A Tiny Tart Recipe and Its Variations

Over the years I’ve developed several recipes for mini tarts that use the same easy dough for the crust. They’re kind of labor-intensive, but in the end you have adorable, single-serving treats that are prettier and more interesting than most cookies but can still be picked up and eaten without a plate or fork.

I’m starting with the recipe that began it all, with lots of commentary. You can read all my insanely finicky directions and directives and then take your choice of the cranberry version or the variations that follow. Warning: Once you make these you will be obligated to keep doing it forever.

Tiny Tim Cranberry Tarts

These are a Christmas institution as far as I'm concerned. I got the recipe out of the Washington Post about a decade ago and have been making them ever since. They're a little finicky but basically easy—very different and very pretty. Easy for people to eat, too, as they’re finger food. The recipe seems to be all over the place on the web, so I guess it doesn't belong to anyone in particular. There's been one problem with it in that the tarts have tended to stick to the pan, although I haven't had this problem with the other fillings I list. So when I make it I use rounds of parchment paper cut to be a little smaller than the size of the mini-tart pans. Then I just flatten out the dough using the paper as a guide. This may seem like a lot of work, and it is, but it's a lot less work than having them stick and then having to pry them out of the pans. And think of the efforts people make with other Christmas treats! So these aren't so bad. Once I figured out what to do it went pretty fast. 

Sugar content for these is pretty low because they're so small. My best guess is that they have 6 grams per tart, which surprised me. So you could, in theory, have four of these and not go over 25 grams. But that's assuming that you're not loading up your plate at a party with lots of other treats. Everything counts!

The recipe says, “Never be tempted to put more than three cranberries in each one cup; one berry too many can force a tiny fruit eruption. For some reason, this recipe does not work well in regular-size muffin tins or as a large tart.” So you will need to get a mini-muffin pan—it will have 24 cups, and will work best if it’s nonstick.  (Actually, you need to buy several pans, as I discuss below.  But if my saying that scares you off of this recipe, just buy one for now.)   You'll see in the picture that I used four cranberries if they were really small.

Course Dessert
Servings 24 mini tarts, 6 grams of sugar per tart
Debi Simons Debi Simons

Ingredients

For the crust:

  • 8 tablespoons butter (1 stick) at room temperature
  • 3 oz . cream cheese
  • 1 cup flour

For the filling:

  • 1 egg
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons softened butter
  • 1 tsp . vanilla
  • ½ cup walnuts finely chopped
  • 72 fresh or frozen cranberries more if very small

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

For the crust:

  1. Using a food processor, combine the crust ingredients. Dough should be fairly moist and come together easily. Chill the dough for an hour or so, as otherwise it's very soft. Then you can use the method outlined above to make the tartlet shells, or you can press the dough into the pans with your fingertips. 

    TWO NOTES: It works best if you can make the dough have a bit of a rim sticking up above the pan so that you guard against overflows (also mentioned below in connection with not overfilling). I've also found that these are crisper and nicer if the dough is very thin; if you do the fingertip method of pressing the dough into the pans you'll have to be sure that there aren't any holes. That's another reason for using the parchment paper. If you make the dough very thin you're going to have more than you need for 24 tarts, so that's why I suggested that you buy more than one pan. I personally don't think that this recipe is worth making unless you mass-produce them; I usually make 96, that is, enough to fill four pans. But I make only three times the dough and the filling. They come out great using those proportions. (So if you triple the recipe you'll end up needing nine ounces of cream cheese, which of course means that you'll have to cut off one ounce from another eight-ounce bar. What a pain!) I would recommend that you use a small digital kitchen scale to measure out the dough. The absolute thinnest crusts will require 3/8 ounce; more sturdy ones will require 1/2 ounce. 

For the filling:

  1. Using an electric mixer at medium speed, combine the egg, sugar, butter and vanilla, mixing well. Stir in the nuts. Place 3 cranberries in each cup and spread some of the nut mixture over the cranberries, filling each cup so that the cranberries are covered. 

