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High Country Baking: Espresso pecan tartlets

Vera Dawson
High Country Baking
These attention-getting tartlets are filled with slightly gooey caramel and crunchy pecans, topped with a drizzle of dark chocolate and wrapped in a buttery crust.
Vera Dawson/Courtesy photo

I love desserts that can be eaten with your hands — no fork or plate required. They’re perfect for buffets, picnics or casual get-togethers. These little tarts are one of my favorites. They’re attention-getting good, almost like candy. They’re filled with slightly gooey caramel and crunchy pecans, topped with a drizzle of dark chocolate and wrapped in a buttery crust. Think pecan pie with a hit of espresso to make the flavor less sweet and far more complex.

If you don’t want to make and pre-bake the shells, use commercial ones. The tartlets will still be delicious. Look for them in the frozen food sections of most grocery stores or purchase fresh ones from a well-stocked bakery. Frozen phyllo cups are a viable alternative that’s readily available in most groceries. The corn syrup employed in this recipe is not the high-fructose kind, which I try to avoid.

Espresso pecan tartlets

Works at any elevation. Make in 3-inch tartlet pans. Yields eight 3-inch tartlets.



Tartlet shells

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (spoon and level)
  • 6 tablespoons superfine granulated sugar, preferably Baker’s
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons (one and a half sticks) unsalted butter, cold
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2-2 1/2 teaspoons ice water

Filling



  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup light Karo corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons instant espresso powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3/4 cup chopped pecans (chopped to size of a raisin)

Chocolate topping

  • 2 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon canola oil

Make the shells: Put the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and process until well blended. Cut the butter into 24 pieces, add it to the bowl with the vanilla and pulse until the mixture looks like coarse meal. Add the smaller amount of ice water and pulse, again. Continue adding ice water, a little at a time, until all the flour is moistened and forms pea-sized clumps. Turn the dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap, gently knead it a few times and form it into a thick disc. Cover and refrigerate until firm but not hard.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees with a rack in the center position. Roll the dough to a 1/8-inch thickness and cut out circles about 4 1/2 inches in diameter. Gather scraps and re-roll to make a total of eight circles. Fit them into your tartlet pans, place the pans on a baking sheet and freeze or refrigerate until the dough is quite firm.

Remove the pan from the refrigerator and prick the bottoms of the tart dough in several places with a toothpick to let air escape while baking. Bake until light golden, about 15 minutes, and prick with a toothpick any spots where the pastry puffs. Remove to a rack to cool. While still warm, gently press down any puffy spots. When almost cool, remove the shells from tartlet pans by holding each pan upside down, gently squeezing the sides of the rim and letting the shell drop into your hand. Cool them completely.

Make the filling: Cut the butter into five pieces and add them, with the corn syrup, to a medium saucepan, preferably nonstick. Place the pan over low heat and stir with a heatproof silicone spatula or wooden spoon. When the butter is almost fully melted, add the brown sugar and continue stirring. Bring to a low boil to dissolve the brown sugar. (Test by rubbing some between your fingers. It should be entirely smooth with no graininess evident.)

Briefly remove the pan from the heat, add the cream, espresso powder and salt, and return to low heat, stirring to blend. Add the pecans, continue to stir and simmer the mixture until it thickens slightly (3-4 minutes); it should be a little thicker than cold, heavy cream. Spoon the hot filling into the cooled tartlet shells, filling them almost to the top. Set them aside until the filling cools to room temperature and firms up.

Make the chocolate topping: Place the chopped chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl, heat in a microwave oven at low-medium temperature until only a few small lumps remain. Remove from the oven, add the oil and stir until fully melted, shiny and smooth. Drizzle over the cooled filling and set aside until the chocolate firms up. Store the tartlets, covered, at a cool, room temperature up to two days.

Vera Dawson

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