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The Pie Family and All the Cousins:
Pies, Tarts, and Everything in Beween (or on top of) Pie Crust

By Renee Shelton

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A common question I am asked is “What is the difference between a pie and a tart?” To answer that and to better understand the differences and similarities between all the pie family members, here are definitions and explanations to many items seen on pastry menus in restaurants and hotels.

Also listed are several very old-fashioned recipes from historical cookbooks in my collection. Titles among my favorites old books: “Little Blue Book No. 1179 How to Make Desserts, Pies and Pastries,” “The Complete Confectioner, Pastry-Cook, and Baker,” “Desserts,” and “The Epicurean.”

This pastry item is the one of the most popular and historical dessert menu items that can be found in the United States. A typical pie consists either of one or two crusts with a sweet filling. Two crusts are often dubbed ‘double crust’ and bottom crust only a ‘single crust. Pies can be sweet or savory, and cream, fruit, vegetable or meat based. Often fruit pies have a thickener (flour, cornstarch, tapioca, etc) for the resulting water and juices released during baking.
Pie Pans

Deep Dish Pie

This is usually a single crust pie made in a deep-dish pan (pie pan with higher sides). Baking the pie this way is great for Recipes can also be found where the filling is placed in a casserole or other baking dish and a layer of pastry is rolled and placed over the top. The edges are crimped and the top is vented, and the pie is baked. The resulting pie looks like a pie only it has no bottom, only the top. This style is generally served a la mode (with ice cream) or with whipped cream.

Apple Tart ............... Tart:
This item is very similar to a pie in that it has a pastry dough bottom and a filling. It can be single- or double-crusted. Often, tarts are thinner than pies, and can be found in fluted tart pans or made in flan rings (see below). Tart rings come in many different shapes, including round and rectangular. On menus, it can be listed as ‘tart’ or ‘tarte’ depending on the pastry chef.

This item can mean one of two things: an inverted rich egg-based custard with a caramel syrup and/or a caramelized top, or an open tart (one crust only on the bottom) baked in a flan ring. Flan rings are metal circles with rolled edges, and the pastry crust is made in them. The pastry dough is laid and pressed inside the ring directly over a sheet pan.

The shell can be baked by itself and used as a cooked ready-made base for cooked creams or filled with a filling and baked. Flan rings come in many different sizes from individual or very large sizes, and can be found in tin, stainless steel or aluminum. A flan (tart) can be savory or sweet.
Tart Rings Flan Rings
Free Form Pie or Tart:
This is a pastry dough crust rolled out and instead of placing in a pie tin, it is transferred to a flat baking pan.
The center is filled or spread with a filling and the edges are folded around it. The edges can be left as they are or crimped or cut decoratively. It is then baked until the crust is browned and the filling is cooked.
Free Form Apple Tart
Really watery or runny fillings are not good for this as the filling would run over the edges before folding them over. Fruit fillings are excellent for this kind of dessert.


This can be sweet or savory, and is basically anything in an edible container like bread crusts, hollowed rolls, empty pastry shells, cooked mashed potatoes, etc. For pastry, it generally means a free form pie or tart. Croustades can be individual or larger.

Galettes are sweet or savory baked items. When prepared sweet, galettes can be defined in one of two ways: The first as a round and flat dessert made out of pastry dough, yeast-leavened doughs such as brioche and even puff pastry and are often filled with fruits, jams and creams. The second is a round, flat sometimes crimped cookie similar to shortbread.

These are individual desserts made with pasty dough. Cut out from rounds (or squares or other shapes), turnovers are filled with spoonful or two of filling and folded over. The edges are crimped or pressed to seal. These are generally baked but can also be fried.

Fried Pies:
These are similar to turnovers, and are generally fruit-filled. The pastry dough is usually always pie dough and after frying they are drained and can be found served with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar.

Upside-Down Pies or Tarte Tatin:
Tarte Tatin is a caramelized apple dish baked with a pastry dough on top. It is then inverted on a serving platter with the fruit on top and pastry on bottom. Variations that can be found on pastry menus include peach, nectarine, pear and other sliceable fruits. The caramel and resulting syrup from the fruit that accumulates and thickens is served with the dish. An upside down pie is similar with less complexity: just a filling (usually fruit) placed on the bottom of a pan with straight sides for easy unmolding, pie crust is placed over the top and the whole thing is baked. It is served inverted on a plate.

Angel Pies:
Generally speaking, these pies have a meringue crust to them. Meringue is spread thickly in a pie pan and baked until it is crisp and dried. Fresh filling is spooned high in the center and served immediately. Cutting this pie is facilitated with a serrated knife. The filling that is often used is a sweetened fruit filling. Some of the popular flavors are raspberry and strawberry since these both contrast nicely with the white meringue crust.

Now that you know a little about the different pies and tarts that can be found, here are some recipes from old cookbooks. While they may be out of print, old pastry cookbooks are a treasure. Not only are they a great culinary learning tool but they can lend an historical hint of what was popular way back then.

Orange Meringue Pie
This recipe comes from the hard-to-find Little Blue Book collection from the Haldeman-Julius Publications. The book “How to Make Desserts, Pies and Pastries” by Mrs. Temple is No. 1179 in the collection from 1927.

1 c sugar
1/8 t salt
1/3 c flour
1 c orange juice
1/4 c lemon juice
1 t grated orange rind
2 egg yolks, beaten
1 t butter

Meringue Topping:
2 egg whites
1/8 t salt
4 T sugar
1 t grated orange rind

1 Prebaked pie crust

For the filling: Mix the sugar, salt and flour in the top of a double boiler. Add in juices and cook until thickened, stirring constantly. Add in the egg yolks and butter and cook for another two minutes. Pour into an already cooked pie shell.
For the topping: Beat the whites with salt until firm. Add in the sugar and beat until glossy. Fold in the orange rind and top the pie with it. Bake in a moderate oven for about eight minutes until lightly browned.

Grated Apple Pie
This recipe is adapted from a book by Olive M. Hulse. Her book “Desserts: Two Hundred Recipes for Making Desserts Including French Pastries” is loaded with quotes on every page and has a great introduction on “Dessert Lore.” My favorite quote or thought: The discovery of a new dish does more for the happiness of the human race than the discovery of a new planet.

5 large apples, peeled and grated
2 large eggs
4 T melted butter
1 1/2 c sugar
1/2 c cream
1 T brandy
Pinch of cinnamon

2 pie crust shells

Mix all the ingredients together and divide between the two crust shells. Bake until the crusts are browned and the filling is set.

Apricot Flan (Apricot Flawn or Flan d’Abricots)
This recipe originally has the flan spelled as ‘flawn.’ "The Epicurean" cookbook is 1183 pages of historical menus, culinary definitions and black and white illustrations showing many of the tools and utensils of the chef’s domain from Delmonico’s kitchens from 1862 to 1894. The Epicurean was published in 1920 and written by Charles Ranhofer, ‘former chef of Delmonico’s.’

Flan ring, lined with pastry dough
Apricots, halved and peeled
Superfine sugar, for sprinkling

Arrange the apricot halves in circles, overlapping each other. Sprinkle all over with superfine sugar and bake in a moderate oven until pastry is browned and apricots are softened. Remove flan ring, cool and serve.


Copyright © 2009 Renee Shelton.
All rights reserved.


Copyright © 2004-2010 Renee Shelton.
All Rights Reserved.


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