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In winter, the constant desire to have something delicious baking in the oven, warming and perfuming the house, has me making a lot of savory tarts.
I love them: Add a pile of lightly dressed greens and you’ve got a meal, but cut off a sliver a few hours later and it’s a perfectly acceptable snack. And, like many of my most favorite baked goods, they are open to tons of possibilities, which leaves the window wide open for creative combinations.
Here’s my guide to a few different kind of savory tarts (or, skip straight to the recipes):
Start with a solid foundation. In this case, we’re talking about a very delicious crust. I make three main kinds of tart crusts: press in crusts, roll out crusts, and free form crusts.
- Press-in crusts are just that: a simple dough that comes together very quickly and is pressed into a pan. I love Amanda’s version from her famous peach tart and for savory uses, I just cut the sugar.
- A roll-out crust is, again, what it sounds like: a more traditional pastry, rolled out so that it's thin and used to line a tart pan.
- Finally, free-form tarts, which, for all purposes, are very similar to galettes in my mind. I use my All Buttah Pie Dough to make these, but I mix the butter in much more (so that it's a little smaller than the size of peas) for a mealier texture than can stand up to an array of heavy tart fillings. (Other times, I use puff pastry.)
So what makes a savory tart different than a galette? Not much: A finer crust texture and sometimes a different shape. I really like making the free-form tarts square and either cutting a strip of dough and applying it to the edge with a little egg wash as a “wall” to contain the filling, or just folding the crust over, like a classic galette.
Regardless of the type of crust you use, follow the usual rules for crust, and chill whenever and wherever it’s applicable. Chill press in-crust after it's been put in the pan (and before baking); chill dough for roll-out crusts out before rolling it and again once it's in the pan before baking.
The precise method will match the crust style and fillings. One of the best things about baking something with very few rules is that you can change it to suit you as needed. But that doesn’t mean that the usual baking rules don’t apply.
Here are some things to consider:
- As listed above, each crust will require a different level of prep. Press-in crusts are delightfully easy, and the main concern is to make sure you apply it evenly inside the pan. I love Amanda’s trick of starting with the outside edges first: It really simplifies the process and yields consistently even coverage.
- Crusts that need to be rolled out will require chill time before and after rolling.
- Regardless of the type of crust being used, you want to mix and handle crusts as minimally as possible to keep them tender, and to get them to an even thickness. Refer to specific recipes, but you’re looking for a thickness between 1/8- to 1/4-inch; if the bottom crust is too thick, the tart might be very difficult to cut into. A thin crust ensures the right, delicate texture, as well as the proper crust-to-filling ratio. When I'm working with a press-in crust, I like to use the base of a small measuring cup to help me flatten out the corners and achieve evenness inside a tart pan.
- When I’m handling a rolled-out crust, I roll the dough onto my rolling pin and then gently unfurl it on top of the tart pan. After that, the best way to ensure the dough fits nicely into the edges of the tart pan is to lift it up carefully and, with a gentle downward motion, drop and nudge it back into the pan: Work with a little section of dough at a time until you’ve made it all the way around.
- I like to chill both press-in and rolled-out crusts for a while before trimming excess from the edge. Holding a paring knife parallel to the pan's edge, I make short, swooping cuts. You can also roll your pin over the edge of the pan and the excess dough will simply fall away.
- Free-form crusts can be any shape, including the classic “this was exactly how it looked when it was rolled out” as well as neatly trimmed shapes. As long as the crust is the proper thickness, anything goes.
Because we’re talking about different types of crust and fillings, it’s important to remember that oven temperature may vary among recipes (or if you make up your own). Crusts tend to respond well to higher temperatures (400 to 425° F), but fillings may need lower temperatures so that things don’t get overdone or burn.
General rule: Start at a higher temperature to help set the crust properly, then reduce the oven temperature to 350 to 375° F. And if things aren’t going the way you like, don’t forget you can tent parts of the tart (or the entire thing) with foil to control browning.
