Tartlets: For Life's Special Moments

Quick breads, cobblers, cookies -- these are everyday desserts, familiar homey treats that make our lives just a tad sweeter. They’re tried, true and never have to be perfect or pretty. Shucks, you may even know the recipes by heart.

Raspberries dot white chocolate/mascarpone-filled pastry shells. (Kim O'Donnel).

But when a special occasion calls, as it did over the weekend, an everyday dessert just won’t do. I needed something pretty, festive and decidedly special, the culinary equivalent of a party dress or a pair of patent leather Mary Janes.

I had been invited to a baby shower, but this was no ordinary lady-about-to-have-baby shindig. This was for my dear friend Leslie, who for 18 months, waited to become an adoptive parent. In July, her long-awaited wish came true, the call that would make her drop everything and hightail it on the interstate to meet her newborn son, whom we’ve come to know as “EO.”

What’s amazing and brave about my friend is that she’s chosen to raise a child as a sole provider, but she’s so modest she’ll tell you she wouldn’t be able to do this without her village of friends and family. On Saturday night, some of those villagers gathered together to celebrate EO’s arrival into the world but to also honor the courage and commitment of this woman warrior, brave enough to embrace the challenges of motherhood and to admit when she’s scared.

So you see, an ordinary crumb cake, as comforting as thought it may be, would fail to measure up to the extraordinary-ness of the evening and the guests of honor.

But tarts – one for each guest – would be special. They would sing my praises, exhibit the glory and beauty of motherhood and represent my love for EO and his mom.

The recipe below will deliver its promise on Special. Even first-time tart bakers can do this one, as long as you promise to plan ahead, take your time and resist the urge to fret over the dough. Patience goes a long way; allowing the pastry shells to thoroughly cool before unmolding and filling minimizes (but doesn’t guarantee) breakage. Besides being oh so pretty, these little gems are light on the tongue, a dreamy mouthful of berries, cream and a slightly salty pastry shell.

Chocolate-Raspberry Tarts
Adapted from “How to Be a Domestic Goddess” by Nigella Lawson

Tart shells:
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter (critical that you use unsalted)
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon ice-cold water

2 ounces white chocolate, melted
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoons heavy cream
approximately 2 pints raspberries (I used 7 berries per tart)

Equipment: 6 2 ½ by 5-inch tartlet pans with removable bottoms


In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, cocoa, sugar and salt and pulse to blend. Cut butter into small pieces and pulse with the flour mixture until it looks crumbly.

Beat yolk and ice water together in a small bowl, and gradually add to bind pastry, using pulse function. When dough starts to clump together, remove from food processor and form into two discs. (I used a dough cutter for this; a sharp knife would also work.)

Wrap each disc in plastic and refrigerate for about 30 minutes. (You may make dough several hours in advance, but allow to warm up before rolling out.)

Roll out one dough disc at a time; lightly dust your work surface and rolling pin. Using a tart pan as a guide, cut a rough square larger than the pan. With a dough scraper, lift square into the pan and fit it to size, cutting off excess pastry and patching holes as necessary. Place in freezer and repeat steps for remaining pans. Freeze dough for at least 30 minutes or until pans feel frozen.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees and place a baking sheet inside to heat up as well.

Place tartlets onto baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes or until pastry feels cooked and dry. Should you see dough rising, you may press down with your fingers (be careful, though, not to burn yourself).

Remove pans from oven and carefully place on a cool surface. Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before attempting to remove shells from pans. With one hand, push tart from bottom of pan while holding top of tart with other hand. Gently place on work surface.

Using a pie cutter or an equally flat tool, lift tart shells from metal rounds and place on clean baking tray or work surface. Allow to cool and make filling.

In a mixing bowl, whisk mascarpone and cream until blended. Fold in cooled, melted white chocolate. If mixture is too thick, add more cream. With a pastry bag or with a narrow rubber spatula, fill pastry shells. Top with raspberries.

If not serving immediately, cover with parchment paper and keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Possible garnish: Shaved white chocolate. Makes six tartlets.

By Kim ODonnel |  October 7, 2008; 7:00 AM ET Desserts , Entertaining
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Congratulations to your new-mom friend. Bushels of good luck to her and EO. The tarts sound and look fantastic. Thanks to you for such a lovely treat for the shower guests. I have printed the recipe and intend to make some for Thanksgiving. I probably will be solo, but what the heck, I like good things too.

Posted by: Ohio | October 7, 2008 7:44 AM

Hi Kim! Can you mix the dough by hand if you don't have a food processor? These sound wonderful and I'd love to try them!

Posted by: sounds great! | October 7, 2008 8:49 AM

A quick question for you, Kim: Would this recipe convert to make one tart (using a tart pan with removable bottom) rather than six tartlets? If so, are any changes to the recipe or procedure needed?

Posted by: Question | October 7, 2008 9:30 AM

I think i saw her make this on her show...they were so enticing. i like ur changes... this is so so sexy and right up my ally. my b-day is coming up and i just might be treating myself to making them!

Posted by: Bren@Flanboyant Eats | October 7, 2008 10:52 AM

Question: I *think* one batch of dough would be sufficient to make a 10-inch tart shell with enough filling. Because it will be a larger surface area, I strongly urge a dough scraper to help you lift dough into pan. You might even want to fold it, then unfold once in pan.
Sounds Great!: I say yes to dough by hand, but make sure everything -- flour, butter, bowls, measuring spoons -- are all chilled before you get started. This is a buttery dough, so it will be a bit testy, but a little planning and some patience, you'll make it. Let me know!

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | October 7, 2008 11:34 AM

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