Have you ever baked with a tart pan? Getting a tart out of the pan is a really crucial and very stressful step in baking for all of us. This step can literally make or break your recipe. Here's how to use tart pans, whether you need to grease them, the ways to line them with your dough, and a professional pastry chef's easy technique for how to remove a tart from a tart pan without any stress (or tears!). This trick works for getting tarts out of mini tart pans and full-sized tart pans!
Tart pan versus pie plate
Tart pans are not the same as pie plates. Pie plates are shallow and have an angled edge (for easy serving so that you can easily slide a pie lifter under slices), and pie plates often have a wider rim. On the other hand, tart pans have a straight, vertical edge to them and often don't have any kind of rim at all. In fact, the sharp edge of the tart pan is used to trim the dough to fit the mould exactly.
Most tart pans have a crinkled or fluted edge, but some may have a straight edge. Some tart pans come as one piece, and others have two pieces. Most tart pans are shallow, although quiche pans are deep tart pans, allowing for more filling.
Which tart pan you use is entirely dependent on what you are baking. If you are going to be pouring a fluid batter into your tart pan, this is when you would want to reach for a one-piece tart pan to avoid leaks. On the other hand, if you are baking a tart with a crust that you would like to remove from the pan to serve, this is when you need a tart pan with removable bottom.
Why do they have a removable bottom?
A tart pan with a removable bottom is a two-piece tart pan where the ring and base are separate. This means that you can slide the tart ring off of your baked tart to unmold the tart, and then you can slide the tart off the flat metal disk base onto a serving plate.
One of the key differences between a pie and a tart is that a pie is served from the pan it's baked in whereas a tart is unmoulded from the pan and placed onto a serving plate.
Some tart pans are perforated, like pie plates, to allow steam and air to escape, so that the crust dries out better, resulting in a better, crispier texture.
How to use them
Do you have to grease them?
Usually, you don't have to grease tart pans, and many tart pans come with a non-stick finish which ensures easy unmolding of tarts. Even if a tart pan isn't non-stick, I still don't grease it. That being said, if you have a feeling that your tart may stick to the pan or you are concerned, greasing and flouring the tart pan will help ensure that your tart will come out of the pan after baking. It's really up to you and make sure to follow the recommendations written in your recipe.
Personally, with most of my tart crust recipes, I don't grease the pans (like the sweet sugar cookie dough for these Earl grey panna cotta tarts and the matcha sugar cookie dough for these matcha tarts). They don't stick!
How to fit the dough into a tart pan
In order to line the tart pan with your dough you have two options:
- For fragile, shortbread cookie crusts, for graham cracker crumb crusts, and for Oreo cookie crumb crusts: you may pile the crumbly mixture into the pan and press it into the bottom and up the sides of the pan to form an even layer of dough. This is the easiest way to line the pan with your dough, but make sure that you press the cookie dough crumbs firmly into the pan to form a solid base and sturdy edge. You can use your fingers for this step and a flat-bottomed glass will help make the bottom of the crust flatter and even throughout.
- For sturdier doughs: you can chill the dough for an hour after it's made, then roll it out on a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough so that the disk of dough is about 2 inches larger than your tart pan. You might need it to be even larger if your tart pan is deep. Once rolled out, fold the dough in half, gently and loosely then slide the dough onto your tart pan. Unfold the dough and gently work the disk of dough into the nooks and edges of the pan. It's very important that you get the dough nestled into the corners of the pan to avoid shrinkage during baking!
- For fragile doughs that break when they warm up: after chilling the disk of dough, slice it into thin, even strips. Line the pan with those strips, reserving a little of the dough to patch any holes. Press the pieces together to give it a smooth finish without any gaps.
Tip: NEVER grab the tart pan from underneath because the removable bottom will lift up and break your dough. In fact, I always recommend placing the tart pan on a cookie sheet to make it easy to move the tart from the counter to the fridge or the oven. This way you avoid any potential accidents.
How to remove the tart from the pan?
I learned this technique when I was studying at Le Cordon Bleu. Our practical sessions were usually about 2.5 hours (not including cleanup time), which meant that in 2.5 hours, when a tart was on the menu for the day, we'd have to make it all, from start to finish, all while seeming "in control" and working "cleanly and neatly". Hah.
