Whether sweet or savory, tarts are a treat for the eyes as much as they are for the taste buds, and bakers of all skill levels can master them. A tart pan is usually ornamental with fluted edges and lift-out bottoms. If you don't have one handy, you can usually improvise.
Pies and tarts are pretty similar, and a pie plate of the right size is a good substitute for a tart pan. Pie plates usually lack the decorative fluted rim and a lift-out bottom for easy removal, but there are some DIY tricks. Give the crust a pretty scalloped edge by pinching the dough between your fingers. To make the tart easy to remove, cut a square of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan, and leave four longer strips to act as handles for sliding the cooled tart from the pan.
A Quiche Pan
A quiche pan is very similar to a tart pan, down to the deeply fluted edge and typical lift-out bottom. The main difference is that quiche pans tend to be slightly smaller in diameter and deeper by about 1/2 inch. In many cases those discrepancies in dimensions cancel out, and you should be able to use your recipe unaltered and simply lengthen the baking time to compensate for the deeper filling.
You don't necessarily need a full pan, just some sort of form to hold the dough in place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. The ring from a springform pan is an excellent choice, both sturdy and readily available. Line the ring with a collar of parchment, and lay the cut pastry dough carefully into the ring. For tarts in other sizes and shapes, make a free-form collar of folded aluminum foil and place that on the sheet. This type of form can also be used to make square or oblong tarts on a rectangular sheet pan.
If you're making mini tartlets, you have options. Muffin pans (jumbo, standard or mini sizes) are the obvious choice for an easy way to make a batch. Heatproof glass custard cups and small ceramic ramekins are great, too. In each case, you can make it easier to remove the finished tartlets by leaving a long strip of parchment beneath the dough as handles. Tartlets can also be made in open forms, using small foil collars.
Fred Decker is a trained chef, former restaurateur and prolific freelance writer, with a special interest in all things related to food and nutrition. His work has appeared online on major sites including Livestrong.com, WorkingMother.com and the websites of the Houston Chronicle and San Francisco Chronicle; and offline in Canada's Foodservice & Hospitality magazine and his local daily newspaper. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.