With a buttery nut crust and a maple pecan filling, these mini pecan tarts taste just like the holidays. You’d never know they’re made without refined sugars or gluten, or that they can be made in under an hour!
Holiday baking has begun!
Every year my mother-in-law makes mini pecan tarts for Christmas. For James, who grew up with them, they’re the flavor of the season. The cookies have a brown sugar pecan filling and a tender crust, and they stole my heart when I first tried them over a decade ago (James’ mom keeps them in a tin on top of the fridge, and that first year I made many surreptitious trips into the kitchen to get “water”). When I had to cut gluten from my diet I sorely missed the cookies (truth be told, I sorely missed nearly all Christmas cookies). A few years ago I started tinkering with his mom’s recipe, combining it with this recipe for pecan tassies from Martha Stewart. I swapped out the all-purpose flour for a mix of sweet rice flour and almond flour (although the cookies can still be made with all-purpose flour; see recipe below). I also used maple sugar instead of brown sugar, which is a natural sweetener that lends loads of flavor (I buy it online, but you can use brown sugar in its place if you prefer). And I switched out the vanilla extract for vanilla paste, which has a much more robust flavor (but, you guessed it, you could use vanilla extracts if you wish). WOOHOO! I had my cookies back.
Mini tarts are the hottest cookies in the tin
The crust is tender and just a tad salty, balancing the maple- and vanilla-sweetened center. The tarts are now a staple in our holiday cookie tins (they store well, and I think they’re even better after a day or two), and since they’re not too sweet they can easily be justified as a snack or breakfast (this is the holiday season after all!).
Because I live with choco-holics…
While the pecan tarts are delicious just as they are, you can take them over the top by introducing a bit of chocolate, which Ella and James strongly advocate for. To appease my two chocolate fiends, I’ll sneak a piece of chopped chocolate—either white or dark—in the tart shells before adding the filling, and then I’ll drizzle the tarts with more chocolate after they’ve cooled. This is a very good idea, indeed.
Even though they’ve been tweaked, these mini maple pecan tarts bring James right back to the Christmases of his childhood. Isn’t that the magic of holiday traditions? They adapt and evolve along with us, and yet they still have the power to transport us back in time. One day my girls might taste these tarts—or a version thereof—and jump right back here, to this moment. Wearing matching pajamas in front of the Christmas tree and licking crumbs from their plates.
Get the recipe!
Mini Maple Pecan Tarts (Gluten-Free)
- 1 ¼ cups pecans , divided
- 4 ounces cream cheese , room temperature
- 5 tablespoons (2.5 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
- ½ cup (2.5 ounces) white rice flour
- ¼ cup (0.8 ounce) almond flour
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt , divided
- 1 large egg
- ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon (1.7 oz) packed maple sugar OR ¼ cup (1.7 oz) packed light brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla paste OR 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350˚F.
Spread ¾ cup of the pecans on a baking sheet. Bake until the nuts are fragrant and lightly toasted, about 7-9 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Place the remaining ½ cup of pecans in the food processor and process until the nuts are ground into a coarse flour.
Put the cream cheese and 4 tablespoons of the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer (or you can use hand mixers), and beat on medium-high speed until well-blended and smooth.
Scrape the sides, and add the rice flour, almond flour, cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon of the salt and the finely chopped pecans (from the food processor). Mix on medium-low just until the dough comes together.
Roll the dough into 16 rough balls (about 1 inch wide) and press them into the bottoms and up the sides of mini-muffin cups (use damp fingers if the batter is sticky). Pop the tin in the refrigerator while you make the filling.
Using a rubber spatula, stir together the egg, maple sugar (or brown sugar), vanilla paste (or extract), remaining ¼ teaspoon salt, and remaining 1 tablespoon softened butter, stirring and smashing the butter until mostly incorporated (it’s ok if there are still little bits of butter). Coarsely chop the toasted pecans and stir them into the mixture.
Divide the filing among the muffin cups. Bake 20-23 minutes, or until the tarts are golden. Cool in the tins set on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Run a sharp knife around the edges of each tart, and carefully transfer them to the rack to cool completely. Do Ahead: The tarts can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.