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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

101 Uses for a Cupcake Pan: Mini Fruit Tarts with Vanilla Custard

Mini, it seems, is in fashion. Everywhere I go I see at least three Mini Coopers parked on every block. Couples are forgoing the traditional wedding cake for cupcakes. And then there's that whole mini corn dog thing. 

With the Fourth of July coming up, I wanted to put together a red, white, and blue dessert. We received some wonderful local blueberries in our CSA box, and I love the taste of berries with custard. After buying a pint of raspberries to complete the color scheme, I knew the only problem was the vessel to put it in. I was making these for my son's preschool class, which also means they needed to be individual serving sizes. Basically, it had to be some kind of tart.

At first, I wanted to do something star-shaped, but after visiting a few local cooking supply stores I didn't find anything that fit my needs. I also tried making a box with a star-shaped cookie cutter, but that just turned into a sticky mess. Even though I was trying to avoid it, I was going to have to use a cupcake pan.

That is, of course, unless I wanted to buy a mini tart pan for this purpose, which I didn't. While the shells would have come out nice and fluted and lovely in a mini tart pan, buying another piece of hardware for pretty much just this endeavor would have been a grand waste of money.

To pull this off, follow the same rules as for pie crust: make sure your ingredients are all cold. Cold! Freeze the flour. Freeze the butter. Ice the water. Really, it's that important. You can start to shape the tarts in the pan with a 1/4 cup measuring cup, pressing the little piece of dough into as flat a shape as you can, but you'll have to use your fingers to finish shaping the shells. Without some manual assistance, the bottom crust will be too thick.

It's not pretty and perfect, but it's simple and resourceful. It's a bit like America, if you ask me. So have a happy Independence Day, and show your individualism with these mini tarts with vanilla custard. 


For the custard filling
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 tbsp corn starch
1/2 tsp salt
4 egg yolks
3 cups milk
2 tbsp butter or ghee
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the tart shells
3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks butter (frozen)
2 eggs
1 to 2 tbsp ice water

For the fruit topping
1 pint raspberries
1 pint blueberries

Yields: 18 mini tarts


Prepare the custard filling first. In a medium saucepan, add the sugar, corn starch, salt, egg yolks, and milk. Stirring with a whisk constantly, heat over medium high heat until the milk scalds, forming little bubbles at the edges. Lower the heat and continue stirring until the mixture thickens to about maple syrup consistency. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the butter and vanilla extract.

Transfer the custard to a glass bowl and let cool while you start the tart shells. When the custard gets close to room temperature, cover it with a piece of plastic wrap, placing it tight against the top of the custard. This prevents a skin from forming. Put the bowl in the refrigerator for at least two hours.

In a gallon-sized zip top bag, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Freeze this mixture for at least an hour. Cut each stick of butter into 12 cubes. Put the flour mixture, butter, and eggs in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse until it has the texture of wet sand. Add the water and keep pulsing until it just starts to clump. Empty the contents of the bowl into your zip top bag, and press it into a ball. Freeze this for 45 minutes.

With a large knife, divide the frozen ball into two halves, then use a metal spoon to break off enough dough to fill the well of a nonstick cupcake pan 1/3 full. Use the bottom of a 1/4 cup measuring cup to flatten each piece of dough, then use your fingers to work it into shape, thinning out the bottom crust without making it translucent. Trim excess dough off the top of the well with a knife, or break off additional pieces of dough to build up the walls.

Once all the tart shells have been formed, put the pans in the freezer for 30 minutes, and preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Pierce the bottoms of the shells with a fork, and bake for 23 minutes, or until they are light brown. It's a good idea to rotate the pans midway through baking.

Take the pans out of the oven, and let the shells rest in the pans for five minutes. Place a cookie sheet or a cutting board on top of each cupcake pan, and gently turn it upside down. Give each well a tap, and remove the pan. Let the shells sit inverted on the cookie sheet for a few minutes, then transfer them right side up to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Fill each tart shell with the vanilla custard and top with the fresh berries. Serve immediately.

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