Published By: Sanjukta

Pies, tarts and flans: Know the classics

Who doesn’t love a good dessert?

Pies, tarts, and flans have been favourite for dessert lovers for centuries, each having something special to offerto the taste buds.

Pies, tarts, and flans each offer a unique baking experience and result in a delicious treat. Pies bring comfort with their hearty fillings and flaky crusts, tarts impress with their elegant presentation and sturdy bases, and flans delight with their creamy texture and caramel topping. So, whether you're making a rustic apple pie, a sophisticated fruit tart, or a classic caramel flan, understanding these differences will help you bake with confidence and creativity.

Pies: Classic Comfort Food

Pies are the epitome of home-baked comfort food, typically featuring a bottom and sometimes a top crust that encloses a filling. The crust is made from a simple mixture of flour, fat (like butter or shortening), and water, resulting in a flaky, tender base that can hold a variety of fillings.

Fruit pies, like apple, cherry, and blueberry, are filled with sweetened fruits, often mixed with a bit of flour or cornstarch to thicken the juices as they bake.

Not all pies are sweet; savory versions, such as pot pie or shepherd's pie, feature fillings made with animal protein, vegetables, and sometimes a creamy sauce.

Custard pies, including pumpkin and pecan pie, are filled with a mixture that sets into a firm, creamy custard as it bakes.

Pies can have a single crust (just on the bottom) or a double crust (top and bottom). Keeping your ingredients cold, especially the butter, helps create that desirable flaky texture. And don't forget to vent the top crust to let steam escape!

Tarts: Elegant and Refined

Unlike pies, tarts usually have a single, thicker crust that is firmer and crumblier, made from pâte sucrée (sweet dough) or pâte brisée (shortcrust pastry). The filling is exposed, giving tarts their distinctive, open-faced look.

Fruit tarts often feature fresh fruits like strawberries, blueberries, or kiwis arranged on a creamy base of pastry cream or custard.

Savory tarts, like quiches, are filled with a mixture of cream, cheese, and sometimes vegetables or other animal proteins.

Decadent chocolate tarts, with their smooth chocolate ganache filling, are a favorite for dessert lovers.

Tarts are typically baked in a shallow, fluted tart pan with a removable bottom, making it easy to remove and serve without damaging the delicate crust. Blind baking (pre-baking the crust without the filling) helps prevent a soggy bottom.

Flans: Creamy and Versatile

Generally, a flan refers to a baked custard dessert topped with caramel, popular in Latin American and Spanish cuisines. However, in the UK, a flan can also mean an open-faced tart with a savory or sweet filling.

The classic caramel flan features a rich, creamy custard topped with a layer of soft caramel. Savory flans, similar to quiches, are less common but can include vegetable or cheese fillings. For caramel flans, the key is to get the caramel just right—melted sugar with a deep amber color, not too light or too dark. Baking it in a water bath helps the custard set evenly and stay smooth.