Thursday, November 28, 2013

Mini Butter Tarts

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday.  In my family it consists of spending the whole day (and a few before it) cooking/baking in the kitchen with bickering family, followed by the traditional giant meal with friends and family, and then eating left overs for the rest of the week.  Pretty traditional.

But growing up, it was also the one day of the year that it was justified for me to make that 8 layer cake, with 4 kinds of chocolate, that takes 3 days to make, plus 4 other desserts, and I was guaranteed an audience to eat it!  Since I always wanted to try new recipes, and there were always a few traditional desserts that had to be made each year (parents requested a fruit aspic, sister wanted pecan pie etc), each year my desserts grew in quantity.  And each year they got more complicated... I would hand my mom a shopping list asking for a gallon of whipping cream, 4 pounds of chocolate, and a few boxes of butter among other things, and no one would bash an eyelash at me.  I don't see how a holiday can get better than that...

We've spent the last two thanksgivings here in London, and while I have definitely been sad to be missing our family gatherings, we've now hosted two pretty spectacular ex-pat feasts.  Since my mom wasn't here, I had to cook my own turkey, and thus had to cut back a little bit on the number of desserts made.  Both years we have outdone ourselves with decadent, giant, delicious American feasts...

But this year is different.  As 4th year vet students, we start rotations in January and Friday marks the first day of our cumulative final exams, which then drag on for 1.5 weeks.  This means it will be the first year in my life without a thanksgiving gathering, and I am sad!  I'm trying to ignore it by filling my days with revising, and looking forward to next year where I will get to be home for it, but it is still a sad occasion.  I decided that us Americans need at least a little bit of thanksgiving to make it through our final day of revision, and so I whipped up some of these butter tarts to share, one of our family favorites.

I discovered this recipe a number of years ago from a Canadian blogger (that I can't remember the name of now), and my mom then requested them at every thanksgiving since.  Not only are they adorable in their little mini individual form, but also delicious and rich!  And for the pecan pie lovers out there - you can make half the batch full of pecans (and chocolate chips if you like), and keep the rest traditional butter tarts, its a win win!  And remember - Thanksgiving is not the time to calorie count!

NB: corn syrup in the UK = golden syrup.  And for shortening I used the brand "Stork."

Individual Butter Tarts
(Makes 22-24)

For the Crust:
226 grams (2 sticks) butter, chilled
226 grams (16 tablespoons) shortening (stork in the UK) chilled
4 cups flour
2 tsp salt
2 Tbs sugar

For the Filling:
2 eggs
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 cup dark corn syrup/golden syrup
2 tsp vinegar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
169 grams (3/4 cup) butter, melted

Prepare the pastry dough:
1. Place the dry ingredients in a bowl, then cut the shortening and butter into little squares and place half of it in with the dry ingredients.  Using either your fingertips or a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until it is about the grain of cornmeal (it is ok if there are still some larger chunks, it doesn't need to be uniform).
2. Cut in the remaining shortening and butter into the dough, until it is about pea size.
3. Add 4 Tbs of water, and blend the dough together, pressing with your hands, until you can form it into a ball.  You may need to add 1 tsp - 1 Tb more water.  Once you can gather it up in a nice ball, split in in half, press each half into a disc, wrap in seran wrap, and place in the fridge for at least an hour (or overnight).
(NB: if you want to use this dough recipe for full size pies, half the recipe for 2 9 inch crusts).

Prepare the pies:
preheat the oven to 190 c (375 f)
1. Roll out the dough to 1/4 in thickness, then cut into 3 7/8th inch circles (I used a standard biscuit cutter for this).  Coax each round into a regular size muffin tin - the edges will need to fold in to fit.  Watch to make sure no cracks in the bottom develop, patch them up if they do!  Place the muffin tins full of dough in the fridge while you make the filling.
2. Whisk together all filling ingredients.
3. Place one pecan in each muffin cup (for butter tarts, if you want pecan pies load it full of pecans).  Carefully fill each little cut 2/3rds full of filling - don't overdue it or they will bubble over and be harder to remove!  I found a pyrex plastic measuring cup with a pouring spout worked great for filling these.  (Note: if you are making pecan pies, you may need to fill it in rounds - pour some in, give the filling time to settle around the pecans, then pour some more in.)
4. Bake the tarts in the center of the oven for 20-25 minutes, until the crusts are golden and the filling is just set.
5. Remove from oven onto a wire rack.  Using a knife - quickly cut around the edges of any that have filling that has spilled over, before it has time to adhere to the muffin tin.  After a few minutes, I then carefully "pop" the pies out of the muffin tins with a knife on one side, and cool them on a rack.  If you like them cool fully in the tins they are harder to remove!

Enjoy and happy thanksgiving!

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