Millie's Mini Pecan Tart Recipe

Ok--so this is not Real Estate, but here is a fun recipe that you can enjoy in your new home during the holidays. I have published this recipe every year and it is very popular in the search engines. 

It only takes a few hours to make these little bits and they are better than anything that you can buy at the nicest bakery in Austin. For those of you who may not cook--you should know that I am no chef. Ask my wife.

I grew up in a family of seven children. My dad was a builder (among other things), so naturally he only cooked when there was hickory and an open fire involved--and he did grill a mean burger on the 4th of July. However, with four older sisters and a strong southern mom, I learned something about cooking, especially during the holidays. I cook occasionally now, but my wife is the natural chef in our home. She has the instincts of a master builder in the kitchen, but when it comes to the holidays--I am the chef on deck.

As an adult my oldest sister, Millie taught me how to make her Mini Pecan Tarts. I wanted to learn how to make something that was fun for the holidays--which is where this holiday traditions began. So, if you are looking for something really great to take to a holiday dinner, to a friend's party or just a little surprise for family and friends--try this holiday mini pecan tart.

Here is the recipe for approximately 4-5 dozen mini tarts.

The Pastry. If you are going to make the tarts you have to make the pastry from scratch. You can not substitute a store bought or store made pastry and expect anything close to the same results.

  • 8 oz's of cream cheese (do not use low fat--it won't work; I know from experience)
  • 1 cup of soft margarine
  • 1 cup of all purpose flour
  • Non-stick oil pan spray

The Filling: 
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup melted or soft butter
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chopped pecans (pretty small pieces) to go in the filling
  • Another 1/4 - 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans for the top

First, you make the filling. You will make the pastry shell in a minute, but we will start with the pecan filling. Get everything out and make room on the counter to work. You will need a fairly large counter top area to work.

About 30 mins before you get started, put your butter and margin out on the counter top. This will allow it to become soft.

Begin mixing the ingredients for the filling. Beat with a fork until everything is well mixed, including the butter. I like to cut the butter in when it is soft, but Milly's original recipe calls for melted butter. The softer the better because you want the butter to be very small chunks or completely blended into the mixture. It is important that each mini has the same amount of butter. Of course, the real secret ingredient is the vanilla extract. If you want to know what makes the pecan mini taste so wonderful, smell the vanilla before you add it to the mixing bowl.

Mix in 1 cup of pecans. You will need more pecans to put on top--so make sure you don't put all of your pecans in the mix. Buy pre-cut pecans. Cutting pecans is just a lot of work with very little reward.

Guys--cooking is a little bit like building a house. It is all about following a design plan and knowing what you are doing before you start. If you get into trouble you can call someone who knows more than you do. I know more about building a house than cooking, so if you are thinking about building or buying a home--Let's talk. If you are looking for a caterer--I am absolutely not your go-to guy.

Now it is time to begin the pastry.

Making the pastry--the shell. To do this you need mini muffin pans. Not the big 3" size muffin pan. You want the 1" size muffin pans. You really want to have to have at least 2 muffin pans, but 4 would be better, because you are going to be rotating these pans into and out of the oven every 25-29 minutes. More pans = less washing while you are cooking. 

First, put the soft margarine and soft cream cheese into a mixing bowl. Using a butter knife begin cutting these together into small pieces in the bowl.

It isn't pretty yet, but neither is a house at this stage in the process. We are building something here. 

Add the flour. Cut it in with the knife. Guys, this is exactly what it sounds like. Just start cutting until everything is mixed up, cut it so that no flour, margarine or cream cheese is recognizable as a distinct ingredient. It should all be very small pieces of mixed ingredients. If it feels too wet to form, you can add 1-2 Tablespoons of flour at a time until the dough is just a little wet to the touch and easy to form into balls.

Next thing is to spray the pan really well with non-stick spray. Each little cup in the pan should be completely covered with the non-stick spray. This is important. Then roll out little balls of dough and drop one into each cup. Not too much. Not too little. 

Next, begin working the dough into the form of the cup with your fingers. It is very important that the walls of the cup and the bottom be the same thickness all the way around. Not too thin, especially on the bottom. Not too thick, or it will make the tart too crusty. The fillings don't have to be pretty. They just have to be consistent. (When we are buying houses to remodel we call this "having good bones" or having a proper structure to start a remodeling project).

After you have made 1 complete pan of pie crusts, begin filling pies with the pecan filling mixture from the first bowl. This is a little messy, but using a spoon or pouring the mixture into the cups should be fairly easy.

When you get the first 12 filled, add finely chopped pecans to the top of each cup to finish it off. Then place this first tray in the pre-heated oven at 325 degrees and bake for 25-29 minutes. The crust should begin turning medium brown. Not too dark, or they will get hard. Not too light, else they will not look appetizing.

As soon as you start the first tray in the oven begin working on the second tray. Continue this process until you have finished all of the ingredients in one or both bowls. If you start over-lapping the process and finish the second tray before the first one is finished cooking, set a second timer for the second tray and put it in the oven. Be sure you start your timers immediately. If you are a planner, this is a good exercise in planning and timing.

Pull the trays out of the oven when they start to brown (these may be a bit too light in the photo above. Probably could have cooked another 2 mins). Let them sit and cool for a few minutes until you can touch the tarts. Try gently spinning the tart in the tin using the tips of your fingers. If the cup was well greased it should spin when it has cooled down about 3-5 minutes. If not, try using a thin knife to slip in around the edges next to the pan to see if you can break where it has stuck to the pan.

Gently lift the tarts from the pan with a butter knife and place on a serving dish.

You can serve these tarts hot, warm or room temperature. You can store in an air-tight container for several days if they are not all eaten on the first day. This recipe should make 4 to 5 dozen tarts. This may sound like a lot, but they go fast--especially if you have friends. (No one wants to eat my dry turkey at Thanksgiving, but everyone asks if I am going to make pecan tarts this year before they accept our invitation to the holidays). 

I hope this recipe brings you as many good times as it has me.



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