Obviously, in 2.5 hours, we tended towards insanity, especially at the very beginning of the session when we were mostly lost and confused. It also meant that at the end of class, we were all rushing to un-mould our semi-cooled (read practically straight-from-the-oven) tarts to get them on boards and serve them to the instructor for grading.
The final minutes were madness. We sweated and we fretted, and we ran around like headless chickens. There was the need to get the tart on the plate as fast as possible and the fear of destroying the not-completely-cooled tart which was in a most fragile state of oven-hot.
Here are the steps to take to get your tart out of the pan:
- Find a sturdy, free-standing object that is slightly smaller than the hole at the bottom of the pan (good to plan ahead and find the right size beforehand!). This could be a small inverted metal mixing bowl for full-sized tarts, or for mini tarts, a small drinking glass or even a large shot glass.
- Place the tart on the object, and carefully slide the ring off the tart and down the stand. Then all you have to do is take down the tart and slide the tart off the bottom round and onto a plate (or serve it on the metal round if you are nervous).
This works for full-sized tarts, like this raspberry chocolate tart, this Earl Grey chocolate tart, rhubarb chocolate tart, or this plum tart. This technique to remove tarts from tart pans is especially useful for getting mini tarts out of the pan, like these Earl Grey panna cotta tarts, matcha tarts, and even pumpkin tarts. This also works for removing tarts with a fragile crust from tart pans, like gluten-free tart crusts. Just take the time to choose the bowl or cup that you will be standing your tart on.
A few extra suggestions for getting a tart out of a pan
- Use a tart pan with a removable bottom! The best tart pan I've worked with is from Wilton, which you can buy on Amazon! The Wilton pans are sturdy and come as a set of 3 tart pans with removable bottoms at 3 different standard sizes (8", 9", and 10"), which means you are covered for most tart recipes. They are heavy-duty and have a non-stick finish, which is a little extra insurance if you are worried about the tart sticking to the pan. They are worth every extra penny. Trust me. Invest in them.
- You may want to butter and flour the pan depending on the dough you are working with. If you aren't sure, just do this in case.
- Let the tart cool as long and as much as you can. Let it cool completely if you can. If your tart shell is warm, it is more fragile, which means there's more risk that it breaks when you unmold it.
And, if all else fails, even a broken tart tastes delicious. I've baked a lot of tarts, and I've broken and cracked a lot of tart edges. You will survive. Just eat the tart and hide the evidence.
Can you make a tart without a tart pan?
- The best replacement for a tart pan is a tart ring: the tart ring is what pastry professionals will use. It's a simple ring with no bottom, which means zero stress because all you have to do is remove the ring. Pastry chefs will set the ring on a parchment-lined baking sheet, then roll out the dough and fit it to the ring set on the baking sheet. The tart is baked as is and then cooled in the pan. Once cooled, the ring can be lifted off easily and you know the tart crust will not be stuck to the baking sheet because it's set on a layer of parchment. Very smart!
- Pie plates can work, but not ideal: You can absolutely make a tart without a tart pan, for example, in a pie plate or whatever pan you have with 1-inch sides (or higher), but you won't be able to unmold it to serve it on a plate. You will probably have to serve the tart in the pan it was baked in. Nothing wrong with that. Note that pans with vertical, straight edges may be difficult to serve from because of the angle of the sides.
- For a deep-dish tart, try a springform pan, like for this deep-dish quiche with Swiss chard
- Apple tarte tatin is made in a large skillet and flipped out of the pan to serve (as you would flip an upside-down cake)
What else can you bake in them?
I actually use tart pans more for other recipes than for tarts, go figure. Tart pans are great for making shortbread cookies. For example, these lavender shortbread cookies were baked in a tart pan, giving them a pretty scalloped edge with zero effort on your part!
Tart pan suggestions
Here are the pans that I've tested and use to bake tarts:
- For full-sized tarts, I use the Wilton 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom, which you can buy on Amazon. This pan has a dark non-stick finish, which makes for clean unmoulding and golden brown crusts.
- For individual tarts, I use 4-inch tart pans with removable bottoms, which you can buy on Amazon.
- For deep-dish tarts, I use this 8-inch springform pan from Wilton, which you can get on Amazon.