    YET ANOTHER NOTE: I have found from making this recipe many, many times that it’s best not to overfill the cups with the egg/sugar mixture. The filling will bubble up and spread outside the crust, and you’ll have a mess. The recipe actually makes a little bit too much of the filling, and it’s tempting to try to use it all up on the 24 tarts, but don’t do it! There’s no real way you can make less filling, since it calls for one egg. Yet another reason to make my 96-tart version.

  2. Bake for 25 minutes, until well browned. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool slightly. Run the tip of a knife around the edge of each tart to loosen, then slip the tarts out of the pan. If you did use the parchment paper rounds, peel those off (obviously). They come off very easily.

Recipe Notes

Variation:  You can use chopped apples instead of cranberries, adding some cinnamon or apple pie spice to the filling mixture. Bake for the same amount of time. I'm not posting this as a whole separate recipe since everything else remains the same.

Miniature Pecan Pies (Pecan Tassies)

These are much better than a normal pecan pie in my opinion, since they don't call for horrible gloppy corn syrup and have a high ratio of nuts to syrup, and they just use chopped pecans so you don't have to worry about having nice-looking pecan halves. Since these are so small they have only six grams of sugar per tart, so you can in theory eat four of them and not go over your sugar limit for the day. Although as I said about the cranberry tarts, that means you can't eat any other added sugar that day!

Course Dessert
Servings 24 mini tarts, 6 grams of sugar per tart
Debi Simons Debi Simons

Ingredients

For the dough:

  • 3 ounces cream cheese at room temperature.
  • 1 cup flour
  • 8 tablespoons or 1 stick butter. at room temperature

For the filling

  • 1 large egg
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed tight brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon butter at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup chopped pecans not toasted

Instructions

For the crust:

  1. Put the ingredients into your food processor and run until thoroughly mixed. You don't have to worry about flakiness or graininess or anything like that. Just get it mixed. It's fine if the butter is soft. Then you can chill it if you'd rather not have to flour your fingers for each tartlet, or just go ahead with it as is. Use your fingers to press a 1/2-ounce ball of dough into each mini-tart cup. Using that amount of dough per tartlet should give you 24, which is the standard amount per pan and the yield given for this recipe. It's really better, though, if the dough is very thin. So . . . if you really want to be obsessive about it, and you have a scale (which I do), then 3/8 of an ounce is better. But as I often say, Don't drive yourself crazy! The world won't come to an end if the dough is a little thick.

For the filling:

  1. Combine the egg, brown sugar, butter, vanilla extract and pecans in a medium bowl until well mixed. Fill each dough shell no more than 2/3 full. (Be sure NOT to overfill, as the filling will bubble up over the edges and make a fine mess. You will have some filling left over, so if you're making multiple batches don't make the same amount of filling as you make of dough until you see how much you need. I tend to make this mistake because I don’t want them to be skimpy, but it’s much better to just be restrained.) Bake for 25 minutes or until the tops are golden. Transfer the pans to a wire rack to cool for at least 10 minutes, then run a sharp knife around the outside edges of the tassies to release them from the pans.

Miniature Lemon Tarts

I got this recipe for the filling years ago from a sample issue of the magazine Cuisine at Home. It's a pretty standard recipe, though, and it's meant to be used in a large tart. One recipe of this is going to make enough for at least 72 tarts, so I have cut the filling amounts to fit with my standard crust recipe. As I've said with the other miniature tarts recipes, though, it's not really worth making these unless you make a lot. I usually put a strawberry slice on top of each, although a blueberry or two also works well. These are so pretty for some kind of spring event, such as a tea or an Easter dinner.

