There are certain things that every home cook should know how to make. In part because they taste so much better than their store-bought siblings and in part because mastering them will give you a confidence boost in the kitchen. (I made that from scratch?! I’m a culinary super-star!!). The list includes items such as pasta dough, vinaigrettes, marinara sauce, ricotta cheese, salsa, biscuits, stock and my personal favorite: pie/tart dough.
What all of these essential recipes really have in common is that they are more than a list of ingredients and techniques to follow. They are peppered with instructions like “add water as needed” and “season to taste” and “remove when golden” and “cook until you see the texture change” and “sauté until fragrant.” They require you to look away from the recipe and call upon all five of your senses. They require you to pay attention to the pot/pan/bowl in front of you. They require you to trust your gut. And that, in the end, is what makes you a better, more confident and happier cook.
I believe this because it’s the way I learned to cook – an informal, sometimes messy and adventurous process of trying and failing, of testing and tasting, of trial and error. Over time I found that while a recipe could provide me with a roadmap, a spark of inspiration and a crutch when needed, what ended up on the plate had more to do with my ability to harness the power of all my senses, pay keen attention to the task at hand and trust my instincts.
There is no task that illustrates this better than making pie/tart dough. Dough is one of those things that strikes fear in the heart of many accomplished cooks and chefs. It is finicky. It is temperamental. It does not turn out the same every time. But the making of it will make you a better cook because it requires you to handle each ingredient with care, to use your hands to feel if the texture is right, to use your judgment of when enough is enough. You will try and you will fail. You will do better each time. This is what cooking is all about.
Also, homemade, flaky dough is so insanely delicious that it instantly elevates anything wrapped up in it to a food of the Gods. That alone, is a reason to embrace dough-making.
TECHNIQUE TIPS: Before you dive into your adventure in dough-making, some words of advice:
- Keep your ingredients VERY cold. As is frozen-cold. Freeze your butter AND flours for 30 minutes before starting and you will have extra-flaky goodness.
- Speaking of flaky, there are two things you can do to ensure superior flakiness. First, leave the chunks of butter pea-size and don’t over-mix your dough. Those bits of cold butter will steam and melt in the oven, creating air in the dough and plenty of delicious flakes. Secondly, folding your dough during the rolling process will create extra flakes. See the recipe for details.
- Always put your oven-ready tarts/pies in the freezer for 10-20 minute before baking. Cold is king! The colder the bits of the butter, the more steam created inside the dough, the more flakes in the finished product.
This particular recipe is a new favorite. The dough is inspired from a food-styling job I did for America’s Test Kitchen. It’s essentially the same dough I’ve been making for years but their balance of whole wheat and all-purpose flour is a revelation – that small amount of whole wheat gives a structure to the dough that I love. I’m a big fan of galettes, or free-form no-fancy-pan-needed tarts. The filling opportunities are endless. I often find myself cobbling together odds and ends of vegetables and cheeses from my fridge to make tart fillings – they are a bit different every time. This one benefited from some smoked mozzarella leftover from another dish and the results were amazing smoky delicious pockets of goo nestled in a bed of soft kale and sweet leeks. This one was worth writing down and sharing with you.
This kale tart recipe is a worthy addition to your holiday table; a hearty option for vegetarians and a buttery-dough-delicious way to infuse more greens into the meal. Better yet, save this project for those days between Christmas and New Year’s when your normal routine is disrupted and you find yourself with more time to spend in the kitchen. Make it in the evening to bake off the next morning for breakfast for your house guest. Whenever you make it, just be sure you double the recipe and make two, one for you to eat immediately hot-out-of-the-oven and one for you to share with others.
- 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ cup whole-wheat flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, VERY COLD, cut into ½-inch piece
- 7 tablespoons ice water
- 1 teaspoon white vinegar
- 2 medium leeks, thinly sliced, white parts only (to make 1 cup)
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 bunch kale
- 4 oz shredded smoked mozzarella
- 2 tablespoons crème fraiche, Greek yogurt or sour cream
- olive oil, for brushing
- Place the flours, sugar, salt in a food processor and pulse once to combine.
- Add the butter and pulse 10-12 times until mixture is sandy and the largest pieces of butter are the size of peas.
- (NOTE: You can do this in a bowl instead of in a food processor and use a pasty-cutter to cut in the butter.)
- Dump the mixture into a mixing bowl and stir in HALF of the water and all of the vinegar. Mix the dough around with your hands, beginning to form a ball. Sprinkle the remaining water around the edges of the bowl to wet the dry bits. Continue to work the dough into a ball using your hands. Knead it a few times. If the dough is crumbly, add one more tablespoon of water. The dough needs to hold together at this point but will not be smooth yet.
- Press the dough out into a rectangle about 1/2-inch thick (no need to roll it out -- just press with your hands) and fold it into thirds like you're folding a letter into an envelope.
- Wrap in plastic wrap tightly. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to over-night.
- Place the sliced leeks in a large bowl of water, swirl around and let sit for 5 minutes, allowing any hidden dirt to fall to the bottom of the bowl.
- Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the butter. When melted, add the leeks and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until leeks are very tender.
- Meanwhile, tear the kale leaves off the stems and discard the stems. Finely chop the kale.
- Add the kale to the leeks and cook for 3-4 minutes until kale is bright green and tender. Transfer mixture to a bowl and let cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes.
- Once cool to the touch, add the mozzarella and creme fraiche (or other dairy) to the mixture. Stir to combine and season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Remove the cold dough from the fridge and unwrap. Sprinkle some flour on a clean counter.
- Warm the dough up a bit with your hands and sprinkle with flour.
- Use a rolling pin to roll the dough about 1/4-inch thick.
- (NOTE: The trick to rolling a dough out evenly is to start in the middle and roll outwards, moving the dough a quarter turn between each roll. This way you are evenly rolling out each part of the dough and it will keep it's general shape. That being said, you don't need a perfect circle here -- it can be an oval or something similar.)
- Transfer the thin disk of dough to a parchment-lined baking sheet.
- Fill with the kale mixture, leaving a 2-inch border of dough all around.
- Fold and pleat the dough all around to enclose the filling.
- Drizzle tart with olive oil and sprinkle edges of dough with salt.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes or until dough is golden brown and the middle of the filling is also beginning to brown.
- Let tart cool at least 10 minutes before slicing.