I love tartlets. They're fun to make, they look and taste divine, and they invite creativity. Since I owned a pastry shop, I have multiple tart and tartlets pans in multiple sizes (and shapes). Some have fluted sides, some have plain sloped sides, and some of the former have removable bottoms. Yikes! I know that I can’t count on a home baker having any tartlet pans much less pans a particular size. For this reason, I’ve rarely publish tartlet recipes because I hate to ask readers to buy specific pans that they might not have lots of other uses for.
I finally realized that all kinds of tartlets could be made in mini muffin pans. It doesn’t matter that they come out look more like little filled cookie cups—because they are completely adorable. And so easy and satisfying to make. The pans are inexpensive and versatile: In addition to using the pans for making tartlets, you can turn any cake or muffin or cupcake recipe into a mini version.
I take a creative, mix-and-match "separates" approach to tartlets. First choose the main flavor feature: Let's say it's blueberries. Then pick dough for the crust: any tart or pie dough, or almost any shortbread or sugar cookie dough that you imagine will taste good with the berries. Finally, select a smooth and creamy or sticky “goop” such as pastry cream, lemon curd, or sweetened mascarpone—or just a dab of jam—to sit between the berries and the crust. Think about the play of flavors and textures and colors as you plan. Once you get the hang of lining the pans with dough and baking the shells, you’re in business.
Any tart or pie dough
Shortbread or sugar cookie dough
Mexican wedding cake or Russian tea cake dough
Berries or other fruits
Nuts or caramelized nuts
Whipped cream or crème fraîche
Glaze or powdered sugar for the finish
Melted chocolate to line the shells under the goop (especially if goop is very wet) or drizzle on top
Use a pastry brush to butter the muffin pan cavities thoroughly with a thin coat of softened butter.
Make the dough. You can either chill or rest it as called for in the recipe, or line the pans immediately and then chill or rest the shells before baking.
Pinch off or scoop 2 teaspoons of dough (13 to 15 grams) and shape 1-inch balls. Place a ball in the center of each cup. Cover a ball with a small piece of plastic wrap and push the dough into the bottom and up the sides of the cup using the bottom of a shot glass, a Champagne cork, or another suitably sized object (I use the pestle from my mortar and pestle). Repeat to shape the remaining cups.
Set the pans on a baking sheet and bake about 10 minutes (at the temperature suggested in the dough recipe), or until the dough has puffed up a bit. Remove the pan from the oven and gently press the dough back down and into shape with the shot glass (or cork, etc.). Rotate the pan from back to front and put it back in the oven until the shells are golden brown; depending on the dough this might be 5 to 10 more minutes. Set the pan on a rack to cool completely before removing the cups. (Cups can be made to this point and stored in an airtight container at room temperature for at least 3 days, and longer for most cookie or shortbread dough.)
Fill cooled cups as you wish. You can finish fruit-filled tartlets with a light dusting of powdered sugar or nothing at all. Tartlets are usually best served on the day they are made.
How else do you use mini muffin pans (aside from their intended use)? Share your own tool hacks in the comments.