Genius Recipes

Paule Caillat's Brown Butter Tart Crust

By • July 13, 2011 • 34 Comments

Every Wednesday, food52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius. This week: a tart crust that loves you back, from Parisian pastry expert Paule Caillat.

Tart Crust

Sometimes it's fun to be bossed around by your pastry. There's something gratifying about signing a sadomasochistic agreement with butter and flour and water and ending up with pie.

But -- and this is especially true for novice bakers and anyone prone to panicking in the face of dough -- it's also nice to take it easy, skip a few of the more traditionally gruelling steps, and still end up with pie.

And there isn't a friendlier, more easy-going pastry dough than Paule Caillat's family recipe for pate sucree. Every time you make it, it's giving you a high five, instead of hollering for you to do another lap and 20 push-ups.

Paule Caillat  brown butter

Caillat (above), founder of Promenades Gourmandes, a cooking school in Paris, was taught this recipe by her husband's grandmother and her sister (who had studied at Le Cordon Bleu in the 1930s but learned this method from a neighbor). "These two ladies, Mémé and Tante Léo, never left France in their entire life, and now their recipe is repeated all over the world," Caillat wrote in an email. "I like this idea."

Here's how it works: You slide a Pyrex bowl filled with mostly butter, plus small but crucial amounts of oil, water, sugar, and salt, into a hot oven till the mixture is sputtering and the butter is golden and flecked with brown. Then you pull it out and quickly stir the flour in -- it sizzles and foams angrily for a moment, then settles into a rich malleable sludge.

  brown butter  press in crust

Caillat's instructions here are vague and intuitive ("Flour as necessary; till it pulls off the sides of the bowl"); but David Lebovitz -- who first published Caillat's then-secret recipe in 2009 -- kindly supplies a measurement for those of us who need more hand-holding (5 ounces, or a mounded cupful).

Once the dough is cool enough to handle, you'll pat and press it into a tart pan and bake it straightaway. Because you don't have to roll it or wait for it to chill, you can go from "Hm, tart sounds good" to finished crust in about 40 minutes -- no matter how cramped, hot, or humid your kitchen might be.

tart crust  Promenades Gourmandes

The finished tart shell is crumbly and sandy, like a good shortbread, with that barely sweet, haunting quality that brown butter always brings to the table. It's also inexplicably flaky: You haven't laid the groundwork for those layers, which normally require you to cut pockets of icy butter into flour, but there they are.

Be forewarned that the crust will crack less with European-style butter like Plugra, which has a slightly lower water (and higher fat) content than typical American butter, but David Lebovitz recommends a brilliant patching technique for those cracks anyway -- just reserve a small knob of dough to spackle into any cracks after baking. (No need to bake again.)

Slick it with chocolate ganache, sweetened mascarpone, or lemon curd. And if you find yourself missing the sick demands of pastry-making, apply yourself to lining up concentric rings of summer berries across the top, just so.

Paule Caillat's Brown Butter Tart Crust

For 6 servings (one 8 1/2" or 21 cm shell with removable bottom)

  • 6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter
  • flour as necessary (about 5 ounces, or a slightly mounded cupful, per David Lebovitz)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • a pinch of salt  
  •                           

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

brown butter crust

Want more genius recipes? Try The River Cafe's Strawberry Sorbet or Diana Kennedy's Carnitas.

Got a genius recipe you'd like to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].


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Comments (34)

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12 months ago Anna

I would love to make this but you do not say which tablespoon quantity you are using – an American tablespoon is 15ml and much of the rest of the world uses a 20ml tablespoon. Please tell which – thank you!

Miglore

12 months ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

We've used an American tablespoon every time we've made it!

Stringio

about 3 years ago FedExSal

I love to make pecan anything... tarts, bars, cookies, pie's and curious about using this recipe for a crust for a pecan tart... Comments please...

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almost 3 years ago witloof

I think it would work perfectly. I have used a pat in crust {see my comment below} for pecan pie many times without a problem.

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about 3 years ago witloof

This looks just fabulous... and as for genius, I have to say that the pat-in crust recipe that Amanda uses for her peach tart in Mr. Latte is even easier and super delicious. I found the original in an old, old Fannie Farmer I picked up at a tag sale. I bumped up the sugar and almond extract in Amanda's, use 1/3 cup barley flour {thank you, Smitten Kitchen} and it's crumbly, nutty, and wonderful.

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about 3 years ago stinkycheese

I took Paule's cooking class at her beautiful home in Paris last September and this crust is the recipe I keep coming back to. I just made it today, AC blasting in my kitchen! I have been using whole wheat pastry flour and it still comes out great. Yay Paule!!

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about 3 years ago saltandserenity

Brown Butter!!! I'm thinking a salted caramel and chocolate filling. This is a genius recipe. Thanks for finding it and sharing with us. You rock!

P1000851

about 3 years ago chefrockyrd

Thanks for this and all of the wonderful recipes. I have tried oil pastries before but they never had the delicious flavor I am used to in butter pastries. So this is brilliant.
Has any one tried this method doing a double crusted pie? I have to make over 200 wild Maine blueberry pies for the church to sell for the Wild Blueberry Festival in Machias Maine in August.
I have wonderful help of course, but this method would save us a lot of work on our dough production.
any comments?
thanks.

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about 3 years ago foodtoglow

Wonderful share. Thanks! After many years I'm pretty confident with pastry but it sure is good to have a melt and throw together version. Genius. Have just made some apricot and vanilla French-style jam that would go well on the base, topped with fresh apricots, white nectarines and redcurrants. Thanks again for sharing.

