Pie and tart crusts tend to be on the plain side. Of course, they will taste buttery and have a nice crisp texture, but the flavor in a tart typically comes from the filling. To let the character analogy go a little further, a supporting character can make or break a show. This is true of a tart crust, as well, where a bad crust can ruin a tart and a good one can make it memorable. One way to make a tart crust more memorable is to give it a little extra flavor of its own. A touch of lemon zest or a touch of spice in the crust can go a long way in boosting the flavor in a tart.
This Maple Sugar Shortbread Tart Crust is a new fall favorite of mine. It uses maple sugar, which infuses a subtle maple flavor into the crust and gives it a lot more dimension than a plain shortbread crust typically has. Maple sugar is a sugar that is made from maple sap that has been boiled and crystallized. It is slightly sweet, but not so sweet that it takes anything away from a good tart filling. It is buttery and tender, and bakes up to have a nice crispness that holds up to most tart fillings.
This type of crust doesn’t need to be rolled out like a pie crust. The dough is crumbly, more like a regular shortbread cookie dough might be, and it can be dumped into your tart pan and pressed firmly into an even crust. This makes it very quick to make and quick to set up in the pan, since you don’t have to wait for the dough to chill or rest. The recipe will produce enough crust for a tart pan up to 11-inches in size, so if you are using a 9 or 10-inch pan, you may have a little bit leftover (roughly 1/3 cup or so, unless you want a very thick crust). I don’t mind having a little leftover when it comes to this dough, however, because extra tart dough can always be used to make a mini tart shell or two for other desserts.
This crust goes especially well with fall fillings, like sweet potato and pumpkin. It also goes well with vanilla-filled tarts, as the maple will stand out against the vanilla. The maple will be more subtle against a chocolate filling. And, of course, it works well with any tart filling that has a touch of maple already in it!
Maple Sugar Shortbread Tart Crust
2 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup maple sugar
1/3 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, chilled
1 large egg
In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, maple sugar and salt. Pulse to combine. Add in cold butter, cut into a few chunks, and pulse until the flour mixture looks sandy and the butter has been broken down into very small pieces. Add the egg and pulse until the dough starts to come together (dough will not come entirely together) and begins to look like very wet sand.
Dump most of the sandy dough out into the tart pan of your choice – this recipe works for 9, 10 and 11-inch tart pans, though a small amount of dough will remain for the smaller tart sizes – and press it gently into an even layer up the sides and over the base of the pan. When dough is even and any empty patches have been patched with extra dough, pack the dough down firmly to create an even crust. Be sure to press the dough into the corners well.
Tart should be stored in the fridge, covered with plastic wrap, until ready to fill.
To prebake tart, cook in a 350F oven until lightly browned, about 20-25 minutes. If pre-baking, cool completely before filling.
Makes dough for 1 10 or 11-inch tart; or dough for 4-6 small tarts.