Long Reads

Paule Caillat's Brown Butter Tart Crust

July 13, 2011

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.

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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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37 Comments

Saba March 2, 2017
Kristen, I made this and loved how easy it was. However, it shrunk when I baked it. Should I chill it before baking? Or what is the best way to avoid shrinkage? When you have 1" high tart pan, and the shell shrinks, there's no space left for filling!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. March 2, 2017
Hi Saba—as you can see in the top photo, it shrunk a bit when I made it for shoot day, too! Chilling or even freezing would very likely help.
 
CalamityintheKitchen August 19, 2015
Hmm... I made this last night, and although the flavor was excellent, it was SO crumbly that it was nearly unusable. I made minitarts, and (those that hadn't already broken) fell apart at first bite. Did I do something wrong? Or is this recipe just too delicate for something which is meant to be picked up and held? Perhaps with a fork on a plate would have been fine...<br />I also found the oven bit odd. Why would you add water if the point is to brown the butter? I left mine in at 400 for 30 minutes, and it was still only brown around the edges of the pan.
 
Anna August 6, 2013
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!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. August 6, 2013
We've used an American tablespoon every time we've made it!
 
FedExSal July 28, 2011
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...
 
witloof August 3, 2011
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.
 
witloof July 24, 2011
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.
 
stinkycheese July 20, 2011
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!!
 
saltandserenity July 19, 2011
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!
 
chefrockyrd July 19, 2011
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. <br />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. <br />I have wonderful help of course, but this method would save us a lot of work on our dough production. <br />any comments? <br />thanks.
 
[email protected] July 19, 2011
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.
 
sarabclever July 18, 2011
Anything baked with brown butter deserves the genius moniker, I am starting to believe.
 
Valeria July 18, 2011
Awesome! Fresh fruit tartellettes will go wonderfully with this :))
 
Maria T. July 17, 2011
Genious Recipes are absolutely a GENIOUS IDEA. Thanks to Amanda and Merrill and all the team to continue to provide a great website.
 
Hattie S. July 16, 2011
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!
 
TXExpatInBKK July 14, 2011
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!
 
creamtea July 14, 2011
o.k., now I have to go out and get a tart pan. On my to-do list.
 
lapadia July 13, 2011
Love this, can't wait to try this recipe...no rolling etc, Yay!!
 
amysarah July 13, 2011
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.
 
Domenica July 13, 2011
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.
 
TheWimpyVegetarian July 13, 2011
Love love love this. This is a completely new approach for me and I can't wait to try it!! Brilliant!
 
PA_Mom July 13, 2011
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!!!
 
David G. July 20, 2011
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?
 
PA_Mom March 2, 2017
Yes - I do still pre-bake the crust. I usually apply a thin layer of mustard before<br />I put in the tomatoes, and don't want that blending into the tart crust :)