It took me a few years to really feel comfortable and accomplished with pie crusts, but when I started trying vegan and gluten-free options, my whole world was thrown askew. It’s somewhat difficult to make gluten-free or vegan pie crust if you, like me, prefer to use whole ingredients (as in, if you would rather avoid shortening and margarine; though if you don’t mind shortening or margarine, then it should be a breeze.)
There are probably hundreds of great recipes for vegan pie crusts on the Internet, and I’m sure you can find some that use whole, simple ingredients…or you could experiment with tarts instead!
Because it’s really, really easy to make vegan tart crust. If you can make vegan cookies, you can make vegan tarts. Even if you can’t make vegan cookies, you can still make vegan tarts.
And why is that??
Because unlike pie pastry, the fat in tart dough doesn’t need to be solid…ever. You can even use vegetable oil (though I prefer coconut oil)!
In this post, I’ll discuss how to make vegan tart crust, provide a few ideas and recipe links for autumn fillings, and talk about the differences between tarts and pies.
Tarts Versus Pies: What’s the Deal?
This is really a muffin-versus-cupcake debate, so the answers aren’t set in stone, but the most commonly accepted difference is this: pies have sloped sides, and tarts have straight sides.
A few other differences:
Pies are deeper than tarts (assuming you’re using tart pans and pie plates.)
Pies use a flakier dough with less sugar and more water than tarts, which most often are made with a cookie dough.
Tarts rarely have topcrusts, though it’s perfectly acceptable to make a topcrust or some other topping.
Pies, if you make them with a mold or pan, are mostly circular. Tarts have a much wider variety of shapes and molds.
Tarts are almost always removed from their pan for serving, while pies are almost always served straight from the pan.
A Pâte By Any Other Name: Different Types of Pie/Tart Pastry
There are countless types of tart doughs and pie crusts, but the three major names to know are Brisée, Sucrée, and Sablée.
Meaning “shortcrust pastry,” this is the common pie pastry that we in the States are most familiar with: buttery, flaky, and just a little bit gluten-y. This dough is ideal for pies, galettes, and hand-pies.
This “sweet pastry” is essentially cookie dough. Generally, it comes out as crumbs or as a cohesive dough that you push into a fluted tart pan or tart ring. Unlike the shortcrust, sweet pastry isn’t very gluten-y (stretchy) at all. This dough is far less finnicky than brisée and much easier to make vegan or gluten-free, as well.
Sucrée on a sugar-high: the name means “sand pastry,” and this is a much crumblier dough with a lot more sugar than the sweet pastry.
Three, Two, One: The Golden Ratio
Never worry about finding the perfect recipe or memorizing ingredients again, with this one simple trick! I’m kidding. It’s not a trick, but rather a golden ratio for tart dough.
In fact, there may be more golden ratios in baking than we (I) know, but for now we’ll (I’ll) start with Three, Two, One: Three parts flour, two parts fat, one part sugar.
The key difference this time is that, while pie pastry requires cold liquid, pâte sucrée and sablée require sugar instead.
Another key difference is that the fat in pie pastry needs to be solid and cold. For making pâte sucrée and sablée, the fat, whether it’s coconut oil, shortening, vegan butter, or even oil, needs to be soft and plastic. Pie pastry is gluten-y like bread dough, but tart pastries are moldable and soft like clay.
Vital Tools and Ingredients for Vegan Tarts
10 Tart Tools
Mixer, stand or handheld electric, or food processor
Double-boiler, or a small saucepan and glass or metal bowl to fit on top
Baking sheet (for putting the tart or tarts onto when baking)
Pie weights or ceramic pie beads
Tart rings, for un-fluted, disc-shaped tarts
*Tart pans come either in one solid piece or with removable bottoms. Removable bottoms help for getting the tart out of the pan, but either style will work. If you don’t have the removable bottom tarts, it’s easier to fill the shell without the pan.
