Pies vs Tarts

Here are two food items I am sure you have all heard of. Not so scary, right? I am going to briefly explain the differences between the two. A pie generally has a sweet or savory filling that is baked in a crust. Sometimes, they have no crust but more often than not, they have a lattice or full crust. They are baked in a shallow pan with sloped sides and served in wedges. Some examples of pies are berry, apple, meat and more.

A tart is usually made in a shallow, straight-sided pan or ring, many often have fluted edges. Tarts can be made in many shapes, rounds, squares, rectangles, petals and more. Most tarts are open-faced so that the beauty of the fruit or filling can be seen. Examples of tarts are fruit, lemon, chocolate and piped cream.

Pie crusts and tart shells are made from many types of dough or crumbs. For pies, a flaky dough or mealy dough is best. Tarts, however, usually will have a sweet dough. The crust for either a tart or pie can be shaped and baked prior to filling (this is commonly referred to baking blind) or they can be filled and baked together with the filling.

What are these doughs I referred to? Both mealy and flaky doughs are quick, easy and very versatile.

Flaky dough gets its name from its appearance in the final baked texture. This type of dough is best for a top crust. It can be used for prebaked shells that will be filled with a cooled filling before serving.

Mealy dough gets its name from its raw texture. This particular type of dough is sturdier and resists sogginess. This is a good choice for custards or fruit pies.

Both of these doughs are too delicate to be used in tarts that will need to be removed from the pan to serve. It is best to use a sweet dough for these (described a little further down).

These doughs contain very little or no sugar and can be made with one recipe using a slightly different mixing method. Both doughs require a cold fat, either butter or shortening. This is cut in to the flour. The flakiness is determined by the size of fat particles in the dough. The larger the pieces of fat, the flakier the crust will be. The flakes are actually the sides of the fat pockets. This happens during the baking process by the melting fat and steam. In flaky dough, the fat is left in sizes of a peanut or pea, in mealy dough it is mixed in more to resemble a course cornmeal. With smaller amounts of fat, the dough is less flaky.

The type of fat used will affect the the flavor and the flakiness. For example, butter will give you a lovely rich flavor but will not provide as flaky a crust as other fats. Butter is more difficult to work with because it is brittle when cold and has a lower melting point. Vegetable shortening will produce a very nice flaky crust but does nothing for the flavor.

Sweet tart dough, also known as pate sucree is a rich, non-flaky dough used for sweet tart shells. Because it uses egg yolks and during mixing, the fat is blended in more thoroughly, it is a much sturdier dough. Because of this mixing technique, air pockets are prevented from forming in the baked dough, resulting in a non-flaky texture. Less gluten is formed due to the fat coating the flour, thus giving us a more tender dough. Sweet tart dough is more cookie-like and is much more rich with a buttery flavor. This is a good dough to use for mini tarts that will be removed from their shell prior to serving as well as the large tarts. This dough, when raw, can be kept in the fridge for 2 weeks or frozen for up to 3 months.

Crumb crusts are made with ground up cookie crumbs and melted butter. This type of crust is good for unbaked pies with cream or chiffon fillings or can be used in baked pies such as cheesecakes. Many items can be used to make a crumb crust; chocolate cookies, graham crackers, vanilla wafers, ginger snaps and macaroons. You can also use some breakfast cereals like corn flakes or bran flakes. Many finely ground items can be added for flavor such as nuts and spices. I highly-recommend using a food processor to ground the ingredients to a fine texture.

Typically, crumb crusts are one-part melted butter, two-parts sugar to four-parts crumbs. Keep in mind, depending on the type of cookie or crumb you are using, the sugar may need to be adjusted to have a balanced crust. If the crumb seems too dry, add a little melted butter. Then press the crumb mixture into the bottom of the pan and bake or chill before filling.