Many home cooks are often intimidated by the prospect of making their own pastry dough, which is a shame because it’s not scary at all. As long as you have a little patience and a good recipe, making pastry dough is a very manageable kitchen task to conquer- and the results are so worth it! Julia Child’s classic recipe for pâte brisée sucrée (sweet short paste) is a perfect for anyone who wants to learn how to make pastry dough from scratch- it has a short list of simple ingredients and a fairly straightforward technique that is fairly easy for home cooks to master with a bit of practice.
The recipe below makes about 1 cup of dough- the perfect amount for making a single pastry crust for a tarte tatin. However, depending on the size of your tarte or pie pan, you should adjust the recipe as follows: for an 8″ to 9″ shell make 1½ times the amount listed here; for a 10″ to 11″ shell, double the recipe. If you are making a double crust pie, you will need to double these proportions again (make triple the recipe for an 8″ to 9″ pie, and quadruple it to make a double crust 10″ to 11″ pie).
I’ve included directions for making this pastry dough both by hand and with a food processor. Although I agree with Julia that “a necessary part of learning how to cook is to get the feel of the dough in your fingers,” I’ll be the first to admit that a food processor is faster and more convenient. What’s more, if you chill the work bowl and blade of your processor before you blend the dough, it can help keep your butter from melting (if the butter melts, it will make your dough greasy and difficult to work with, and your dough won’t bake as well). This is a big advantage if you live in a hot or humid climate where pastry making can be a real challenge (as someone who used to live in Hawaii, I speak from experience here- see the cook’s notes at the end of this recipe for more tips on pastry making in less than ideal conditions).
Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Volume One), by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck. Copyright 1961 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
- ⅔ cup flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ⅛ tsp salt
- 4 tablespoons chilled butter
- 1½ tablespoons shortening
- 2½ – 3 tablespoons cold water
If using a food processor: Fit the bowl of your food processor with a steel blade; measure flour, salt, and sugar into the bowl. Pulse a couple of times to aerate and blend together the dry ingredients. Add butter and shortening to the bowl; pulse 4 to 5 times. Measure out 3 tablespoons of the iced water in a small bowl, turn your food processor on, and then pour it in 2½ tablespoons of water all at once. Immediately begin to turn the machine off and on several times until the dough begins to mass together. If this doesn’t happen rather quickly, dribble in the remaining ½ tablespoon of iced water and continue to pulse the machine off and on. If the dough still doesn’t begin to mass together, repeat one more time. Once the dough has begun to mass together it is done. Do not over mix the dough. Proceed to the fraisage.
If mixing by hand: Measure flour, salt, and sugar into a large bowl. Whisk the dry ingredients in order to aerate and blend them together. Rub the butter and shortening into the dry ingredients with the tips of your fingers until the pieces of fat resemble the size of oatmeal flakes. Do not over mix at this step; you don’t want the fat pieces to be too small. Add the 2½ tablespoons of water, all at once, as you use a cupped hand to try to form a crumbly dough and work to gather it into a single, shaggy mass. Add other ½ tablespoon of water if needed to incorporate all flour into the dough. Firmly press the dough into a ball. Proceed to the fraisage.
The fraisage (the final blending): Place the dough on a lightly floured surface. Using the heel of your hand, rapidly press egg-sized blobs of pastry dough away from you in 6-inch smears. Do this to all sections of the dough, until what was once a mass of dough is now flattened. [The goal of the fraisage is to incorporate streaks of butter into the dough, which will help create a flaky crust; you will actually be able to see the streaks of butter throughout the dough.]
Gather the dough into a smooth, round ball. Wrap it in plastic wrap and allow it to rest in the refrigerator for 2 hours or in the freezer for 1 hour before rolling it out. Once the dough has rested, proceed to roll it out and use it with your favorite pie recipe.
Roll out the crust: Because of the high butter content the dough needs to be rolled out quickly. Place the dough on a lightly floured board (or marble). If the dough is hard, either let it rest just a bit at room temperature until it warms up enough to work with, or soften it by beating it with your rolling pin. Knead dough briefly into a fairly flat circle- it should be malleable enough to roll without cracking. Lightly flour the top of the dough, and roll out the dough, using firm but gentle pressure, turning the dough at a slight angle between each roll. Roll until you have made a circle large enough for your pan.
Carefully fold the dough into quarters or roll it loosely around your rolling pin to move it to the pan. Arrange the dough in the pan, and trim and crimp the edges. You can blind bake this pastry as a shell, partially blind bake it; or fill it, and then bake it. Once the shell is in the pan, if there is a wait before you fill it or put it in the oven, return it to the refrigerator to keep it cold. Leftover dough, securely wrapped, will keep for several days in the refrigerator or may be frozen. Alternatively, you can use the leftover dough to make galettes sablées (sugar cookies).
Weighing dry ingredients is the most accurate way to get consistent results with any kind of baking. If you don’t have a kitchen scale available, be sure to use the scoop and sweep method to measure your flour, in which your gently spoon flour into the cup measurement and then use a knife to level it off. This prevents the flour from being packed in, which happens when you use the cup measurement as the scoop itself. When you pack the flour in like this, you are actually getting a lot more flour than anticipated, which can definitely alter finicky baked goods like pastry dough. For more information on how to accurately measure flour, click here.
If you live in a hot or humid area, making pastry dough can be quite challenging. Keeping everything as cold as possible really helps. Try working on a marble slab if you have one (or put a couple cold packs on your counter top to approximate a chilled marble slab), keep your ingredients in the refrigerator until you need to use them, freeze any bowls, blenders, blades, etc. that you’ll be working with, and crank up the A.C. if you need to! If your climate is particularly humid, you may also not need to use as much water- start slowly with the water and add more as needed.
last updated August 17, 2023