10 Tart Ingredients
Coconut oil (or any other oil/solid fat)
Granulated sugar (or any other kind of sugar you want, aside from brown sugar or powdered sugar)
Non-dairy milk or cream (in case your dough is too dry, or for making vegan custards and ganaches)
Nuts and nut flours
Spices: cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice
Almond extract (for flavoring or for making vegan frangipane paste) and vanilla extract
Unsweetened cocoa powder
Demerara sugar for finishing
A Simple Vegan Pâte Sucrée Recipe
Pâte sucrée really only needs three ingredients: flour, oil/fat, and sugar. However, you can add other ingredients as you want, such as extracts for flavoring, liquids for binding, nuts or nut flours for texture, etc. Here’s a basic and very useful recipe, with some suggestions for extra ingredients, for vegan pâte sucrée.
Makes enough for one 9″ tart or about two 6″/7″ tarts
113 g (4 oz/1 cup) coconut oil, softened or melted, or any other oil of your choice
57 g (2 oz/0.5 cups) granulated sugar
170 g (6 oz/1.5 cups) all-purpose flour
dash of salt
a splash of non-dairy milk or cream (about 1 ounce or 28 grams) if you want to dough to be a bit wetter and softer
flavored extracts (a small splash)
substitute some of the all-purpose flour with a nut flour for more texture or flavor
substitute the all-purpose flour for white rice flour (or any other gluten-free flour) to make gluten-free tarts
In a large bowl, beat together sugar, salt, and oil/fat until smooth. You don’t need to aerate the fat as much as you would when make cake or cookies. Your goal is mainly combining all the ingredients smoothly.
Beat in the flour until the dough forms crumbs. If the crumbs are really fine, like wet or dry sand, add in a bit of liquid to help bind the dough. When the dough forms slightly coarser crumbs, like dirt or loam, then it’s good. You don’t need to beat the dough too much, as it’s easier to work into the tart shell in crumbs than in clumps.
Alternately, you can add more liquid and get the dough to come together, like cookie dough. You can then press this into a tart pan, or roll it out and work it into your desired tart shape in a mold. The possibilities are numerous! You can also add flavors or textures to the dough.
An Even Simpler Vegan Ganache Recipe
“Ganache” sounds like a fancy, complicated word, but it is just two ingredients: solid chocolate and cream. You can use any type of solid chocolate (not cocoa powder) and any type of cream or milk (coconut, soy, etc.), and in any ratio. More chocolate means a darker, thicker (more solid) ganache that will cool to a fudge-like consistency. More cream means a lighter (in flavor and color), thinner ganache that will cool to a syrup or frosting consistency. A 1-to-1 ratio generally produces a spreadable, jam- or frosting-like ganache.
Here’s a simple, general recipe for chocolate ganache filling or topping for your tarts.
Makes enough for one 9″ tart or two 6″/7″ tarts
10 oz (283 g) solid chocolate*, chopped
10 oz (283 g/1.25 c) non-dairy milk or cream
sugar, if desired, for sweetening
*If there is no sugar in your chocolate (meaning if it’s 100% dark), your ganache will be harsh and bitter, so add in some sugar or vanilla, or find a chocolate that is less than ~80% dark.
Double Boiler Method
If you don’t have a double boiler, use a glass or metal mixing bowl and a small saucepan. The glass or metal will conduct heat from the steam of the simmering water. Make sure, though, that the bowl sits high enough so it doesn’t touch the water, and keep an eye on the water, as well, to ensure that it is only simmering and not boiling.
Combine the chocolate and milk/cream in the bowl and set on top of the saucepan or double boiler. Stir occasionally as the chocolate melts. Once the chocolate is all melted, stir or whisk vigorously and briefly just to make sure the ganache is smooth and uniform.
It will take a while for the ganache to cool down, even if you chill it in the refrigerator, but the mixture will set up and solidify as it cools.
The scalding method involves heating the milk/cream so that it melts the chocolate, without putting the chocolate onto the heat source. You can scald the milk on the stove or in the microwave: heat just until you see it begin to steam or bubble, then immediately pour over the chocolate and whisk together. If you need more heat, you can either microwave the mixture or revert to the double-boiler method.
Ganache is not meant to be baked, so if you want to make a chocolate tart, pre-bake the crust and fill it cold. Same goes for a ganache-topped tart: add the ganache after all the baking is done.
Fun tip: Try adding coarse sea salt or salt flakes to the ganache topping for a more complex flavor combination!
12 Recipes for Vegan Tart Fillings
Here are another 12 recipes for a variety of seasonal (autumnal) vegan tarts!
Autumn Fruit (and Sweet Vegetable) Tarts