Saturday, February 1, 2014

Gooey Little Pecan Tarts

Last week something came over me and I decided to put the butter and flour aside.

With a sprinkle of science, I created the most angelic brownie recipe possible… these Gluten-free, Dairy-free Fudgy No-ButterBrownies. Despite their lack of flour and butter, they are still moist and fudgy – so, a proper brownie in every sense.

This week I'm back to my usual antics and I've got butter on full board.

We knew it couldn't last long. We’re a butter-loving bunch, aren't we?

Nothing praises the creamy, rich, seductive flavour of butter better than golden, tender and flaky pastry.

Pecan Tarts are on the menu today!

My favourite way to eat pecan pie is in miniature form, like these 4-inch tarts.

Why? Because that is when the pastry/pecan/gooey-filling ratio is just right. With a classic pecan pie, there’s always too much filling for my liking. It’s such a thick layer that the sweetness never feels balanced by the buttery pastry.

Little tarts make it just right.

Once you've nailed a great pastry, the filling is a breeze. Pecan pie filling is a no-brainer – stir everything in a bowl and bingo! BUT, to get the most silky smooth texture, there’s one extra step that is worth doing. It involves the stove top.

Heat the sugar, syrup and butter together to help dissolve the crystals and this will keep it gooey and smooth. You’ll find that if you skip this step you may sometimes see some separation and the mixture may look a bit coarse or curdled. The dissolved sugar syrup helps to protect the egg proteins and keep the moisture on lock down.

As for pastry, we've done this many times here on Scientifically Sweet:

The difference between pie pastry and tart pastry is richness. Tart pastry gains richness from egg (whole or yolk-only) and sugar.

Key points:
  1.  Keep everything cold – cold butter, cold hands, cold liquid
  2. Work quickly, work restrained
  3. Chill the dough before rolling
Cold ingredients ensures the butter remains in very small solid pieces to separate layers of dough for flakiness.

Work quickly so that the warmth of your fingertips doesn't melt the butter. Be restrained as you bring the dough together with the liquid. Do not knead – just fold, squeeze and press together. Kneading builds gluten which leads to elastic dough and tough crust.

Refrigerating the dough for a few hours lets the flour hydrate and allows any tightly aligned gluten strands to relax. This all makes the dough smoother and easier to roll so that we can just cruise faster to pie town.

Maybe we should talk about the elephant in the room... those chocolatey looking tarts? They’re gorgeous. Coming soon. Watch this space.

The wonderful thing about making mini tarts is no pre-baking. The pastry is rolled, the tins lined, pecans go down and the filling poured over. Then the whole mess gets baked all at once in a hot oven. What comes out is three lovely layers showcasing three awesome textures: crispy pastry, gooey filling, crunchy pecans. BEAUT!

TIP: To ensure a golden crisp base, bake on the bottom-third rack of your oven.

Serve with cream of any sort: iced, clotted, pouring, double, whipped... custard, crème fraîche and even yogurt work.

No sharing. You get your own because they're little. I may have subconsciously (totally consciously) done that on purpose.

Little Gooey Pecan Tarts
Makes five 4-inch tarts

For the Pastry:
1 cup plus 2 tbsp (160 g) all-purpose flour
2 tbsp sugar
¼ tsp salt
6 tbsp (84 g) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 large egg yolk
1 ½ tbsp cold water

For the Filling:
1 ½ tbsp unsalted butter
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
¼ cup plus 1 tsp golden syrup
1/8 tsp fine salt
½ tsp pure vanilla extract
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp all-purpose flour
2/3 cup whole pecans

To make the pastry, whisk together flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Add butter and toss to coat in flour mixture. Using your fingertips, rub butter into flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs. The butter should be well dispersed with some larger, oat flake-sized pieces remaining, and there should be very little dusty flour in the bowl. Whisk egg yolk with water in a small bowl until well blended and drizzle into flour mixture while gently tossing with a fork. Continue to stir until dry ingredients are moistened and it holds together in clumps. If the dough still feels quite dry, sprinkle in another ½ tablespoon of water.

Turn dough out onto a clean work surface and bring it together in a ball with your hands slightly cupped, turning it frequently and pressing in loose bits until it is cohesive. Flatten dough to shape it into a disk, wrap well with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375°F. On a lightly floured work surface, roll dough out to 1/8-inch thickness and cut out as many 5 to 6-inch circles as you can. Re-roll scrap pastry and cut out another circle so that you have five in total. Fit each round into your 4-inch round fluted tart pans with removable bottoms. Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.

To make the filling, combine butter, brown sugar, golden syrup and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Whisk in vanilla, egg and flour until smooth. Prick chilled pastry shells several times with a fork and scatter pecans evenly in a single layer over the base of each one. Pour the filling over to cover the nuts, dividing it evenly. Place tart pans on a baking tray and bake on the bottom rack of the oven until the filling has puffed and the pastry is nicely browned, 18-22 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool slightly before serving (with cream).

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