Culinary Arts

Chef Dominique Ansel’s Tart Shell (Vanilla Sable) Recipe

Written by MasterClass

May 24, 2019 • 7 min read

Food & Wine may have called him a “Culinary Van Gogh,” while the New York Post coined him “the Willy Wonka of New York,” but for Chef Dominique Ansel, magical pastry starts with the unassailable basics. A well-baked, melt-in-your-mouth shell is an essential component of building a traditional French fruit tart with modern sensibility and beautiful presentation. Master this vanilla sable tart shell, and the possibilities are endless.

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What Is a Tart Shell?

A tart shell is a freestanding shallow, formed pastry crust that provides the base for an open-faced pastry. Chef Dominique blind-bakes his tart shells, which involves baking the dough fully by itself (weighted to keep its shape) so that it can be served with unbaked fillings, like pastry cream and fruit. Mini tarts, like those used for pastel de nata or Chinese egg custards, are occasionally referred to as tartlets.

What Is Tart Shell Used For?

Tart shell is used in a number of classic pastries, from fruit tarts to egg custards to savory mini-quiches.

What’s the Difference Between Pie Crust and Tart Shell?

Flaky, firm pie crust is made from flour, fat (like butter, shortening, or lard), cold water (occasionally including vinegar) and salt. Tart shells, on the other hand, are made with a conventional pastry dough: flour, butter, water, and occasionally sugar, which results in a more crumbly, “short” crust when baked. Other pastry dough recipes, including Chef Dominique’s, incorporate egg to lend a boost in structure.

What Equipment Do You Need to Make Tart Shell?

To make tart dough, you need:

  • A large mixing bowl
  • A rolling pin
  • Parchment paper
  • A small paring knife

Tart shells can be made in tins with removable bottoms that make it extra simple to shape and free the baked shells before assembly, or by using a tart mold on a baking sheet (as seen in the recipe below). If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can pulse the dough in a food processor until it resembles a coarse meal, then finish the knead by hand.

Use Tart Shell With:

  • Fruit tart. Layer thinly sliced fresh fruits over a layer of pastry cream, a creamy conduit for marrying the pastry crust, fruit, and jam, the last of which is used to add pops of intense fruit flavor. A clear glaze, also called a nappage, helps seal in the moisture of your fruits on top, preventing them from drying out, oxidizing, and looking unpleasant. (When it comes to making your pastry cream, feel free to flavor it with whatever complementary flavors you like. For a strawberry tart, Chef Dominique sticks to traditional vanilla, but for apple, he infuses the milk for the cream with a cinnamon stick to extract its flavor.)
  • Lemon tart. In a classic tarte au citron, fresh lemon curd is layered into a tart shell for a simple and bright presentation. Whisk together 2 cups lemon juice, 2 tbsp lemon zest, up to 1 ½ cups sugar (start at 1 cup and adjust as needed to preference), 8 eggs (plus 8 additional egg yolks), and 3 sticks butter together in saucepan over medium heat until thickened. Strain the curd before adding to a pre-baked (and blind-baked) tart shell, then bake at 350 °F until the custard is just set, about 5 minutes. Filling can either be the same width as the crust, or a bit thicker; save leftover curd in the refrigerator for toast or scones. Let cool completely.
  • Savory mini quiche. To go savory, omit the vanilla seed and fill the tart shell with egg custard and any number of toppings.

Find more pastry techniques in Chef Dominique Ansel’s MasterClass.

Dominique Ansel’s Vanilla Sable Tart Shell Recipe

  • 81g (1⁄2 cup + 2 tbsp) confectioners’ sugar
  • 127g (9 tbsp) unsalted premium butter, softened (plus more to butter your tart ring)
  • 50g (1 each) large egg
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped
  • 186g (11⁄2 cups) all-purpose flour (plus more as needed for dusting)
  • 47g (1⁄3 cup + 1 tbsp) cornstarch
  • 1g (1⁄2 tsp) kosher salt

Equipment:

  • Stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment
  • Rubber spatula
  • Rolling pin
  • Sheet pan
  • Parchment paper
  • 8-inch tart ring
  • Small paring knife
  1. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the confectioners’ sugar and butter for 30 seconds on low speed. Add the egg, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, and mix on medium speed until evenly combined.
  2. Working on a cutting board, press the vanilla bean flat, then use the tip of the paring knife to halve it lengthwise, from tip to tip. Turn the knife blade over and use the back of the blade tip to scrape the seeds from the center of each half.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, stir in the flour mixture and vanilla bean seeds until just combined and no more dry patches are visible, about 10 seconds more. Finish mixing the dough by hand to ensure it is not over-mixed. The dough should be creamy, smooth and have the consistency of cookie dough.
  4. Transfer the dough to a sheet of parchment paper on your work surface and sandwich it with another sheet of parchment paper, flattening it into a 1-inch thick disk. Transfer the dough disk to a sheet pan or baking sheet and refrigerate until firm, 30 to 45 minutes.
  5. Liberally flour the work surface and a rolling pin. Unwrap the dough and transfer it to your work surface. Roll out the dough out into a rectangle about 1⁄8 inch (3mm) thick. (Make sure to work fast so the dough doesn’t get too warm.) Place on a sheet pan and loosely cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. (If you feel your dough is still cold and easy to work with, you can proceed directly to the next step without chilling the dough sheet.) Tip: You can also roll out the dough between two sheets of parchment, if you find that your rolling pin is sticking to the dough. It also helps when transferring the rolled out dough onto the sheet pan before chilling in the fridge.
  6. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and slide the dough sheet to a work surface. (Peel off the layers of parchment paper, if using.) Using the tart ring as a guide, cut a circle from the center of the dough sheet that is 1 inch (2.5 cm) wider than the outside of the ring, so that the dough round will be big enough to come up the sides of the ring.
  7. Now: the fun part. You’re going to “fonçage” the tart dough, or form it into a tart shape in the tart ring. First, butter the inside of the tart ring. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and place the tart ring at the center of the pan. Place the dough round on top of the ring. Push down gently with your fingers and press the dough along the inside of the ring, making sure to get into the inside edges. It’s important here not to press too hard and to keep the tart shell an even thickness so that it doesn’t bake unevenly. Use a paring knife to trim the excess dough hanging over the edge of the ring. Return to the refrigerator to chill for about 30 minutes. Tip: If your dough starts to feel warm and lose its shape, return it to the fridge for 15 minutes. Chilling the dough allows the gluten to rest. Working with dough that’s too warm or overworked will cause the finished product to shrink while baking.
  8. While the tart shell is chilling, place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 350°F (175°C) for conventional or 325°F (160°C) for convection.
  9. Blind-bake the tart shell by lining it with parchment paper or a large coffee filter so the surface of the dough is completely covered. An easy trick to folding the parchment is similar to folding a snowflake, where you fold it in quarters and keep folding smaller segments to the point, cutting in a curve to form a circle. Press the parchment completely to the side of the tart dough. Tip: Since tarts are filled with creams or mousses (which can’t be baked), you’ll have to bake the tart shell in advance of filling it. This particular tart dough won’t rise too much, so if you don’t blind-bake the tart shell in advance, it’s still going to be ok. Some tart or pie crust recipes will tell you to “dock” (or pierce with a fork) the bottom of the dough before baking to prevent it from puffing up. You DON’T need to dock this dough as it won’t rise too much, especially as it’s being weighed down with pie weights during the blind-baking process. Fill with enough rice or dried beans to hold down as weights. Bake the tart on the center rack for 15 to 20 minutes, until it’s a light golden, sandy color and you don’t see any wet spots.
  10. Bake the tart shell on the center rack for 8 minutes. Rotate the pan 180 degrees and bake for 8 more minutes or until the tart shell is a light golden brown. Unmold the tart shell while still warm. Let cool completely on a wire rack at room temperature. Tip: Always make sure your tart shell is fully cooled before you start assembling any cream-based tarts. If the shell is still too hot or warm when you pipe in your pastry cream, you’ll end up with a soggy-bottomed tart.

Storage: Best enjoyed fresh the day-of. Tart shells can be baked in advance, but don’t fill them with your creams and fillings too far in advance. Ideally, it’s filled and served right away, so the shell stays nice and crispy. Any excess dough can be frozen, covered tightly in plastic wrap and stored in an airtight container, for 2 to 3 weeks. It can also be refrigerated, wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in an airtight container, for 2 to 3 days.