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about 3 years ago sarabclever

Anything baked with brown butter deserves the genius moniker, I am starting to believe.

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about 3 years ago Valeria Necchio

Awesome! Fresh fruit tartellettes will go wonderfully with this :))

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about 3 years ago Maria Teresa Jorge

Genious Recipes are absolutely a GENIOUS IDEA. Thanks to Amanda and Merrill and all the team to continue to provide a great website.

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about 3 years ago Hattie Spade Cunningham

Made it - loved it - easy as, well, pie. I used several mini-tart shells and filled with sweetened mascarpone and berries. Can't wait to try with chocolate!

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about 3 years ago TXExpatInBKK

I'm so glad everyone mentioned that this works for both sweet and savory dishes... I now have all kinds of ideas spinning in my head. What a great recipe to have in your back pocket!

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about 3 years ago creamtea

o.k., now I have to go out and get a tart pan. On my to-do list.

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about 3 years ago lapadia

Love this, can't wait to try this recipe...no rolling etc, Yay!!

Farmer's_market

about 3 years ago amysarah

Is there anything that doesn't taste better with brown butter in it? This recipe reminds me - my (Southern) college boyfriend used to bake his mother's biscuits sometimes, and they too defied the laws of physics by being inexplicably flaky, though made with melted instead of icy cold butter. (I swear I wasn't blinded by love when it came to biscuits. Other things, yes.) Go figure. Definitely going to try this crust.

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about 3 years ago Domenica

I've been making this crust for sweet AND for savory tarts, quiches, etc, ever since I learned it from Paule many years ago. It's amazingly easy--and lovely to look at. Thanks for sharing.

Me

about 3 years ago TheWimpyVegetarian

Love love love this. This is a completely new approach for me and I can't wait to try it!! Brilliant!

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about 3 years ago PA_Mom

I've been using this recipe for a year or so since David first published it in his blog! I have used it with his Chez Panisse Almond tart recipe, and also his Fresh Tomato Tart among several othet homegrown tart recipes. The crust works beautifully for both savoury and sweet tarts. Highly recommended!!!

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about 3 years ago g00blar

When you make the tomato tart, do you still pre-bake the crust before filling it with tomatoes, etc.? Or do you put the filling onto the raw crust and bake everything together?

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about 3 years ago JoanG

WOW! Apple Annie and I took a class from Paule almost a decade ago (in her charming Paris apartment) . We made an earlier version of this pastry and it was amazing. How nice to see her face and recipe at food52!

Junechamp

about 3 years ago ChefJune

June is a trusted source on General Cooking.

I totally LOVE crusts that you don't have to roll out. There's so much less mess in the kitchen. I am sure this recipe will receive a workout at Chez Julia. ;)

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about 3 years ago BiCoastalCook

I made this very tart for years when our kids were small. Great fun for kids (or grandkids!) to spread sweetened mascarpone in the tart shell and then decorate it with strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries. Spelling out the initial of the birthday kid in raspberries was a great hit. Must make this again! Thanks for a great morning read, Kristen!

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about 3 years ago sdebrango

Suzanne is a trusted source on General Cooking.

I must try this, love the browned butter and how not fussy this recipe is. Another brilliant recipe, thanks Kristen and food52.

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about 3 years ago jmddc

I've been making this crust ever since DL posted it and it is great. I used it for a tomato tart last night. For a 9" tart pan, I halve the recipe again to make sure there is plenty of dough to work with. Definitely reserve a lump of dough to patch the cracks because there will be cracks!

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about 3 years ago jmddc

I've been making this crust since David posted the recipe. Made a tomato tart with it for dinner last night. For a 9" tart pan, I halve the recipe again which gives you plenty of dough to work with. Definitely reserve a lump to patch the cracks because there will be cracks. It is easy and delicious especially for the pastry-phobes like myself!

Sausage2

about 3 years ago fiveandspice

Emily is a trusted source on Scandinavian Cuisine.

Don't hate me, but I'm definitely in the pastry masochist category! Up until 2 years ago, I didn't dare roll a pie crust. But, then one day I decided to dive in, and since then I've fallen in love with the never ending ups and downs of rubbing together butter and flouring, (or creaming butter, depending), chilling, flouring, rolling, cracking, the lot of it. The trickier the better! You're right. It's messed up. However, I hate blind baking. Hate it! So, this looks like a phenomenal recipe to have in store for when I want a prebaked tart crust, and have reached my limit of patience for foil and dried beans. Thank you!

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about 3 years ago NM Expats

Two words: Texas Peaches!

Two More: Thank You!

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about 3 years ago Panfusine

Is it OK to start gasping for breath at the sheer magic that this recipe & this genius series brings out.. the pureed lemon idea just yielded a fabulous spicy relish last night!

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about 3 years ago melissav

I didn't think I could love Food52 anymore but this column is tipping me over the edge. Great work.

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about 3 years ago EmilyC

Ditto!

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about 3 years ago mrslarkin

Mrs. Larkin is a trusted source on Baking.

Can't wait to try this! Loving the ease and speed of this recipe. Back in March, this unusual crust topic came up on Twitter with myself, MrsWheelbarrow and cheese1227, but I can't remember what prompted the conversation.

Ehanhan4

about 3 years ago nomnivorous

Brown butter, my love for you grows every day. Another amazing, genius recipe indeed. Thanks, Kristen!