Forward and backward

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Rules is rules. And the baker is advised to follow them. Should she care to produce a tender and tasty tart, she will mind the pate sablee rulebook.

Pate sablee means sandy pastry. That's because the classic buttery pastry is enhanced with sugar grit. Its pat-in-the-pan ease and crisp bite offer the sweet tart a sturdy start.

Pate sablee, like all pastry, calls for sound technique: Dip and scoop the flour, sugar and salt. Whisk evenly. Cut in the butter. Enrich with egg yolk, just until clumped.

She knows these rules. She practices these rules. She believes in these rules. Imagine her surprise when confronted with a recipe that goads: break them.

The renegade pate sablee urges the baker to work backward: Cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the egg yolk. Bolster — last — with flour.

Strange. And strangely enticing.

Feeling bold, even brash, the baker tries the reverse method. Avoiding eye contact with the scorned Cuisinart, she turns to the mixer. She creams the butter and sugar. She beats in the yolk. Then — shuddering — adds the flour. The pastry clumps, like, well, pastry.

She is shocked. And slightly ashamed. Does she lack bravada?

She bakes up a set of tarts and — for fun — a set of fingerprint cookies. To her purist palate, the standard method yields a flakier, more traditional tart. The newfangled method yields a more satisfying cookie.

But the real surprise is that the differences are slight. Strangely, both methods work. Deliciously.

Leah Eskin is a Tribune special contributor.

Pate sablee, forward

1 cup flour

1/3 cup sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut up

1 egg yolk

1 tablespoon cold water

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