Happy Tartsgiving!

19 Nov

So, our poll results point to a pie-leaning trend.  It’s to be expected, given that, in the US, pies dominate our cultural history.  No Thanksgiving celebration is complete without the requisite pumpkin pie – although I would encourage you to celebrate “Tartsgiving” instead this coming Thursday.

Because it’s the season for talk of such round, filled pastries, I thought it was a perfect time to provide a primer – compare and contrast style – on these two delicious culinary cousins.

Magneto... Tart

Dr. Xavier... Pie

Let’s start by building bridges, finding commonalities between pies & tarts.  Much like Magneto and Dr. Xavier and their common focus on rights for mutants, pies and tarts both attempt to accomplish the same objective – convenient delivery of sweet, gooey goodness in some type of crust. Here are some other traits that pies and tarts share:

  • can be topped or untopped
  • always baked
  • always built up from a bottom pastry crust
  • always contain a filling
  • can be sweet or savory

Rhubarb Pie

Chocolate Hazelnut Tarts

Now, let’s get to the controversial stuff… Xavier tried to work within the system of the humans, while Magneto’s goal was to destroy that system.  Oh, and in relation to our pastry duality, here are some key differences between pies & tarts.  You may see a slight bias in favor of tarts, but I always tend to root for the underdog.

  • Crust: Pie crust is flaky, not sweet, made from a dough traditionally called Pate Brise (broken dough) – ingredients are flour, some type of fat, a dash of salt and cold water.  Tart dough is usually not flaky, but more structural, and tends to contain eggs, sugar, fat and flour.  In culinary school, we made a tart dough called Pate Sucre (sugar dough).  Tart dough must support the weight of the filling while being removed from the pan, whereas pies are always served in the pan, so the crust doesn’t have to be as structurally sound.
  • Pans: Stemming directly from the difference in crusts, pies and tarts always use different pans.  Pie pans are angled and have taller sides, whereas tart pans always have straight up and down edges, tending to be shorter.
  • Size:  Although this isn’t a hard and fast rule, generally speaking tarts range in size from mini to large, whereas pies are traditionally between 9 & 11 inches wide.
  • Shape: Maybe I’ve lead a sheltered life, but I have never encountered a pie in any shape other than a round.  But, tarts come in lots of shapes – from round to square, from rectangle to barquette (boat).

Pecan Tart

So that about sums it up.  Regarding fillings, pies and tarts can both contain any range of gooey goodness.  For both, some recipes call for fillings to be baked into an unbaked crust, while other recipes require the baker to “blind bake” the crust portion and then add a filling that doesn’t require an oven.

Creme Brulee Tart

To get you on a path to the “tart” side, here is our bakery recipe for Pate Sucre.  Use it with your favorite tart or pie fillings.  Just remember that it needs to chill several hours before using and that you can only roll it out 2 – 4 times before it starts to shrink too much for tarts.  At that point, you can roll out the dough as you would for sugar cookies, stamp out some wacky shapes, and you’ve got an amazing batch of decorated cookies.  Just add royal icing.  Happy Tartsgiving!

Pumpkin Tarts with Torched Meringue

Tart Dough (Pate Sucre)

8 oz sugar
16 oz butter (unsalted), at room temp
3 egg yolks
1 egg
1 lb 8 oz flour (pastry or all purpose)
½ t salt
  1. Place the sugar and butter into a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.  Cream the mixture on low speed.  You are not trying to make the butter & sugar airy/fluffy, just trying to make them homogeneous.
  2. Add the egg & yolks, one by one, while mixing.  Scrape down the bowl.  Mix once again to ensure that everything is combined.
  3. Sift together the flour and salt.  Add half the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar mixture.  Mix on low speed until just combined.  Add the rest of the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined.
  4. The tart dough needs to chill for at least 1 hour before it is rolled out.  Pat it into a flat circle, then wrap and refrigerate.  To make tart shells, roll out the dough while chilled.  Once the tart dough is in the pan, let the tart shells rest in the freezer until baked.  This decreased the risk of the tart shells shrinking.
  5. The tart dough should only be rolled out 2 – 3 times for tart shells.  After that, you may use the dough like sugar cookie dough, cutting out shapes and baking as needed.
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