Sometimes the second time’s the charm. I was excited to see Butterscotch Pudding Tarts from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking on the Baked Sunday Mornings schedule this week because I had made these years ago and was underwhelmed, and I always meant to try them again but never got around to it. I wish I’d taken notes– I remember liking them okay, but the crusts were a little anemic and the filling too boozy. They were otherwise fine, but they had the potential to be so much more.
I’ve always thought the photo of these is one of the most beautiful in the book, and I’m sure when I made them before, they didn’t look like that, but I sure hoped to emulate them this time, not to mention make them taste better.
I found that this recipe was not especially well written– the BAKED books have gotten much better about that over the years, but the first one was a little rough at times, including this recipe. The crust instructions were a bit vague regarding how the dough should look. You make the dough by breaking down the oats in the food processor, then adding all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour (I used white whole wheat), dark brown sugar, and salt, and pulsing all of it until it’s finely ground and blended. Then add the cold butter chunks and pulse until the mixture is crumbly, followed by milk, which brings it together. We are then instructed to “scoop” the dough out of the bowl, and I didn’t know what that meant exactly. I followed the directions for the crust precisely, and my crust mixture was super crumbly even after adding the milk; it held together when pressed, but wasn’t much like a dough. Bringing it into a mound was challenging, and it never quite smoothed out. There was no description of the intended texture; next time I might add an extra tablespoon of milk to help it come together more easily. (Although it rolled out okay later on.) I left the disk in the fridge for about 4 hours to rest and hydrate.
I decided to use my 5″ fluted tartlet pans with removable bottoms, which were a little bigger than what the recipe called for, so I would have fewer tarts, which was not a concern. I also wanted to use my 6″ Valrhona perforated tart ring, so I prepared 4 of the tartlet pans along with the ring. (I ended up with a 5th tartlet using the dough scraps from all the others.)
After a nap, the dough can be more easily shaped. I was able to divide it accordingly for my pans and roll each piece into a ball, which I then flattened into hockey pucks, then re-chilled in the freezer for 10 minutes. Because the dough already seemed dry, I didn’t flour my work surface, which made the dough sticky and challenging to roll out. Despite this, because it was cold, the dough was easy to transfer to the pans and press up the sides. I then rolled my rolling pin over them to trim off the excess dough and tidied up each one for the prettiest possible tart edges. These went into the freezer for 30 minutes to firm up.
The crusts are supposed to be baked for 12-15 minutes at 325°F, but they didn’t get a lick of golden color, even after 17 minutes, so I took them out. Unfortunately they were totally floppy and unusable– I couldn’t even remove them from the tartlet pans without nearly breaking one. This was consistent with my memory from the first time I made them, and I also remembered them as being bland in flavor; in the book photo, they are golden and attractive. I was already working on my butterscotch at that point, and I quickly decided to throw them in the toaster oven at 350°F for another 10 minutes to see if they could be rescued, which did the trick. They browned and firmed up just right with these extra minutes and higher temperature. I would bake these for about 15 minutes at 350°F moving forward. (This photo is after the first bake– still very light.)
The pudding was another adventure– a rather irritating one! You first make a simple caramel by boiling a sugar and water syrup until it is dark amber, then pour in heavy cream. In a separate saucepan, you’ll combine brown sugar, cornstarch, and salt. You’ll then add milk, but I stirred vanilla bean paste into it first, instead of using a vanilla bean. This mixture needs to come to a boil before whisking in the caramel. Whisking ⅔ of this hot mixture into the egg yolks, then pouring it back into the pot tempers the egg yolks. Everything seemed to go according to plan until this point; however, the last step of whisking, which is supposed to take 2-3 minutes (“or until very thick”), took *20* minutes before the pudding would thicken. Lastly, I added a tablespoon of butter and the whiskey, which I cut in half to 1 tablespoon since I’d found it too boozy the first time. I was expecting the mixture to thicken like a pudding, but it didn’t come anywhere near that while the mixture was on the stove– it was quite thin.
The color was also very light compared to the deep caramel color in the photo. I stirred and stirred, and eventually the consistency began to get ever-so-slightly thicker, and the color became gradually darker. Still, it wasn’t like any pudding I’d made before (I couldn’t remember if this had happened the first time), and I thought all was lost. However, once the pudding had rested for 15 minutes, it actually thickened quite nicely. It was more the texture of a thick dulce de leche than what I would call a pudding. I used an ice cream scoop and offset spatula to shape the pudding in the shells– it then thickened quite rapidly at that point, which made it hard to smooth out the pudding. It’s possible that I messed up somewhere along the way, but it looked quite a lot like the photo in thickness and color, so I chalked it up as a success!
I didn’t remember this recipe being super time-consuming, and I was annoyed that it took 3½ hours from the time I started rolling out the dough to completion. Granted, I am painfully slow, but nonetheless it was a lot of unexpected work. And yet… all was forgiven as soon as I tasted the pudding after it had been chilled in the fridge! The nutty crust was the perfect complement to the gooey filling, which really was quite like a buttery dulce de leche. I’m still not quite sure if this is how is was meant to be, but I was really pleased with the finished tarts, which I topped with Valrhona Crunchy Pearls instead of crushed Butterfinger candy bar bits. The crusts also held up nicely to the filling for a good few days.
My tasters enjoyed the tarts, and now that I know what to expect, I’d definitely make them again. You can find the recipe for Butterscotch Pudding Tarts at Baked Sunday Mornings, and check out the other bakers’ tarts as well! It looks like everyone else did stick to the short cooking time and got more of a pudding-like texture, albeit a lighter color, which I might try next time. Anyway, go forth and make delicious tartlets!
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2018.