Pies and tarts: Two of my all-time favorite desserts. This isn't a "pass/fail", but, you only get out of something what you put into it, and, the pie or tart pastry you choose to use can turn a dessert from ordinary to extraordinary. While we all agree we love the time-saving convenience of picking up a store-bought pie crust or pastry on occasion, in our hearts we also know their taste and texture are a compromise. Even a store-bought, artificially-flavored graham cracker or cookie crust pales in comparison to one made at home using real-deal melted butter instead.
Is there a difference between pie & tart pastry?
The answer is a mixed bag, so, I'll stick to sharing my opinion, which you can compare to others. It begins with knowing the difference between a pie and a tart (read the explanations below), and ends with: The crust you use to make a tart is more important than the crust you use to make a pie. When it comes to pie, the crust is there more to hold the filling than it is for taste. When it comes to a tart, the crust plays a bigger part because its taste is integral to the dessert.
A pie is a sweet or savory dish with a bottom crust, a filling, and sometimes a top crust. It's baked in a dish or a pan with sloped sides. A pie crust is typically made with flour, salt, cold water and fat or a combination of fat (butter, lard or vegetable shortening). A pie crust is rolled flat, placed in the dish, baked and expected to be crisp and flaky. Sometimes a pie pastry is blind-baked before filling, sometimes not. Pie is sliced and served out of the dish it is baked in.
A tart is a sweet or savory dish with a bottom crust and a filling. It's baked in a pan with shallow, straight sides and a removable bottom. While a pie pastry can always be used to make a savory tart, the preferred pastry for a sweet tart is starts out sugary and sandy in texture. It gets patted and pressed together in the pan and is cookie-like in texture after baking. This type of tart pastry is fragile and always blind-baked prior to filling. Tarts are always removed from the pan prior to slicing and serving.
You can find two of my all-time favorite recipes (both pictured above) for ~ My Lover Affair w/Lemon & Lemon Meringue Pie ~ and ~ Pucker Up for French Lemon Tart (Tarte au Citron) ~ in Categories 6, 21 or 26.
We bakers all have our favorite recipe for pâte brisée, and pâte sucrée (unsweetened and sweetened recipes for flaky quiche and pie pastry). I know I do. Some folks simply purchase pie pastry and I am neither going to judge nor criticize. What happens in your kitchen stays in your kitchen. Just remember: Whether making it from scratch or taking it out of a box, it's got to be rolled enough to fit into the bottom and up the sides of a tart pan with a removable bottom.
That said, I have a nifty little three-ingredient-recipe that is so easy-to-make you'd have to be crazy to use a store-bought crust. Technically, it's in a category all its own and the fancy French word for it is pâte sablée. Literally translated, it means "sand dough", because it has a coarse sand-like texture when mixed together. It is so sandy, it gets dumped into a tart pan and pressed into place because, unlike a pie pastry, it's next-to-impossible to roll and impossible to pick up and move after rolling. It produces a cookie-like crust, which makes it perfect for sweet tarts. In my version, I melt some butter in the microwave, stir it into a mixture of flour and sugar, then pat and press it into the tart pan -- that's all there is to it. It bakes up perfect each and every time.
10 tablespoons salted butter (1 stick + 2 tablespoons) (Note: If you choose to use unsalted butter, which a lot of bakers do, stir a scant 1/8 tablespoon salt into the flour and sugar mixture.)
2 cups + 3 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour
5 tablespoons granulated sugar (1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon)
~Step 1. In a 1-cup measuring container, melt butter in microwave. In a medium bowl, using a fork, stir together the flour and sugar. In a thin stream add the butter to the dry mixture, stirring constantly with the fork, until all the butter is added. The mixture will resemble pea-sized crumbs that come together when a few small bits are pressed together with the fingertips.
~ Step 2. Transfer all of the loose crumb mixture to the bottom of an 11" tart pan. Using your fingertips, pat and press the mixture evenly but firmly across the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Note: Feel free to use a small hand-held tart roller if you have one (like the one pictured above), but it is not necessary. Place on center rack of 340°-350º oven and blind-bake* until crust is a very light golden brown, 18-20 minutes. Remove from oven and place pan on a wire rack to cool the crust while preparing the tart filling.
*Blind-bake or bake blind, is the English term for baking a pastry shell before it is filled. There are two instances when you need to prebake a pie or tart pastry: #1) A pastry shell that once the filling is added doesn't return to the oven for further baking. In this application the pastry must be fully-baked, nicely browned and completely cooled before you add the filling, and #2) A pastry shell that will get filled with a stirred custard, cream, mousse or fully-cooked/ready-to-eat filling and will return to the oven for further baking. In this application, the degree to which you prebake the pastry (barely brown, lightly brown, golden brown) is determined by the length of time it will take the filled pie or tart to finish baking, meaning: the longer it will take for the filling to bake, the lighter in color the prebaked crust should be when it goes into the oven.
To make a 10" or 12" tart: Do the Math. I did the math for you:
For a 10" pâte sablée tart pastry:
8 tablespoons salted butter butter (1 stick)
28 tablespoons flour (1 3/4 cups)
4 tablespoons sugar (1/4 cup)
For an 11" pâte sablée tart pastry:
10 tablespoons salted butter (1 stick + 2 tablespoons)
35 tablespoons flour (2 cups + 3 tablespoons)
5 tablespoons granulated sugar (1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon)
For a 12 " pâte sablée tart pastry:
12 tablespoons salted butter (1 1/2 sticks)
42 tablespoons flour (2 1/2 cups + 2 tablespoons)
6 tablespoons flour (1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons)
Special Equipment List: 10", 11" or 12" tart pan; 1-cup measuring container; fork; hand-held tart roller (optional); wire cooling rack
Cook's Note: Want to know more? That's what I'm here for -- specifics. To get my detailed instructions for ~ How to: Blind-Bake a Pastry Shell (Baking Blind) ~, as well as all of my easy-to-follow step-by-step photos, click into Category 6 or 15.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)