I still vividly remember the day I got my mini tart pan. It was one of those dreaded days for a 6-year-old where my dad had to work, my brother had some sort of play date, and my mom had a meeting to attend at a friend’s house. I, of course, had no choice but to go to the meeting as well. Lucky for me, one of my mom’s friends was selling products from a baking company, and as we sat in the living room a catalog was passed around. Of course while sitting in a circle of friends, one of whom is presenting merchandise, there’s naturally some pressure to buy something. It’s one of those things, such as spending 45 minutes talking after having your plates cleared at a restaurant or knowing to never wear black socks with brown shoes, that my dad will never understand but is basically written into my mom’s genes.
Since I was with her at this little marketing spiel, my mom told me that I could pick one thing out of the catalog to order. After much debate, I selected the miniature tart pan, which looked to be perfect for making adorable, tiny little tarts and muffins. I loved the nursery rhyme The Queen of Hearts (who made some tarts, all on a summer’s day….any pre-90’s kids out there?) which probably contributed to my decision as well. Back then the main character of one of my favorite nursery rhymes was definitely a major idol of mine, right after MLK, Lindsay Lohan–who I thought was two different people thanks to the incredibly deceiving movie The Parent Trap–and Santa Claus. Only one of those idols still remains on the list. Can you guess who?
A few weeks of excruciating patience later, my pan finally arrived! I remember slipping it out of its tight plastic wrapping (which required scissors and the closest available parent) and running my hands down its dark, smooth surface. The pan also came with a little recipe booklet and a wooden tart tamper, which I felt so sophisticated using.
I can’t remember making any crust other than the Cream Cheese Crust recipe featured in the recipe booklet, which was about as simple as it gets: 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup butter, and 1/2 cup cream cheese. (I’ve adapted it a little in the recipe below.) Over the years I made mini tarts again and again for tea parties, neighborhood gatherings, and on the occasional mid-morning whim. I experimented with different fillings, which included strawberry jam, chocolate kisses, lemon pudding, and my favorite, cherry preserves. For a while it was a 3-person project between my mom, my brother, and I. We would make the dough, roll it into little balls, squish the tart tamper into each cup (my favorite part), bake the shells, and fill the tarts. I learned the hard way that you should never be stingy when it comes to greasing the pan, that having a container of flour on hand for dusting the tamper in between squishes is an absolute necessity, and the charcoal-y flavor of burnt tarts can be nicely masked by an extra-large spoonful of lemon pudding placed in the center. What can I say…practice makes perfect!
If you happen to be a proud owner of a miniature tart (aka mini-muffin) pan, try these! The crust is flakey, delicate, and has an extra-rich flavor from the cream cheese, and the lemon curd filling is thick, sweet, and just a bit tart. Not to mention that these itty bitty baby pies are so freaking cute! That said, if you want to make these in a regular muffin pan you totally can. They just won’t be as cute. Yes, I realize that some people don’t care about the cuteness factor of their baked goods but I’m just saying…
I just now realized that I was going to center this post around the fact that yesterday was Pi Day (3/14, get it?), which is why I made the tarts in the first place (to bring to my Calculus class). Being me, of course I got sidetracked with my reminiscence of the good ole tart-making days. Whoops.
Cream Cheese Crust
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
4.5 oz cold cream cheese, cut into small pieces
Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut in the butter and cream cheese until the mixture is crumbly. Pat the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease and flour a 24-cup mini muffin pan or a regular 12-cup muffin pan. Divide dough into 24 pieces and roll into balls. Place each ball into a muffin cup and press into the bottom and sides. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until tarts are golden. (If using a 12-cup muffin tin, bake for about 20 minutes.) Cool for 5 minutes in the pan and then gently remove onto a wire rack. Cool completely before filling.
Lemon Tarts: After baked tart shells have cooled, fill each shell with store-bought or homemade lemon curd (recipe below).
Chocolate Kiss Tarts: After the shells have baked for 5 minutes, remove from oven and press a chocolate kiss into each tart. Continue baking for 5-10 minutes or until crust is golden. Cool tarts for at least 30 minutes before serving so that the chocolate can re-harden.
Cherry, Strawberry, or Raspberry Tarts: Fill the baked, cooled tart shells with fruit preserves.
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbs cornstarch
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 1 large lemon)
Zest of 1/2 a lemon
3 large egg yolks or 1 whole egg + 1 yolk
1 Tbs unsalted butter
In a small saucepan, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, salt, water, lemon juice, zest, and egg yolks. Add in the butter and place pan over medium heat. Cook, whisking constantly and scraping along the bottom and sides, until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens. Let it boil for about 30 seconds, stirring constantly, and the pour the mixture into a medium-mesh strainer placed over a bowl. When all the lemon filling has drained into the bowl and only the zest and large particles remain in the strainer, remove the strainer and let the filling cool to room temperature. Then place a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the filling and store in the refrigerator. The filling can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.
(Lemon Filling and Cream Cheese Crust adapted from the 75th Anniversary Edition of The Joy of Cooking)