Gluten-free diets have become increasingly popular in recent years, with more and more people choosing to avoid gluten for health or personal reasons. For those following a gluten-free diet, navigating food labels and asking questions about ingredients is a normal part of life. One common question that arises is whether tart shells, the crispy baked cups often filled with custard or fruit filling to make tarts, are gluten-free.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale. It helps foods maintain their shape and gives elasticity to dough. For most people, eating gluten is not a problem. For those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, consuming gluten can cause a range of uncomfortable and even dangerous symptoms and complications. Only a medical diagnosis can determine if someone has celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. For those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, following a strict gluten-free diet is important to manage the condition.
Are Standard Tart Shells Gluten-Free?
The most common types of tart shells are not gluten-free. Traditional tart shells are made from wheat flour, which contains gluten. Some typical ingredients in standard tart shells include:
- All-purpose flour (contains gluten)
- Butter or shortening
The flour gives the shells their characteristic flaky, crispy texture. Unless the packaging indicates the shells are gluten-free, it is best to assume standard shells contain gluten and are not safe for gluten-free diets.
Gluten-Free Tart Shell Alternatives
Thankfully for those avoiding gluten, there are more and more gluten-free options available today, including for tart shells. Here are some gluten-free alternatives:
Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour
One of the most straightforward substitutions is to make your own tart shells using gluten-free all-purpose flour rather than regular flour. There are many brands of gluten-free all-purpose flour on the market that perform similarly to wheat flour. Bob’s Red Mill, King Arthur, Betty Crocker and Pillsbury all make gluten-free all-purpose flours. Tart shells can be made using the same ratios of gluten-free flour, butter, salt and water.
Almond Flour Tart Shells
Almond flour is naturally gluten-free and has a pleasant nutty flavor that complements many tart fillings. It can easily be substituted for regular flour when making tarts. The shells will have a nuttier taste and slightly different texture compared to traditional shells.
Grain-Free Tart Crusts
Grain-free tart crusts use ingredients like nuts, seeds or legumes instead of grain flours. Some examples include crusts made from almond flour, sunflower seed flour, coconut flour, chickpea flour or combinations of these ingredients. Grain-free crusts are a versatile gluten-free option, though the texture is a bit different from traditional tart shells.
Purchased Gluten-Free Tart Shells
Many stores now carry pre-made gluten-free tart shells, taking the work out of making them from scratch. Leading gluten-free brands like Kinnikinnick, Namaste Foods and Glutino make high-quality tart shells in sizes like mini, individual and 9-inch. Always check labels to confirm the shells are gluten-free and made in dedicated facilities.
Tips for Gluten-Free Tart Shells
Here are some helpful tips for getting the best results when making or using gluten-free tart shells:
- Chill dough thoroughly before rolling – Chilling allows gluten-free doughs time to hydrate and prevents crumbling.
- Use parchment paper to prevent sticking – Gluten-free doughs are often more delicate and prone to sticking.
- Press dough into the pan – Gluten helps dough keep its shape when transferred to a pan. Pressing gluten-free dough prevents tearing.
- Bake on a baking sheet – This helps prevent leaking for more delicate crusts.
- Allow to cool fully before filling – Gluten-free crusts set up better when cooled.
- Pre-bake crusts 5-10 minutes before adding fillings.
- Avoid moist fillings – Fruit juices or runny custard can make gluten-free shells soggy.
Gluten-Free Tart Filling Ideas
Gluten-free tart shells provide the perfect base for so many delicious filling options. Here are some gluten-free ideas that pair well with alternative tart shells:
- Lemon curd
- Baked ricotta with herbs
- Mascarpone and fresh fruit
- Chocolate ganache or mousse
- Nut butters
- Whipped coconut cream with berries
- Pumpkin pie custard
- Key lime pie filling
- Gluten-free cheesecake filling
- Fresh fruit like raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, peaches, apricots, etc.
The options are endless for delicious gluten-free tarts using alternative shells and fillings!
Are Pre-Made Tarts and Tartlets Gluten-Free?
When buying pre-made tarts and mini tartlets from bakeries, it is important to ask about the shell ingredients. Most pre-made tarts are made with standard wheat flour and are not gluten-free. However, some bakeries may offer gluten-free options made with alternative flours or purchased gluten-free shells. Certain grocery stores may also stock pre-made gluten-free tarts in the specialty diet section, but always check labels.
Some branded frozen gluten-free tart options include:
- Against the Grain Gourmet Gluten-Free Chocolate Tarts
- Against the Grain Gourmet Gluten-Free Lemon Tarts
- Glutino Margherita Pizza Tarts
- Glutino Spinach & Feta Quiche Tarts
While the fillings of pre-made tarts are often gluten-free, never assume the tart shells are without checking first. When in doubt, make your own gluten-free shells to control all the ingredients.
Should Tart Shells Be Purchased from Shared Bakery Cases?
Shared bakery cases are risky for those needing to avoid gluten. Fillings are often gluten-free, but shells and crusts typically contain gluten. Crumbs from wheat flour shells can easily get mixed into other items in a shared case. Cross-contact is also possible if the same equipment is used for wheat and gluten-free baking. To be safe, tart shells and other baked goods with crusts should be purchased from a dedicated gluten-free bakery or facility rather than from shared cases that also contain gluten options.
Are Phyllo Tart Shells Gluten-Free?
Phyllo dough, the tissue-thin dough used to make baklava and other dishes, typically contains gluten. Traditional phyllo is made with wheat flour. There are a few brands of gluten-free phyllo available, though they can be challenging to find and work with. To be safe, it should be assumed that phyllo shells contain gluten unless the packaging states the product is certified gluten-free.
Can Tart Shells Be Made Vegan and Gluten-Free?
Absolutely! There are many ways to make delicious vegan and gluten-free tart crusts. Some options include:
- Gluten-free, vegan butter – Substitute for regular butter
- Coconut oil – Has a neutral flavor that works well in sweet and savory recipes
- Nut or seed butters – Almond, sunflower seed, cashew
- Nuts – Finely ground almonds, walnuts, pecans
- Gluten-free oats – Process into a flour
- Beans – Black beans, garbanzo beans, white beans
These ingredients can be used alone or in various combinations to create the fat and texture needed for a tasty vegan tart crust without gluten. Some binding agents like xanthan gum may help hold the crust together.
Should Tart Shells Be Purchased from a Bakery with Shared Equipment?
For those with celiac disease, purchasing any baked goods from a bakery with shared equipment is risky due to potential for cross-contact with gluten. Even if the tart shells themselves are gluten-free, trace amounts of gluten could be introduced from baking pans, work surfaces or equipment previously used for gluten-containing items. The same goes for fillings prepared in a shared space. For those who are highly sensitive, the safest option is to only purchase from dedicated gluten-free and allergen-free facilities.
Traditional wheat flour tart shells are not gluten-free, but luckily there are many tasty gluten-free options available through alternative flours, grain-free recipes and pre-made shells. When buying pre-made tarts or tartlets, always verify the shells are gluten-free by checking labels or asking at bakeries. For those with celiac disease, purchasing from shared cases or non-dedicated facilities raises the risk of cross-contact with gluten. With some simple substitutions and precautions, people following gluten-free diets can happily enjoy delicious gluten-free tarts!