Yesterday I had a day off. A couple of months ago, my free days were common and I got bored. Now they're precious and I try to use them as best I can. So I did my best yesterday to do some important things--some editing, some appointments, lots of emails, our taxes--but also some fun things. And I decided a baking project would be a fun thing to do.
When I saw this recipe come up on the roster, I was skeptical. It would seem I'm often skeptical of Maida's recipes.
I think I just couldn't get past the headnotes, in which she tells a long and complicated story about how you can't make these with long fingernails. And about how you need 4 mini-muffin pans to make them.
Maybe another reason was the 3 sticks of butter in the recipe, though that never stopped me before. But in any case, this seemed like one of those baking projects that would be fun and absorbing but not really have a payoff in terms of eating pleasure.
So I gathered my butter and dates and pecans and sugar and my short fingernails. I divided the recipe in half, calculating that I could make a dozen regular-sized muffin pastries that way (I was mostly right). I have one mini-muffin pan, and it's in storage. There's no way I'll ever have four.
I pressed the dough into the muffin cups (as you can see, I underestimated how much dough each little tart would need).
And before I knew it, these babies were ready for the oven. They weren't really even all that fussy!
Soon after these came out of the oven, I was on the phone with our financial advisor trying to figure out cost basis and other exciting tax-related things. The girls came home while I was listening and taking notes, but I heard them each exclaim, "It smells really great in here!" I signaled to them that they should help themselves.
I had trouble concentrating on figures while listening to the girls rave about these little pastries. "These are the BEST thing you've made, Mama!" By the time I'd gotten off the phone, five of them were already gone. When Sami came home and tried one, he asked if there were more and then bolted into the kitchen to get another.
I wish I could say this was a disappointment: the "project" turned out to be pretty easy and mostly just gosh-darned delicious. These are basically like the best pecan pie you'll ever eat. They're sweet but not overpowering. They make you wish you hadn't halved the recipe.
Here's the recipe (for the full amount, using standard muffin pans). Do yourself a favor and make them.
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1 c. (8 oz.) butter, cool room temperature
2 c. (8 oz.) sifted flour
In a food processor, combine the cream cheese and butter; process until smooth. Pulse in the flour and salt. Scrape out the dough onto a piece of waxed paper and chill in the freezer at least 10 minutes. While it's chilling, you can make the filling:
1/2 c. (4 oz.) butter, room temperature
1 T. vanilla (I also added a splash of bourbon)
2 c. (14 oz.) brown sugar
1 large egg
1 c. (8 oz.) pitted dates (use good ones), cut into 1/4-inch pieces with scissors
1-1/2 c. (5.5 oz.) toasted chopped pecans + 24 pecan halves (which I didn't have)
With an electric mixer, cream the butter until fluffy. Beat in the vanilla (and bourbon!) and salt, and then beat in the sugar and the egg. Mix until everything is smooth and fluffy. Stir in the dates and pecans.
Heat the oven to 350. Line 24 muffin cups with paper or silicone liners. Use a bench scraper or knife to cut the dough into 24 pieces. These pieces will look too big to you, but don't worry. Roll each piece into a ball and put it into a muffin cup. Use your thumb and fingers to press down on the middle and push up the sides of the cup. The dough should easily make it all the way up the sides of the cup. Don't worry if there are holes in the dough.
When you've made all the dough cups, put a spoonful or two of filling in each. There should be enough filling to go almost all the way up to the top on each cup. If you have the pecan halves, put one on each pastry.
Put the muffin pans on a foil-lined cookie sheet and bake, one at a time (unless they both fit on one rack) on the bottom rack for 35 minutes. The pastry should be brown and the filling should be bubbling.
Remove from the oven and let cool. Apparently these can be eaten quite warm, but they're also delicious at room temperature. But make sure you get one before they disappear.