; “tart” is French or European and has only a bottom crust.
The original pies were galettes, circles of dough topped with a filling and then folded up over the filling. These originated in ancient Egypt and were improved on by the ancient Greeks. The Greeks added fat to the flour-and-water paste, turning it into pastry. The pastry served as a container for meat, holding in the juices while it cooked and making the cooked meat portable. The Romans took this idea and ran with it, improving the filling and spreading the concept all over Europe. The Cornish pasty is simply a modern version of the Greek and Roman pie.
In medieval times, pies were made like what we call pot pie: A stew or similar put in a baking dish and covered with a layer of pastry. Pies that were made for royal festivals were similar to the modern concept of a girl jumping out of a huge cake: Pastry was filled with live animals, birds, or even human dwarves and presented to the monarch; the old rhyme “Sing a Song of Sixpence” apparently isn’t a fantasy.
Pie and tart pastry is made with flour and salt, chilled fat, and chilled liquid. It’s important to keep the pastry cold because you want the fat to stay solid until you bake it. The fat, even in its chilled solid form, coats the flour and inhibits formation of gluten, keeping the strands of gluten short (the origin of the term shortening). This keeps the pastry tender. However, if you keep the fat chilled and in pieces in the pastry, they melt during baking, releasing steam and flaking the crust.
We learned three kinds of pastry: flaky pastry (pâte brisée), mealy pastry (pâte à foncer), and cookie-dough pastry (pâte sablée; sablée means “sandy”). Pâte à foncer is similar to flaky pastry, but the pieces are fat are much smaller, so the crust is sturdier. Pâte à foncer is good for a bottom pie crust, especially in a pie with a juicy filling. Pâte sablée has sugar in it, and that makes the dough fragile and hard to handle. The more sugar there is in the dough, the easier it tears. I need plenty of practice handling pâte sablée.
We mixed large batches of dough in a 20-quart stand mixer fitted with the dough hook.
After the dough was mixed, we chilled it, then we attempted to roll it out and set up our tart crusts. In this class we made tarts in rings set on parchment-lined sheet pans. (Alternatively you can use a false-bottomed tart pan.) You flour the bench and roll out the dough quickly, rotating it so you roll it out in a circle (which is easier said than done). You never flour the top of the dough. There’s a strategy at work here: You flip over the dough and put it in the ring with the sticky side next to the ring, and then you press the dough against the ring with your thumb. This helps the dough to adhere to the ring so it doesn’t slide down to the bottom as the fat melts. Once the tart shells were set up, they had to be chilled again.
While we were waiting for the dough to chill, we worked on our fillings. The recipes for this class were quite complex: Fruit had to be cooked and cream fillings and toppings had to be made. This was so involved I didn’t have time to take photos of the processes. Somewhere in the midst of all that, we prebaked our tart shells.
Eventually, we got all our tarts assembled and baked, and then I got some photos.
Pear chibouste is a tart filled with chocolate almond cream, which is topped with poached pears, which is topped with chibouste cream, which is browned with a blowtorch. Chibouste cream is similar to pastry cream but it has pear puree in it and Italian meringue folded in at the end. So chibouste involves making the tart shell, chocolate almond cream, Italian meringue, and chibouste cream, poaching the pears, and assembling, baking, assembling some more, and torching.
Chocolate tarts were small tart shells filled with chocolate custard. These were simple, yet time consuming.
Tart beausejour is a caramel apple tart. You make the shell, the beausejour cream, and the caramel apples; beausejour cream is almond cream with whipped cream folded in. To make the caramel apples, you cook sugar in a saute pan until the sugar caramelizes, then add butter, then add peeled, cored, and quartered apples and cook the apples. Add the cream to the shell and top with the apples and bake.
Tart Catalane is a tart filled with brown butter custard and apricots (I added cherries to mine). This is similar to a plum tart I’ve been making at home, Alice Waters’s Santa Rosa Plum Tart. The custard browns on top and makes a kind of caramel crust.
After 2 hours of lecture, we spent 8 hours in the kitchen working on these. This is why in a professional kitchen you have a lot of components, like pastry dough and pastry cream, premade and stored in your walk-in, ready to use.