How to Make Custard Tarts

Rich custard tarts are a decadent ending to any meal. A creamy custard can also serve as the foundation for pieces of fresh fruit that you may have discovered at a farmer's market or grown in your own garden.

You can make these custard tarts in the full traditional size (9- or 10-inch shell) or as individual serving tarts (petite tarts). If you are new at butter tart recipes, you may want to try making the petite tarts first, as they are easier to unmold and keep intact. Plus, if one falls apart, you'll still have others to show off.

The challenge in making butter tarts is to make the pastry shell such that it is strong enough to maintain its shape when unmolded, and yet is delicate enough that the shell will not overwhelm the taste of the filling. The balance must be maintained through careful preparation of the shell.

Tart Pastry Shell Recipe
Ingredients You Will Need:
? teaspoon baking powder
2 cups flour
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled
2 tablespoons Crisco, chilled
1 large egg
1 teaspoon water
¾ teaspoon vanilla paste or ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Pour the baking powder and flour into a sifter. Sift the flour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar, and combine well.

Cut the butter and Crisco into the dry ingredients. You can do this either by using the "pulse" function on your food processor, or by using a hand-held pastry blender. Use your fingers to further break the tiny clumps of Crisco and butter into small bits.

In a small bowl, combine the egg, water and vanilla paste (or extract). Beat until well-combined.

Pour the egg mixture into the dry ingredients and either pulse in the processor or mix by hand until just combined. You do not want to over-mix the dough, or it will be tough. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for two hours.

Roll the dough out quickly, and then press dough into the mold. There are a few important techniques you must follow when baking tart shells. First of all, invest in a tart pan with a removable bottom for easy unmolding. Second, be sure to press the dough against the tart pan so it fits snugly at all points of contact. Third, prick the dough all over the bottom of the pan so the dough will not bubble while baking. Finally, after you have the dough in the tart pan and pricked with a fork, place a layer of aluminum foil over the dough, then fill the tart pan with dried beans. The beans will prevent the tart shell from rising and/or warping during the cooking process.

Bake the tart shell (with dried beans) in oven (preheated to 375 degrees) for 5 minutes. Remove the shell from the oven, close the oven door, remove the foil and beans, and prick the dough on the bottom of the pan again. Reinsert the foil and beans, replace the shell in the oven, and bake for 7 to 8 minutes longer. Remove from oven as soon as browning begins.

Remove the beans and foil. Unmold the tart shell as soon as possible and set it to cool on a wire rack.

Filling for Egg Custard Tart Recipe
Ingredients You Will Need:
7 egg yolks
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
¾ cup all purpose flour
2 ¼ cups boiling milk
1 ½ tablespoons melted butter
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

In a saucepan, beat (with a hand or electric mixer on low) egg yolks and sugar until well combined. Beat flour into mixture, trying to avoid creating lumps. Place on stove and add boiling milk, continuously beating, adding milk little by little until well combined. Turn on heat; continue mixing while custard heats to a slow boil. Cook for three minutes, continuously scraping bottom of pan so it does not burn.

Remove from heat; beat in melted butter and vanilla.

Pour custard into tart shell. Let cool completely before garnishing with a piece of fresh fruit and serving. If you wish, you may bake the whole custard tart for another 5 to 7 minutes at 375 degrees to slightly brown custard and shell, but you must watch the tart carefully while baking.

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