I love fruit tarts. You know the ones where the fruit is beautifully arranged in perfect concentric circles on top of some vanilla pastry cream in a golden baked tart shell. They are so pretty you hardly want to cut them. Because the moment you slice it, the fruit always get messed up and the pastry cream spreads everywhere. It just feels wrong to leave so much delicious pastry cream on the plate. My solution – fruit tartlets. They stay pretty right up to the moment you devour them. And because they are small, I usually devour two or three.
My favorite part of the tartlets is the shell. It is more like a sugar cookie. My kids would actually eat them like cookies if I let them. Baking the shells used to be a challenge for me because the dough would puff up too much while it baked and the shells would come out rather misshapen. No matter how much I chilled the dough and docked it, I would have the same problem. Trying to fit pieces of aluminum foil on top of the dough in a mini-muffin pan never worked well for me either. Fortunately, I found the perfect solution from Naomi Robinson at Bakers Royale. She uses mini-muffin liners. You put the liners on top of the dough and then fill it with beans as a weight. The liners are already the perfect size and shape and they make for easy removal. It was one of those “why didn’t I think of that” moments when I found her post.
I used strawberries for these tartlets but you can use blueberries, raspberries, kiwi or mangoes. You can make the tartlet shells and pastry cream a day ahead. Just store them separately until you need them. Once the tartlets are assembled, they should be eaten the same day (which is never a problem in our house).
For the tartlet shells
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- Baking spray (such as Baker’s Joy)
For vanilla pastry cream
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped
- 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar (divided)
- 3 large egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 1 teaspoon butter
- Sliced strawberries
- 1/2 cup apricot jam, optional
For the tartlet shells
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add vanilla and egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour and salt; beat until dough just comes together. Gather the dough together to form a ball and place it on a sheet of plastic wrap or wax paper. Place another sheet of sheet of plastic wrap or wax paper on top and flatten the ball to a 1/2 inch thick disk. Transfer the dough to the refrigerator and chill until firm, 45 minutes.
- When ready to bake the tartlet shells, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 24-well mini-muffin pan with baking spray (this is very important).
- On a well floured surface, roll out dough to 1/8 inch thickness. Use a 2 1/2-inch diameter round cutter and cut out 24 rounds of dough, gathering scraps and re-rolling as necessary. Place a round of dough into each well of the prepared mini-muffin pan. Using your fingers, fit the dough to fit into the well; pleating the dough as necessary. If the dough becomes too soft to work with, chill it in the freezer for a few minutes until it is firm again. Using a small off-set spatula to lift the rounds of dough will also help.
- Place muffin pan in freezer to chill dough until firm, 10 minutes. Prick the dough a couple of times with a fork and then place a mini-cupcake liner on top of each well of dough and fill it with rice or beans. Bake for 20 minutes, rotating the pan half way through. Remove the muffin liners and beans, and continue baking for another 4-5 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let tartlet shells cool in pan 5 minutes. Using the tip of a small paring knife to loosen the edges, gently remove the tartlet shells from the pan and allow to cool completely on baking rack.
For the vanilla pastry cream
- Prepare an ice bath and set aside.
- In a saucepan over high heat, scald milk, vanilla bean and seeds, and 1/4 cup sugar. In a separate bowl, whisk egg yolks with remaining tablespoon sugar until thick and pale. Sprinkle in cornstarch and flour; continue whisking until well combined. Remove vanilla bean from milk.
- Whisk half the hot milk into egg yolk mixture. Pour egg mixture into pan with remaining hot milk; slowly bring to a boil. Continue whisking until thick, about 5 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat, stir in butter and let cool slightly.
- Transfer the saucepan to the ice bath, being careful to not let any water or ice get into the pan. Stir pastry cream occasionally until it is cool, about 30 minutes. Use pastry cream immediately or press plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pastry cream and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
To make the tartlets
- Spoon pastry cream into the tartlet shells and top with sliced strawberries. If desired, melt apricot jam in microwave and brush a small amount of jam onto fruit to give it a pretty shine.
For the purpose of pretty photos, I left the stems on the strawberries. However, I removed the stems before serving the tartlets.
For a variation, you can use blueberries, raspberries, kiwi, or mangoes instead of strawberries.
Recipe for vanilla pastry cream adapted from Martha Stewart.
Recipe for tartlet shells adapted from Martha Stewart Living.
Baking technique for tartlet shells from Bakers Royale.