Things I have learned as an apprentice pâtissière:
- how to cut onions without crying blue makeup tears: peel them, put them in the freezer for five minutes, then slice
- how to make a rose out of almond paste
- how to beat a flan into submission with only minimal injuries
- to shake hands with bakers to say hello and good-bye, none of that fancy-pants kissing
- how to win a free croissant/pear-praline tart: say mmm, that looks delicious, though you will quickly long for a plain apple
- only knead your pastry three times
Proper tart pastry: the first thing they taught us at pastry school, aptly enough. (It still annoys me how much prettier “pâtisserie” sounds in French than the bland all-purpose pastry or bakery in English.) Just gently rub the butter and flour between your palms. Knead it three times only. Chill before rolling. Carefully lift into the tart ring. Press firmly around the edges so that you could tip it upside down (our grumpy teacher tested a few unlucky students whose pastry collapsed onto the counter).
Now fill with whatever takes your fancy, and bake. Apple slices with a shiny glaze brushed on afterwards? Frangipan with blueberry? Walnuts and dried apricots with a maple-brown sugar-butter syrup?
Simple tart pastry (pâte a foncer)
15g icing sugar
pinch of salt
Sieve flour and sugar together onto worktop. Cube the butter and start rubbing into flour mix with fingertips until mostly broken up. Then rub between palms with minimum pressure, letting it fall back down again. When the mixture resembles breadcrumbs (so the butter is more or less evenly distributed, but don’t be too fussy) stop and make a big well in the middle.
Whisk the egg, water and salt so the salt dissolves then tip into well. Mix in with thumb and two forefingers. When the mxiture ressembles a loose ball, knead it three times. Flatten into a neat square, 1 cm thick, clingfilm and chill.
Roll it out on a floury surface, applying even pressure. Keep shifting the pastry, flouring underneath if necessary, to avoid sticking. Roll up around rolling pin and lift into (pre-buttered) tart pan, gently press around the sides.
Prebake it for a ganache filling. For a classic apple tart or tarte amandine, add your almond cream or apples before baking.