Individual tarts make great Halloween party treats

Wolfgang Puck/Tribune Content Agency Published October 31, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
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Most people limit their culinary creativity at Halloween to deciding what assortment of prepackaged candies they’ll offer to the little action heroes, fairy princesses and monsters who show up at the door yelling, “Trick-or-treat!” But as much fun as that might be, I also like to make special little Halloween treats for my sons and their friends, as well as the grownups who might accompany them to our house.

It doesn’t have to be anything

complicated. Some years, I’ll just make a batch of basic sugar-cookie dough, roll it out and then use cutters in Halloween-themed shapes such as ghosts, skulls, jack-o’-lanterns, bats and witches’ hats to create individual cookies. I’ll bake the cookies in advance and, before people come over, prepare simple icings (or put out store-bought ones) in appropriate colors like orange, black, red, green and white. Then, when everyone arrives, young and older people alike have great fun decorating their own cookies.

I also might prepare a slightly more sophisticated treat for people to enjoy. One of my favorites is little tartlets filled with a mixture of crunchy nuts bound together in a thick, sweet mixture of corn syrup, brown sugar and eggs, all topped with golden-brown shredded coconut. The result is reminiscent of a great pecan pie, but with more variety, a little more richness to balance the sweetness, and a fun touch of tropical flavor from the coconut.

I may have made the recipe sound more complicated than it really is. I think you’ll be surprised by how easy it can actually be, especially if you do a little work in advance. (And that doesn’t have to be too far ahead, either, especially considering that you may be reading this on Halloween.)

The Sugar Dough for the crust, for example, comes together in a food processor in a matter of seconds and needs a minimum of 1 hour to chill and firm up in the refrigerator. If you’re in a rush, though, you could substitute store-bought, already-rolled-out pie dough, cutting it to the right size as directed in the recipe.

The tarts themselves take just a few minutes to assemble and less than an hour to bake. Once they’ve cooled and you’ve unmolded them, they store well for a few days in an airtight container.

So don’t be scared. Give this great recipe a try. I bet you’ll like it so much that you’ll start coming up with your own variations. Use whatever mixture of nuts you like, and maybe even sprinkle in some chocolate chips before spooning in the corn syrup mixture. Go on making and enjoying this special treat throughout the holiday season to come.

INDIVIDUAL MIXED-NUT TARTS

Makes 8 4-inch tarts

Ingredients:

1 pound Sugar Dough (recipe follows) or refrigerated pie dough

2 3/4 cups light corn syrup

1 1/4 cups packed dark-brown sugar

6 large cage-free eggs

3 large cage-free egg yolks

1 vanilla bean

4 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup hazelnut liqueur, such as Frangelico

3 cups shelled unsalted mixed nuts, such as macadamias, pecans, walnuts or cashews

1/2 pound unsweetened shredded coconut

Whipped cream or ice cream, for serving, optional

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Cut the dough into 2 equal pieces. On a flour-dusted work surface, use a rolling pin to roll out each piece into an 11-inch square. Place the squares on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and chill in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.

With a 5-inch round tart ring or plate as your guide, use the tip of a small sharp knife to cut out 8 circles of dough. Fit the circles into 8 individual 4- by 1/2-inch tart pans. Trim the edges. Place on the baking sheet, and refrigerate until needed

In a large bowl, combine the corn syrup, brown sugar, eggs and yolks. Whisk until thoroughly blended.

With a small sharp knife, carefully cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. With the back edge of the knife blade, carefully scrape the seeds from each half. Put the butter and vanilla-bean seeds and halves in a small skillet. Heat over medium heat just until the mixture turns golden brown and smells nutty. Immediately scrape into the corn-syrup mixture, removing the vanilla-bean halves. Add the liqueur, and stir until blended.

Put the tart shells on a baking sheet. Evenly distribute the nuts among the shells. Ladle the corn syrup mixture equally among the shells.

Bake the tarts on the baking sheet until the filling feels firm to a light, quick touch, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, sprinkle the coconut over the tarts, and return to the oven to bake until the coconut turns golden, 10 to 15 minutes longer. Transfer to a rack to cool.

To serve, slide a sharp knife tip around the side of each tart pan to loosen the dough, and unmold the tarts onto individual plates. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream if you like.

SUGAR DOUGH

Makes 1 1/2 pounds

Ingredients:

2 1/3 cups cake flour or pastry flour

1/3 cup sugar

1/2 pound unsalted butter, chilled, cut into small pieces

2 large cage-free egg yolks

1 to 2 tablespoons heavy cream

Directions:

In a food processor fitted with a stainless-steel blade, combine the flour and sugar. Add the butter, and process until the mixture resembles fine meal.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and 1 tablespoon of the cream. Scrape the mixture into the processor bowl. Process until a ball of dough begins to form, adding a little extra cream if necessary to bring the dough together.

Carefully transfer the dough from the processor bowl to a lightly floured work surface. With clean hands, press the dough into a disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or, preferably, overnight.

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