Adding extra flavour to a simple, butter-rich pastry is a quick way to lift a savoury tart from everyday to special, and if it’s cooked to crispness, the effect can be excellent. Use this recipe as a base to be inventive with.
Parmesan mustard shortcrust
A small amount of rye flour gives this pastry a slightly sharper, curious flavour, which is boosted by the addition of a little sugar. If you like something plainer, it will work without the cheese and mustard, but in that case give the flavour of the filling more punch. Either way, small, blind baked tartlets with a little soft garlic cream cheese in the base and some ham scrunched up taste good; a little olive paste, soft grilled peppers and olives work well, too. Though Italians might look aghast at the combination of fish and parmesan, one very easy and very tasty filling is a tub of those cream or curry herrings sold by Ikea. Small, sharp-edged matchsticks of dough, flavoured with finely chopped anchovies, dryish olives, chopped rosemary or caraway seeds, are also easy; and consider sprinkling extra parmesan on top before baking, perhaps with a dusting of cayenne to create a thirst-stirring effect, to serve with cocktails.
200g plain flour, plus extra for rolling
75g rye, wholemeal or more plain flour
2 tsp icing sugar
½ tsp salt
150g unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
25g grated parmesan
2 egg yolks
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
Ice-cold water or milk
Put the flours, icing sugar and salt in a bowl and rub in the butter until all the lumps disappear and you’re left with a crumbly mixture. Stir in the grated cheese. Mix the egg yolks with the mustard and a teaspoon of water, then stir this in, too, and mix everything to a smooth, sticky dough. Make the dough softer than is rollable, adding a little more water if you think it needs it, then scoop it out in one lump on to a sheet of nonstick paper. Smooth out the dough into a block, then wrap the paper around it and pop it in the fridge until firm. Making the pastry this way, rather than mixing it firmer and attempting to roll it straight out, allows the flour fully to absorb the moisture, makes some time for a little gluten to develop and firms the butter so that rolling is easier. At this stage, you can also freeze the dough for at least a month, provided it’s wrapped up well.
Baking the tart pastry
Shortcrust pastry rich with butter is delicious to eat but a bit of a pain to roll out. The trick is to pat it out into a flattish oblong after mixing but before chilling, rather than leaving it as a ball, because that way it’s easier to roll out when still cold but flexible.
To begin with, sprinkle a fine layer of flour both under and over the dough, then start to roll it out. As soon as the first cracks appear around the edges, stop rolling and slide a spatula or palette knife under the pastry (one of those utterly flat bases from a French-style fluted tart tin would be even better). Dust more flour under and over the dough, and quickly roll out further, patching together any frayed edges with your fingers.
For tartlets, cut out discs with a glass or pastry cutter, then slide a spatula underneath and place them straight over the tart cases – there’s usually no need to butter them. For a large tart, roll the largest pieces you can, about 0.3cm thick, then lift and patch together once they’re flopped over and into the tart case.
Chill the tart cases, then gently press into them a sheet of cut-to-fit nonstick paper and weigh it down with uncooked beans or rice.
Baking the pastry
It’s always best to bake enriched shortcrust in a coolish oven over a longer period of time, so try 180C (160C fan-assisted)/350F/gas mark 4 for about 20 minutes, then carefully remove the baking beans and paper, lower the heat to 170C (150C fan-assisted)/335F/gas mark 3 and bake for a further 15-20 minutes, until barely golden on the base.