As far as surprises go, this was a sweet tooth’s dream: Rummaging in a dresser drawer, I found a plastic bag filled with deeply dark, enticingly salted chocolate. I vaguely remembered shoving the bag in the drawer at the start of summer … an attempt to hide the candy from my hips.

A couple of days after finding it, the chocolate was gone.

“What are you eating?” the boys asked several times.

“Surprise chocolate,” I answered. (And no, I did not share.)

I love surprises. Surprise parties. Surprise gestures (save for the client’s husband who “goosed” me at the first party I cooked for). Surprise packages.

Especially the edible kind.

tarts baked

That’s why I love these tiny tart shells. With just a few minutes of work, you can make a couple dozen of these lovelies. Bake them, then freeze them for a fast and unexpected treat anytime company (or your sweet tooth) calls. I love filling them with lemon curd, berries or chocolate, then presenting them on a pretty platter or tiered serving dish.

I try to keep a stash stored in my freezer, where I can forget about them until circumstances call.

And then … what a lovely surprise!

desserts lemon tarts

Tiny Sweet Dough Tarts

This dough recipe is courtesy of Dorie Greenspan and her delicious book “Baking.” The dough literally takes minutes to make and is much more forgiving than usual pastry. Don’t be afraid to really push on the dough when you’re forming these tiny cups … it will stay crumbly and flaky.

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 9 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter
  • 1 egg yolk

Place the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine.

Cut the butter into small cubes. Add to the dry ingredients in the processor and pulse until the butter is about pea-sized.

Add the egg yolk and process just until the dough starts to come together, about 20 seconds. (The machine will start to sound different. As soon as it does, turn it off.)

Turn the dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap or foil and using your hands, press it into a ball. Flatten it into a disk:

tart dough kneaded

Generously spray a tiny muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray.

With your fingers, take bits of the dough and roll into 1-inch balls. Place the balls into your muffin tin:

tart balls2

Using your fingers or a flat-topped wooden dowel (I like the one from Pampered Chef), press the dough firmly into the muffin molds so you have tiny shells:

tarts smushed

tarts unbaked

Freeze the dough for 30 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Place the muffin pan into the oven directly from the freezer. Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the pan from front to back.

Bake another 10 minutes, then check to see how brown your tart shells are. They should be golden on the bottoms and edges. If the bottoms need more cooking, place a sheet of foil over the pan and bake an additional 5 minutes.

Once done, remove the pan from the oven and let your tartlets cool for 5 minutes. Then invert the pan onto a large baking sheet and gently knock on its bottom. The tartlets should come right out:

tarts upturned

Turn the tartlets right-side up and cool completely. Fill with pudding, curd, berries or chocolate, or freeze to use at a later time.

This makes 24 tiny tart shells.