After making pies most of my life, I’ve recently been getting into making French-style tarts. The results are marvelous, but making French-style pastry crusts is often fussy work.
Typically, American-style pie crusts are made with shortening or, now rarely, lard. Sometimes the shortening is combined with a little butter, but the shortening makes the crust relatively easy to work. French-style pastry crusts use butter exclusively, often compensating for its more changeable quality by calling for long chilling times.
I have been using Patricia Wells’ great cookbook Bistro Cooking as a starting point for tart-making, because her recipes are appealing, with instructions that are simple and clear. But the pastry recipes are very time-consuming and require a lot of chilling: an hour of refrigeration before the dough is rolled, then another period of refrigeration before baking the all-butter crust. Her recipes also often call for the crust to be pre-baked and cooled before being filled. With Wells, a tart requires several hours’ time.
This is where Paul Bocuse comes in. Looking around in his fascinating cookbook, Bocuse in Your Kitchen, I found a radically simple apple-tart recipe, the simplest apple pie I have ever made. The crust is all butter but very manageable and requires NO chilling. The filling is nothing more than sliced cooking apples sprinkled with a quarter-cup granulated sugar. No spices. This is radical simplicity.
The Bocuse pastry recipe uses 1 and 3/4 cups flour, 1 stick softened butter, a pinch of salt, and 3T ice water. The first three ingredients are pinched together by hand, then the water is added (I actually needed an additional tablespoon of water) to form a dough. Then wrap the dough in a clean floured towel and let it sit for an hour. This resting time must enable the butter to bind thoroughly with the flour, because it was then easy to roll it out on a floured surface, using only a rolling pin and no wax paper, and lift the pastry into a pie pan without difficulty. The dough was very elastic and, to my surprise, did not become soggy from the apples’ juice while baking.
Just prick the crust’s bottom all over before putting in the apples. The granulated sugar goes on top. Bake at 400 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until apples seem done. (I used lots of apples and mine required extra time.)
The crust is almost like a shortbread dough. This recipe can be made without a pie pan on a cookie sheet. Just crimp the edges of the dough so that the juice from the filling doesn’t run off.