I don’t know about you, but I am having a hard time with the fact spring has sprung, daylight savings time is here and we really never had a winter. Wasn’t it just Christmas? Well, this means it is time for spring-cleaning and, more importunately, updating menus. I do it every week at my job, but for a season change, this really means an overhaul. Very soon we will have to shed our warm sweater, which normally means shedding a few pounds. Everyone will be looking for a lighter cuisine, but I don’t care how light you go, you cannot go without something sweet at the end of the meal.  Luckily, fresh fruit will start to be available in abundance and I say there is no better time to take advantage and make a fresh berry pie or tart. If you are like me you can also make a savory pie, nothing better than a chicken potpie for the soul.

The pie is believed to have been developed around 2000 B.C. by the Egyptians. The Egyptians, it is thought, passed the pie on around 1400 B.C. and 600 B.C. to the Greeks. Around 100 B.C. the pie traveled from Greece to Rome. The first known recipe for a pie was for a rye-crusted goat cheese and honey pie. Pies first appeared in England around the 12th century and the pies were predominantly meat. The crust was known as “coffin”, and there was more of it than filling and it was not actually even eaten but used only to preserve the moisture and flavor of the filling.

The term “tart” appears in a savory 14th century recipe, “Forme of Cury” which is a cookbook from the period, which means Forms of Cooking. Tourte de moy was a tart of bone marrow that was used in England in the 16th and 17th centuries. A mixture of savory and sweet was common in medieval dishes.

The biggest difference between tarts and pies is their crust. Tarts contain less filling than pies; the flavor of the crust will likely be the key to the success of the final product. The other difference is the shape of the pie versus the tart. The pie is round, of course, whereas a tart can come in many shapes. The tart is closer to the pastry family than a pie. The crust of a tart also tends to be more delicate than a pie. Pies and tarts can both be served with a sweet or savory filling.

Flour for piecrust should not be high or low in gluten like you will find in cake flours. Cake flour does not absorb and retain moisture quickly and this can result in a sticky dough. Using high gluten flour will react in the reverse—it absorbs and retains moisture quickly, which results in a tough crust. Pastry flour that is milled from a soft winter wheat it is best suited for a piecrust. There are 2 types of dough used for pies: flakey or mealy. The only difference between the two is how the fat is incorporated into the dough. There also is the crumb crust that is used mainly for unbaked pies such as a cream pies. With tarts you will find that bakers use a 50/50 combination dough made up of short dough and piecrust dough. This dough would serve better for a fruit pie. The dough used in tarts is pate brisee, a rich shortcrust that is strong enough to support the items in the tart when served. It is also a sweeter dough, which contains eggs and sugar. Puff pastry dough could also be used when making a tart.

Blind baking is the procedure for preparing a prebaked pie or tart shell. The dough is rolled out, fitted into the pan and pierced in several places. The process of piercing the dough is known as docking and it is done to prevent blisters from forming in the dough as it bakes. The dough is covered with parchment paper and an empty pie pan is set on top of the paper, this is known as double panning. The pans are placed upside down in the oven, which prevents the dough from both shrinking and blistering. The dough is baked until it is set and dry but not golden. This procedure for assembly would be defined as an unbaked pie. The pie would be filled with a prepared filling, chilled and served when the filling is set and firm enough to be sliced.  A baked pie would be defined as a raw pie shell that is filled and then baked with the filling. The same definition can be used for a baked tart, the dough is unbaked and filled with fresh fruit sprinkled with sugar and then baked.

Seven good pointers to follow when assembling a pie or tart would be:

  1. Use a metal pie pan. The heat penetrates faster allowing the crust to brown, which means no soggy bottom.
  2. Use a template to cut your circles or shapes for the dough.
  3. Alway add a pinch of salt to your fruit fillings. It makes the fruit both fruitier and sweeter.
  4. Don’t overfill.
  5. Chill the filled pie for 20 minutes before baking. This allows the butter in the dough to set up and the starch in the thickeners to start to absorb liquid.
  6. Watch the bubbles to tell when the pie is baked. Once the bubbles slow down this means the juices have thickened, which is an indicator that the pie is done.
  7. Cool the pie before slicing, this allows the juices to set up.

By Chef K. Marie Paulk