From the self-indicting delight of tiny infant fists gripping grownup forefingers to the calculated pinhole photography that lines my cubicle, I’m one of those girls, it seems, that can’t get enough of diminutive proportions. This absorption extends to the culinary world; from miniature artichokes and petite eggplants to pearl onions and microscopic zucchini, I find Lilliputian produce irresistible, and am incapable of not bringing them home by the bagful and readying them for their close-ups.
Baked goods are in no way spared these indignities. Puny cupcakes are always chosen over their brawny siblings, as are cheese puffs, scones and black-and-white cookies. “The more, the merrier!” I cheer until every flat surface (all three of them, that is) in our also-tiny apartment are filled with rows of one-bite delicacies and I exhaustedly wonder why I created three times the amount of work for myself.
I have no learning curve, however, so a trip to Bowery Kitchen Supply this weekend found me pressing my nose against a case of itsy tart pans, envisioning the Ina Garten Key Lime Tart I have bookmarked in my head scaled down to finger food proportions for a Labor Day barbeque. My husband, who has long given up on trying to use such lines of reasoning on me as “but where will we keep them?” and “are these really necessary?” (and who I instead remind that “hey, at least my excessive spending habits are in occasional $20 increments and not, say, Chanel”), eeked out nary a protest, possibly because he quietly snickered knowing what was in store for me on Monday.
You see, as he and his sister sat on the sofa vegging on a Law & Order SVU marathon, I spent at least four episodes worth of time blending, patting, rolling, foil-lining, pie-weighting, baking, unmolding, cooling, peeling, grinding, juicing, stirring, filling and cooling 16 tartlets in the kitchen. I mean, it’s a good thing I consider obsessive baking projects a good time or I might have, in a very weak moment, considered throwing them out the window and making one-bowl cookies instead, never speaking of tartlets again.
I’m glad I didn’t – I really liked the results. Next time, I’d put less filling in each shell; the molds I bought are a little deep for the pungency of the lime curd, but otherwise the recipe is a keeper and my love affair with minuscule baked goods renewed. Which is good news, because moments after I bought the small tart molds on Saturday, I also succumbed to a four-pack of wee loaf pans. There’s no cure for this disease I have.
Key Lime Tart
Adapted from Ina Garten
3/4 cup (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
4 limes at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
4 extra-large eggs at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix the butter and sugar together until they are just combined. Add the vanilla. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Dump onto a surface dusted with flour and shape into a flat disk. Press the dough into a 10-inch-round or 9-inch-square false-bottom tart pan, making sure that the finished edge is flat. Chill until firm.
Butter one side of a square of aluminum foil to fit inside the tart and place it, buttered side down, on the pastry. Fill with beans or rice. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and beans, prick the tart all over with the tines of a fork, and bake again for 20 to 25 minutes more, or until lightly browned. Allow to cool to room temperature.
Remove the zest of 4 limes with a vegetable peeler or zester, being careful to avoid the white pith. Squeeze the limes to make 1/2 cup of juice and set the juice aside. Put the zest in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the sugar and process for 2 to 3 minutes, until the zest is very finely minced. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter with the sugar and lime zest. Add the eggs, one at a time, and then add the lime juice and salt. Mix until combined.
Pour the mixture into a 2-quart saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 10 minutes. The lime curd will thicken at about 175°F, or just below a simmer. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Fill the tart shell with warm lime curd and allow to set at room temperature. Once set, serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.
* I made one change: I found the mixture to be very crumbly, so I added an egg to hold it together, which is a fairly typical inclusion in tart crusts. After that, it rolled out perfectly.