Certain tart doughs suit different fillings; different recipes suit certain shapes. For the streamlined, minimalist baker, it's swell to have a go-to, all-purpose recipe that suits a variety of needs, but if one has the time (and inclination), why not play?
A sturdy winter tart made with dried fruits and preserves benefits from a biscuit-like crust such as the Italian pasta frolla. Because the pastry is so lean, it holds it shape nicely against jammy fillings, and it's sweetness carries the entire dessert beyond the realm of pastry to candy-like confection (for a crust that will stand up to the most syrupy of fillings I'll sometimes replace a portion of flour with cornmeal). An additional benefit to using such dough is its wonderful flavor; as it is usually perfumed with orange or lemon zest it perfectly complements the tastes of the season.
Another sweet dough is the buttery pate sucree . Like pasta frolla, it's quite tender, but a high butter-to-sugar ratio makes for a more delicate crumb. Crisp and crumbly, its the perfect nest for ginger-kissed pastry cream topped with fresh raspberries.
There is pate brisee for savory fillings, pate sablee for the daintiest palette, puff pastry for the adventurous, and filo for those so inclined.
And then there's crunch dough.
Crunch dough's claim to fame is that it was taught to the staff of Chez Panisse by Jacques Pepin. And because the former pastry chef of Quince worked at CP, I also learned the secret to its production (okay, it's not that big of a secret since it's appeared in several cookbooks, but let me feel special!). This is the must-have recipe for free-formed tarts. As you'll see, it's ingredients echo a classic pie crust, but it's all about technique. Made correctly, it will produce flaky, buttery layers that shatter when bitten, especially when baked upon a pre-heated pizza stone. Sans stone? Not to worry, a sheet tray will suffice.
1 c AP flour
1/2 tsp sugar
pinch of salt
6tbl cold, unsweetened butter, cut into small cubes and refigerated until needed
3-4 tbl ice water
Combine sugar, flour, salt. Cut one-third of the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse cornmeal. Cut in the rest of the butter, just until the largest pieces are pea-sized. Drizzle in the water one tablespoon at a time and lightly toss the mixture between your fingers between each addition*. After the water is added, continue tossing the mixture until it begins to form a ball (if it refuses, add a little more water). Press and flatten into a disc, cover with plastic, and chill for an hour before using. Allow to sit at room temperature five minutes, then roll out into a 14" disc. Refrigerate for at least a half an hour, then continue with your recipe (to prevent the crust from becoming soggy, scatter cookie crumbs over the rolled-out dough before adding filling).
*This "tossing" technique also works wonders with biscuits and scones.