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Bite-size tarts are a quick and easy treat

By Modesto Bee

These dainty little tarts are as easy to make as they are beautiful. These diminutive desserts are perfect vessels for sliced fresh fruit, a guilty shot of ganache, pastry cream or canned pie filling. They'll easily accommodate instant pudding (just use a little less milk when making it) or a dollop of ice cream.

They're so easy to make and fill, you can whip up several shapes and sizes in no time at all.

Coconut Shells

     1 1/2     cups unsweetened coconut powder

     2     large egg whites (1/4 cup)

     1/4  cup sugar

HEAT oven to 350°.

COMBINE coconut, egg whites and sugar and mix to form heaping tablespoon-size balls. Press into greased mini muffin tins or ungreased silicone baking cups. Press from the middle out with thumb to create a 1/4-inch thick crust.

BAKE for about 25 minutes, checking after 15 minutes. Cool before unmolding. Fill with ganache and top with a toasted almond to create almond joy.

Note: Coconut powder is ground coconut. It's available at Indian grocers.

Candy Shells

These are most easily made with silicone baking cups. Alternately, chocolate can be melted and pressed into a plastic wrap-lined cup.

     1/4  cup chocolate, white chocolate or butterscotch chips per 3-inch tart

HEAT an inch or less of water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer.

PLACE chips into silicone cups and float the cups into the water. As the chips begin to glisten and reach melting point, press chocolate down and up the sides to 1/4-inch or more thickness. Cool and unmold.

Meringue Shells

     4    egg whites

     1/2     teaspoon cream of tartar

     1    cup sugar

     2     teaspoons vanilla

BEAT egg whites with cream of tartar until foamy. Very gradually beat in sugar and continue to beat at high speed until stiff peaks form.

BEAT in vanilla. Line a baking sheet with foil (grease lightly) or parchment paper. Pipe into shapes with a pastry bag or outline a shape on parchment paper. Fill in shape with meringue and then build up a rim around the edge of base from 1 to 2 inches thick.

BAKE at 250° for about 30 minutes, or up to 40 minutes. Outside should be crisp and the inside still a little moist. Take out of oven and let air dry or turn off oven and leave in oven for 1 hour.

Note: For chocolate meringues, gradually fold in 2 tablespoons cocoa after soft peaks form.

Chocolate Ganache

     1/2  cup heavy whipping cream

     2     tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter

     1     tablespoon light corn syrup

     8     ounces bittersweet chocolate

COMBINE cream, butter and corn syrup in a pan over low heat. Bring to a boil. Meanwhile, chop chocolate into smaller pieces.

REMOVE milk from heat, submerge chocolate. Let rest 5 minutes and then combine.

ADD to tarts while still at a spreading consistency. If desired, allow to reach a pudding-like consistency and then whip briefly for a lighter filling.

French Vanilla Creme

     3    cups milk, whole, 2 percent or 1 percent

     1     teaspoon vanilla

     6    egg yolks

     2/3  cup sugar

     1/4  cup cornstarch

     1     tablespoon cold butter

HEAT milk and vanilla in a saucepan to a boil over moderate heat. Immediately turn off heat and let sit for 15 minutes.

WHISK egg yolks in a separate bowl. Mix cornstarch and sugar and whisk into egg yolks until fluffy. Take one quarter of the warm milk and add to the egg mixture to temper it. Continue this process until the eggs and milk are mixed together.

POUR milk and egg mixture back into saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until thick.

REMOVE from heat, add butter, stir until mixed. Pour half of mixture into a bowl. Cover with plastic and chill before using. Pour 1/4 cup chocolate chips into remaining mixture. Stir until chips are incorporated. Cover with plastic and chill.

Banana and Nutella Filling

Makes enough to fill six 4-inch tarts. This recipe is from "Pies: Sweet and Savory," by Caroline Bretherton (DK, $25).

     6     prebaked pie shells

     2     tablespoons all-purpose flour

     2     tablespoons light brown sugar

     1/2  cup unsweetened coconut

     2     tablespoons butter

     2    or 3 bananas, not too ripe

     1/4  cup Nutella

COMBINE flour, sugar, coconut and butter into a crumbly mixture.

PEEL and slice bananas and create a single layer on the bottom of a prebaked crust.

SPREAD Nutella over the banana to cover. Divide crumbly mixture among the tarts and loosely spread.

BAKE for 15 minutes, until the crumble starts to brown. Serve warm or at room temperature.


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