They do have more sugar in them than the pecan or cranberry tarts, clocking in at 8 grams per tart.
Course Dessert
Servings 24 mini tarts, 8 grams of sugar per tart
Debi Simons Debi Simons

Ingredients

Crust:

  • 1 stick butter
  • 3 oz. cream cheese
  • 1 cup flour

Filling:

  • 3 whole eggs
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup lemon juice Recipe says "fresh lemon juice," but of course I didn't do that.
  • 2 tsp lemon zest If you don't use fresh lemon juice you won't have zest. I use lemon oil instead, which is pressed from zest and is very strong. Don't use more than 1/8 tsp.
  • 6 tablespoons butter 3/4 stick

Instructions

For the crust:

  1. Put the ingredients into your food processor and run until thoroughly mixed. You don't have to worry about flakiness or graininess or anything like that. Just get it mixed. It's fine if the butter is soft. Then you can chill it if you'd rather not have to flour your fingers for each tartlet, or just go ahead with it as is. Use your fingers to press a 1/2-ounce ball of dough into each mini-tart cup. Using that amount of dough per tartlet should give you 24, which is the standard amount per pan and the yield given for this recipe. It's really better, though, if the dough is very thin. So . . . if you really want to be obsessive about it, and you have a scale (which I do), then 3/8 of an ounce is better. But as I often say, Don't drive yourself crazy! The world won't come to an end if the dough is a little thick. Bake the unfilled shells for about 15 minutes.

For the filling:

  1. Whisk the first five ingredients together in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. then add the butter, cubed.  Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until filling thickens but is still pourable. The best tool for stirring this is a heatproof spatula or a flat whisk, which allows you to get into the very edges of the bottom and therefore prevent you from having scrambled eggs there. I got it to 160 degrees, checking periodically with my instant-read thermometer. Spoon or scoop a small amount into each pre-baked tartlet shell and bake at 325 degrees for about 5 minutes. Let cool and then chill.

Miniature Strawberry-Cream Tarts

I'm giving two crust options for these, but you're probably best off just using the normal cream cheese-and-butter version in the previous recipes. The alternate version is a little sweeter and crumblier, and harder to work with. But if you want a little variety in your tart crusts, well, give it a try.

Sugar content would be around 1 teaspoon or so per tart. If you figured on 5 grams you'd be on the safe side.

Course Dessert
Servings 24 mini tarts,5 grams of sugar per tart
Debi Simons Debi Simons

Ingredients

Crust--used in other tart recipes:

  • 1 stick butter
  • 3 oz. cream cheese
  • 1 cup flour

Crust--alternate, sweeter and more crumbly version:

  • 1 stick butter
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 1 cup flour

Filling:

  • 3 oz. softened cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup sugar original recipe says "superfine"
  • 1 cup heavy cream, whipped until it holds soft peaks
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Garnish:

  • raspberries or sliced strawberries
  • 1/2 cup currant jelly

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

For either crust version:

  1. Pulse ingredients in a food processor. The cream-cheese pastry will come together into a ball.  The powdered-sugar version will be more sandy.

For the cream-cheese pastry:

  1. Chill the dough until firm, then pinch off 1/2-oz. balls (use a kitchen scale if you have one) and press into a 24-count mini-tart pans. Have a rim stick up around the edge. Prick the bottoms a time or two. Bake for about 15 minutes, until lightly browned.

For the powdered-sugar pastry:

  1. Put a heaping tablespoon of crust into each tart cup and then use your fingers to press the mixture together into a crust. Prick the bottoms a time or two. You won't be able to get much of a rim with this, but do your best. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until lightly browned.

For the filling:

  1. After whipping the cream then whip in the cream cheese, sugar and lemon juice.

To assemble the tarts:

  1. Scoop a rounded tablespoon of the filling into each tart shell. You may be able to get more than that in. Since the filling is fairly stiff, it can be mounded up quite a bit. Then place a raspberry or strawberry slice on each and brush with the currant jelly that you've microwaved briefly (10-15 seconds). 

Recipe Notes

Since this filling contains dairy you'll have to refrigerate the tarts before serving.

 

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