For me there are certain foods that define a holiday. Valentine’s Day is all about chocolate and chocolate covered strawberries, Easter is about hard boiled eggs, Thanksgiving is about the turkey and pumpkin pie and for me Christmas just isn’t Christmas without sugar cookies and pecan tassies! I cannot even begin to tell you how many I’ve eaten over my lifetime. Now my yoga pants have kept count and trust me they HATE this time of the year as I really push their maximum holding capacity to its limits but those pecans tassies are just so damn good!
Growing up Mom always made these except hers were never mini sized. She used the full muffin tin, greased and these things were ginormous! But the size never stopped us from woofing them down like it was our job! The ONLY thing I didn’t like about my Mom’s is often we couldn’t afford pecans so she would substitute in walnuts. *gag* I so don’t like walnuts! Throughout the years I’d experiment a bit with the recipe using dark brown sugar instead of light, adding chocolate chunks at the bottom of the tart then pouring in the mixture (DELISH btw!), soaking the pecans in bourbon (dear God that’s amazing!) and one of my favorites – drizzling melted caramel on top! It’s just uber awesome!
To make these as adorable and mini-sized as I did is you need 2 pieces of equipment… a mini muffin pan and a tart dough press. The tart press is AWESOME and truly makes forming these in the well of the muffin tin a breeze! Just dip the end in flour, push down on the dough ball in the wall and up comes the shape!
The tart recipe is pretty universal – cream cheese, butter, flour and salt. You don’t want sugar or eggs in this as you want the sweetness of the filling to shine through and you don’t want the crust to be flaky. You want it to be firm to stand up to the filling. This same tart dough can be used as a base for a bajillion other fillings. Love those little apricot filled cookies? Use this recipe! Once you form the shell in the pan you can use this dough for pretty much anything. I’ve even made 4″ tarts out of the dough with this same filling. Trust me, that makes a HUGE cookie!
For me pecan tassies are meant to be miniature and well, popable!
There’s just something magical about biting into one of these. They are soft and tender with that almost gooey buttery caramely pecan center. I can remember sitting on the table when I was wee little and it was my job to put the “pretty” pecans on top before she popped them in the oven. She would always say “The pretty ones is what will attract people to want to try the cookie. The filling is what will make them come back for more.” And it’s true. I’ve made these without the pretty ones on top (only because I either forgot or ran out of pecans) and there literally is no difference in taste between the two.
Now if you’re a perfectionist like me and you feel that it HAS to have something on top, do as I do… when they are out of the oven, add a chocolate square (not a chip but a square or chunk of chocolate) and or drizzle with caramel. I’ve tried this with salted caramel and it’s a love-hate thing. I love the first bite but then I kinda don’t like it after that. It’s like the cookie should taste like one thing and the salt just throws it off. Maybe you’ll like it though.
When I hear folks say how they are afraid to make these the root of the reason is they are afraid of breaking them when they remove them. Well if you use a shovel to try to dig them out of course you’re going to break them. Don’t use a butter knife or a knife at all. I swear by my thin blade icing spatulas. I use them all the time in my kitchen and they make removing these from the muffin pan a breeze!
So go on this yea and make these! The recipe makes about 2 dozen and perfect for a generous cookie tray. Be adventurous and maybe add some chocolate to the mix and or drizzle with caramel. Now if you don’t have pecans you can use peanuts, macadamia nuts and even walnuts.
Cream Cheese Tart Dough
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1 cup flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 large egg
- 3/4 light brown sugar, firmly packed
- 1 Tbl unsalted butter, melted
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 Cup chopped pecans
- 2 dozen perfect pecan halves, for decoration
- Preheat the oven to 350F, rack in the middle.
- Use a non-stick mini muffin pan. If you don’t have a non-stick one, lightly spray the wells.
- To make the tart dough, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and cream cheese on medium speed until smooth. ~5-7 minutes.
- Turn the mixer off and add in the flour and salt.
- Turn on low and mix until a smooth dough forms.
- Divide the dough equally into 24 balls, each about 1 Tbl of dough.
- Press the balls of dough into the Mini Muffin Pan , using a Tart Dough Press or your thumbs to press the dough against the sides to form a shell all the way up the well of the pan..
- To make the filling, whisk together the egg, sugar, butter, vanilla, and salt in a bowl.
- Sprinkle 3/4 tsp nuts into each shell.
- Top with a tsp of the egg mixture or until the mixture reaches the top of the dough.
- Place a pecan half in the center.
- Bake 20-25 minutes or until light golden brown.
- Remove from oven.
- Allow to cool in the pan for 3 minutes.
- Using a Thin Blade Spatula carefully remove from the pan and allow to cool completely.
- Store in an air tight container.