Queen of Tarts

My Mom is a fantastic cook.  She has imparted much of her culinary wisdom on me throughout the years, and we can spend hours (and often do) discussing anything related to food – tools, techniques, and treats all included!  My Mother is also a very generous person, and especially so when it comes to food.  Chances are high that if you set foot in her house will leave significantly more full than you were when you arrived.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you! Or MAYBE that’s the reason my parents always have so many visitors…hmmmm.

One of the things my Mom is known for is her pastry.  For the last few years she’s donated pies and tarts to be auctioned off for the United Way at my Dad’s office, and I hear they always generate a lot of bids.  People often ask her to make pastry for them, and she willingly obliges (*cough*cough*you know who you are*).  Naturally, I think she should charge them but she does these things out of the goodness of her heart.   That aside, one thing that I know for sure is that she is both a Queen of Tarts AND Queen of Hearts.

Oh yes, where was I going with this? Right – I remember now.  For as generous as she is with most things, my dear mother is also selfish about others.  Like her recipe for pastry.  Want her recipe for chocolate chip cookies? Sure, no problem.  Banana cake with peanut butter icing? Of course!  But if you ask her for her recipe for pastry she’ll probably lie to you and tell you that she uses those pre-made shells you can get in the freezer section.  Alright, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration – maybe she’d give it to you, but for YEARS pastry was the one thing she wouldn’t teach me how to make. It didn’t matter how much I begged of offered to clean my room (the ultimate gambling card for a teenager), she wouldn’t budge. You may think this would have made me mad, but I am proud of her for being slightly proprietary with her specialty.  I’m still working on her business sense, obviously – the woman could make millions! I keep trying to turn her into the Canadian version of Paula Deen, but for reasons unbeknownst to me (but perhaps known to her cardiologist) she keeps resisting. I believe that you should always play to your strengths, and when it comes to cooking, my Mom certainly does.

Mom? Are you reading this? I’m sorry for exposing you.  But I’m proud of you for not giving away all of my your secrets. Please don’t change.  Unless you want to start selling your pastry, then I’ll be your manager.  Or unless you become just like Paula Deen.  Then I’m moving back in and you won’t be able to kick me out for a LONG time.

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.  I feel better.  Don’t you?

So anyways, the end result of her selfishness is that I don’t know how to make pastry.  Since I couldn’t convince my Mom to share her recipe with you all – which I’m very sorry about but I can’t move home for the sake of the blogosphere – I had to figure things out on my own terms, with a little help from Cooks Illustrated.  Are you ready? I hope so, cause here goes nothing!

Go ahead and round up the following ingredients:

AP Flour, salt, sugar, vegetable shortening, butter, and ice water.

Pretty basic so far, right? Hmm maybe this isn’t as hard as Mom has been leading me to believe all these years…

Let’s talk about technique.  I’ve watched my Mom make pastry enough to know that she mixes it by hand.  She’s a purist, and that works for her splendidly.  As lovely as a notion as that is, I decided to use my food processor for most of the mixing. I’m lazier more technologically advanced than my mother, so why ruin a manicure when you have a perfectly good appliance at your disposal?

Oh yes – I also want to talk about scales. No, not the kind that you step on in the morning that cause you to shriek in horror and climb back into bed while sobbing uncontrollably (or is that just me?) but the kind that you can weigh food on.  I learned to bake using the scoop and level method – just as I’m sure many of you did – but was introduced to the scale by my friend and very talented pastry chef, Tina.  She taught me that weighing ingredients is a much more accurate way of baking, and ensures a more consistent end result.  Oh ya, and its easy! Kitchen scales are fairly inexpensive, so you should get one, ok?

Start by weighing out 12.5 oz of AP flour on your scale.

Did I just lose you? What, you didn’t stop reading and go out and get a scale when I told you to suggested you do so? Fine, 12.5 oz of flour is approximately the same as 2.5 c. Be more coachable next time, ok?

Pour the flour into the food processor, along with 1 tsp salt and 2 TBSP of sugar.  Pulse it a few times until everything is mixed up.

Next, we’re going to add some shortening – let’s go with 1/2c of the stuff.  Why shortening, I hear you ask? Well, pastry that uses all-butter may taste delicious but they tend to not be as flaky as thsoe made with some shortening.  When it comes to pastry, flakiness is good.  Thank goodness we’re discussing pastry not personalities, huh?

Pulse the shortening into the flour mixture until it looks like coarse sand – this should take no longer than 10 seconds so don’t you dare turn your food processor on high and walk away!

Next, we’re going to add some (are you ready for this?) BUTTER!  Please contain your excitement/horror, and add 1.5 sticks (i.e. 3/4 c ) of the good stuff that is chilled and has been cut into small cubes into the food processor.  Don’t you just love butter that comes in sticks? It makes things so easy and convenient to measure…an important consideration for a lazy baker such as myself.  The butter is going to help things taste good, and is going to keep cardiologists across Canada and the US in business.  It’s important that we all do our part to help the economy, you know.

Pulse the butter for another 10 seconds – you want it to look like coarse crumbs, with butter bits no bigger than peas.


Dump everything into a bowl, and sprinkle 6 TBSP of the ice water over everything.

Are you as thirsty as I am right now? Go ahead and get a straw, I give you my blessing. Or use the measuring spoon, I won’t judge.

Once you’ve satisfied your thirst, use a spatula or a wooden spoon to incorporate the water.  Press down on the dough using the backside of the spatula or spoon until the dough sticks together.  I didn’t need to add any extra water to my dough – I told it who was boss – but if your dough is particularly stubborn, you may add up to 2 more TBSP of the good stuff.  I’m referring to water by the way, not butter, which is also known as “the good stuff”.

Divide the dough in half and flatten each into discs.

Wrap the dough in Saran wrap and chill for a minimum of 1-hr, or up to 2 days.

That wasn’t too hard, was it? Actually, it was pretty easy.  My Mom may be on to something, and I just may be campaigning for the official Queen of Tarts title.

So, should we make pie next or what?!?!?

I’m sorry, that was my inside voice.  I mean…should we all reconvene after we go spend the next hour or twelve on the Stairmaster?

11 responses to “Queen of Tarts

  1. Just so the record is straight…there IS a reason that I selfishly kept the pastry recipe under wraps..I wanted there to still be ONE thing that I could cook better than you!!! But I fear that my reigning days may be over, you can be the queen of tarts and I’ll be the queen mother. Also, who NEVER wants to give out the recipe for Wickedy Delious Chocolate Cake?? Anyone who wants it can write to me at….and the molasses cookies – now there is a money maker!!! The espresso cookies are a new favourite when I take them into work> Should we start a recipe book??
    Love your blog,what an inspiring read!
    Love the former Queen of Tarts!!
    PS I’m a Tenderflake gal myself

  2. I’d pay for the pastry recipe. I cannot, for the life of me, make pastry! I can do just about anything else. Sigh. Epic fail!

  3. No food processor! Everything is by hand. I want a food processor AND a kitchen aid table mixer. Sigh…. dare to dream!

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