I’m not quite sure why there is so much nervousness about making tart bases. I haven’t used store bought pie crust in as long as I can remember, so trust me when I tell you it’s not cause for trepidation. There’s really not much to it – you rub together butter and flour, add liquid, chill and roll out. You might chill it again then bake it and ta-dah – there’s your pie crust.
Here’s the deal though – all pie crusts are going to shrink. Some might shrink a tiny bit, some are going to shrink a lot. In my experience, the ones that are going to shrink more always taste better because they tend to have more butter and eggs.
I have a go to tart crust recipe from Damien Pignolet’s book French. It’s buttery, almost shortbready goodness, but to make tiny tartlets I needed a dough that was going to hold it’s shape so that I could fill it with a good amount of lemon curd. I turned to the food blogging queen, Deb at smitten kitchen and her Great Unshrinkable Sweet Tart Shell. There were varying reviews; some said it worked a treat, others said the tart shrunk.
So, is the great unshrinkable tart shell really unshrinkable? Not really. It shrinks, albeit a lot less than other dough. The trade off is that it tastes a bit, meh. The texture is too hard and it doesn’t taste buttery enough. Sure you don’t need to use pie weights, but I wouldn’t use it for a full size tart base. If you’re wondering (and you’re the type to like concrete measurements) I can tell you it shrunk on average between 1-3mm per tartlet case.
Lemon Meringue Tartlets
makes 40 pcs
‘great unshrinkable sweet tart shell’ from smitten kitchen
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup confectioner’s sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
125 g cold butter, cut into pieces
1 large egg
finely grated zest of one lemon
120ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
120g caster sugar
2 free range eggs
2 free range egg yolks
120g cold unsalted butter, cut into very small pieces
pinch of salt
*makes just enough for 40 tartlets. if you want an extra jar, see the full recipe.
4 egg whites
150g caster sugar*
*I hardly ever specify to use caster sugar but if you don’t want grainy meringue, it’s worth getting for this
- If possible, make the lemon curd a day in advance to allow the flavours to develop.
- Bring a medium saucepan half filled with water to a gentle simmer. Place the lemon zest, lemon juice, eggs, salt, sugar and 20g of butter in a metal mixing bowl – make sure to choose one that will fit comfortably over the saucepan without falling in. Whisk briefly to combine ingredients – the mixture will have a bubbly or frothy consistency on the top.
- Place the bowl over the gently simmering water while stirring continuously with a whisk. The curd will slowly start to thicken – be patient and don’t turn up the water from a gentle simmer – you want to gently cook the custard and not end up with scrambled eggs.
- As the curd starts to cook, the frothy part of the mixture will start to disappear and you’ll get a velvety custard. Dip a wooden spoon in it, coat the back of the spoon and use your finger to draw a path through the mixture – it should leave a clear path. Remember, the consistency will firm up as it cools.
- Remove the curd from the heat and quickly whisk the cold butter into the curd until it’s completely dissolved leaving the curd rich, creamy and glossy. Reserve until ready to use.
- To make the tart base –
- Pulse the flour, sugar and salt together in the bowl of a food processor. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is cut in.
- Add the egg, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses–about 10 seconds each–until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and, very lightly and sparingly, knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.
- If you are making mini tart cases, don’t bother chilling before shaping the dough. After a lot of testing, I found the best way to make these was to weigh balls of dough and place each into a cupcake tin (I used 15g each for a 24 piece mini cupcake pan), then use the end of a rolling pin to hollow out the centre. Remember, the dough will shrink a tiny bit so make them a bit higher than the cupcake tin. Freeze for at least 40 minutes, then bake at 180C until lightly golden brown.
- To make the meringue – place egg whites into a clean mixing bowl and whip to soft peaks. Gradually add the sugar and whip to firm peaks. Reserve.
- To assemble, spoon lemon curd into tart shells, then using a round tip pipe meringue over the lemon curd. If you have a blowtorch, use it to quickly brown the meringue.