Par-baking your tart crust can be great (and is often necessary) for fillings with a lot of moisture. Basically, if you’re planning to bake a tart with a high moisture filling, par-bake the crust until it just begins to turn golden brown.
Chill the crust well before you par-bake, dock the crust all over with a fork, and weigh it down gently with pie weights inside a sheet of parchment or foil.
If your tart is going to have fillings that don’t need to return to the oven (roasted veggies, a thin layer of ricotta, and so on), you can fully blind-bake your crust.
Be sure to let par-baked and blind-baked crusts cool completely before adding filling. I often like to “seal” par-baked crusts with a little brush of egg white when they first come out of the oven: This protective layer also helps prevent moisture-rich fillings from seeping in. For savory tarts, there’s another fun (and delicious) trick: Grate a layer of hard cheese over the crust once it is par-baked, then return to the oven for 1 to 2 minutes.
Freeform tarts can't be (and don't need to be) par-baked: Their bottom crust gets nice and golden thanks to the combination of high oven temperature and direct contact with the baking sheet.
My favorite kind of savory tarts are the kind where I throw a bunch of yummy things into a crust and bake it (bim, bam, boom!)—but some fillings may require advance prep.
Some ingredients might need to be pre-cooked, either for texture or flavor (examples: potatoes or caramelized onions, respectively). Other ingredients might benefit from pre-cooking for other reasons. For example, sautéing greens ahead of time gives you a better idea of the volume you may really need, and can also release excess moisture which makes for a better end result. Think about your fillings carefully, and treat them accordingly. That being said, there’s plenty of situations where raw ingredients can go straight into a crust.
Baking times will vary based on the size of your tart pan or free-form creation, as well as the types of fillings inside. Generally, tarts around 9 inches in diameter will bake anywhere between 25 to 45 minutes, so if you’re using ingredients that make take longer to become properly tender (root vegetables, squash, etc.) you may want to consider pre-cooking those items—either fully or partially—before adding them to the tart.
Remember, the best tarts have evenly cooked centers and a crisp crust on the bottom and sides: Under-baking can lead to everyone’s worst tart enemy, the soggy bottom crust.
There are so many options here. I’ve included three recipes with this article–Red Potato, Egg, Kale & Manchego Tart (in a press-in crust), Caramelized Onion & Mushroom Tart (in a roll-out crust), and Prosciutto, Pear & Red Onion Free-Form Tart—but those are just a few ideas: The sky’s the limit!
Here are a few other options, for inspiration:
- Try one of Food52’s favorite savory (and free-form!) tarts.
- Use up all the butternut squash in your CSA with this tart.
- Add some eggs on top. Enough said.
- Don’t forget the ultimate snacking tart.
- Make a savory version of the classic tart tatin.
- Dream of summer with this tomato tart.
- Choose fillings that are hearty enough to make the tart your whole dinner.
Or you can always take your favorite recipes and turn them into a tart:
- Shakshuka tart, anyone? Spicy tomato base, eggs cracked on top, plenty of cilantro when it comes out of the oven.
- Pile your favorite (leftover) chili into a par-baked crust (make sure the chili is nice and thick), top it with plenty of grated sharp cheddar and you’ve got the manliest tart ever.
- Take your favorite savory bread pudding recipe, take away the bread, and you’ve got a tasty tart base recipe waiting to happen.
- Have really great vegetables (like these crazy-good shallots) leftover? Spread a layer of crème fraîche, ricotta, or mascarpone in the base of a fully baked (and cooled!) tart crust, and arrange them on top. Done.
- Take your favorite baked side dish, and put it inside a crust.
For Amanda Hesser's olive oil tart crust:
- 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
- 1/4 cup mild olive oil
- 2 tablespoons milk
For the tart:
- 3 medium red potatoes
- 1 leek, thinly sliced
- 1 bunch lacinato kale, roughly torn
- 4 eggs
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 tablespoon fresh chopped rosemary
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/4 cups grated Manchego cheese