How to Make a Dutch Taart
This is a hands-on, intensive pie that asks you to decimate, or at least abandon, any timid nature. Beating around the butter won’t do. I’m afraid you’ll only be massaging butter into smaller balls of butter and have tangled yourself in a very long, tedious procedure of getting dough. Dig into the bowl the way your heart dives into writing love letters. Act with intention and give it your all.
Smush and mash the butter into the flour and sugar with passionate fists. Singular ingredients will morph into a unified treat. Use butter that is close to room temperature in the winter. On a humid summer day, use chilled butter; otherwise, the soft butter will make a dough that’s harder to work with.
As you knead, digging into the bowl to fold everything together, the dough will first become crumbly. It will come together, forming a neat ball with minimal cracks. My cousin Bettina describes creating this dough as “building a sand castle and then destroying it.” When it’s done, you should see streaks of butter throughout, like summer highlights.
When pressing the dough into the pie pan, it molds like clay. Press it down, spread it thin (but not too thin, you don’t want it to be sheer or see any of the pan), and stretch it across the pan to fill all creases. The ease of working with the dough in this phase and in topping the taart is dependent upon the climate of your kitchen.
Temperature matters. Particularly with the environment in which you’re baking and the butter you’re using to make the dough.
I have baked plenty of pies in my kitchen without air conditioning or an industrial grade fan, making my baking station feel near 450°F. When baking in a kitchen with temperatures over 71°F, the dough becomes tougher to work with, cracking and sweating under the heat of your hand. Though, it’s not impossible to handle, and it’s certainly an experience, I suggest everyone sweat their way through. A cooler, temperate room keeps the butter firm as it gets worked into the dough and the elasticity remains more intact. Humidity is the enemy, so the chiller the kitchen, the better the pie. Dough will crack under humidity’s reign, and sweat and break in the oven.
My Grandma's dough isn’t a traditional, flaky dough typical to American pies. But that’s because Oma is Dutch first and Canadian second. The taart dough has a denser texture, much like a shortbread crust or cookie. It doesn’t roll out well, so it’s meant to be pressed into the baking pan.
It is going to crack. Even if you do everything perfectly, it will crack a little bit. It won’t be perfect. My Oma traditionally rolls logs of dough between her fingers and then out on the countertop until they’re similar in length to a garden snake. When she picks it up, delicately, it always crumbles in two. But instead of throwing her hands in the air, she continues with the topping and simply mends them back together on top of the pie. Her casual and no-frills attitude may be credited to her lifelong career as a nurse, and it’s one to adopt. The pie will bake and it won’t matter what cracked when it’s being ravaged with a fork.
Think outside the lattice. Of course, the traditional topping is a classic choice that’s hard to—pardon the pun—top. But there are many more creative avenues to venture down. If a pie is an offering, an edible object to consume and converse and connect over, let it be an exclamation mark on your table.
With cookie cutters or your paring knife penmanship, carve letters and shapes out of dough to get the point across.
When cutting shapes and letters, press the dough down to create a canvas, about ¼-inch (6-mm) thick. Chill the dough for 20 to 25 minutes to help firm it up if your kitchen is too humid.
When your topping is finished, wash over it with egg and a splash of water for it to brown while baking. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon.
Perfection is bland here. Let juices overflow and stain the crust.
Blind Baking: After fitting the dough to a pie pan, let it rest in the fridge for at least 2 hours, until firm. Butter a sheet of tin foil and fit it into the pie shell. You can use pie weights to weigh the dough down, but my favorite—and I’ve found, most effective—tool in deceiving the crust into believing it’s baking something so that it holds its form is dry garbanzo beans. Bake it at 350°F (175°C) for 50 minutes, until golden brown. Remove the pie from the oven, let it cool for a hot minute and then remove the tin foil and weights. Put the pie back into the oven for 10 minutes.
Bake all pies in a rack fitted to the middle of your oven and at 350°F (175°C), always. This is a standard temperature for baking. While some pies may require a longer baking time at this temperature, the low and slow technique ensures that everything will be baked evenly and hold the most vibrant flavors of the filling.
Getting that perfectly crisp bottom crust is a matter of choice in pans. There is a variety of pans to bake with—ceramic, Pyrex, tin. Each material conducts heat differently, which affects the dough. One pie with a heavily juiced filling baked in a pan like the Fire King Peach Lustre pan might look pretty, but the pan doesn’t function well in crisping the crust. The bottom crust will all together turn into a sloppy glop of a bottom. While delicious and reminiscent of a crumble, this is not ideal for a dessert meant to have a bottom crust. Pyrex glass pans, metal and aluminum foil will give you your best bottom crust.
Use a scale for precision. What you don’t want is too much flour and too little butter. You’ll end up with a crumbly dough that falls apart very easily. The ideal texture will be smooth with minimal cracks. You can choose to decrease the sugar in the dough to as low as ¼ cup (50 grams).
Oma’s Dutch Taart Dough
Yields: One 9-inch (23 cm) pie
1½ cups (239 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ cups (157 grams) granulated sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
Pinch of salt
¾ cups (176 grams), about 1½ sticks, unsalted butter
1. To make the dough, combine all the ingredients except the butter, or coconut oil for vegan dough, in a large mixing bowl. Toss until the ingredients are uniform. Add the butter and mix with your hands. Scoop the flour in an upward motion with your fingers formed like claws and clench the mixture, pushing down with your palms to smash and morph the butter. After about 5 to 7 minutes of kneading, the dough should start to come together. Continue until it’s in a ball and few crumbs fall off.
2. To press the dough into the taart pan, break off pieces of the dough and flatten with the palm of your hands. Press the dough into the prepared pie pan and spread it out with your fingers as far as it will stretch without breaking. Continue to do so, morphing together until the sides and bottom are lined in dough.
3. To make a lattice in the way Oma prepares it, take a handful of dough and roll it into a ball. On a clean work surface, roll the dough into logs. Place one dough log on top of the pie filling, starting in the center and working your way out, forming crisscrosses as you go. If one log breaks, fuse it back together and keep going.
4. Whisk an egg in a small bowl and add a touch of water. With a pastry brush or your very clean fingers, wash the top of the crust with the egg. If you're making vegan dough, you can substitute the egg wash for olive oil or melted coconut oil diluted with a little bit of water.
Note: Oma’s Dutch Taart Dough easily doubles to make three 9-inch (23-cm) pies or one 9-inch (23-cm) pie with enough dough left over to make a lattice and design for eye-popping embellishment. Instead of using 1½ cups (360 grams) of butter (3 sticks) when doubling the recipe, use 1 cup and 6 tablespoons (330 grams) (2 sticks and 6 tablespoons).
Adapted from The Taartwork Pies Cookbook by Brittany Bennett, Page Street Publishing Co., 2018.