December is typically a month of festive indulgence, but this year, why not make an amazingly healthy dessert that no one has to pass up? Nor will they want to! Start with a simple sugar-free tart shell, which can be baked or eaten raw by the way, and fill it with a creamy custard that has been sweetened using whole dates. There are no added refined sugars anywhere in this ensemble. Add a few of your favourite fresh fruits and you’ve got one heck of a festive dessert! Best of all, these tarts are so scrumptious that no one will even know they are eating healthy. I promise!
Both the shells and the filling can be prepared a few days ahead which is an even bigger reason to include them on your holiday menu. I love recipes that I can make ahead at this time of year because it means that I can spend less time in the kitchen and more time with family and friends on the big day!
For the Tart Shells
This recipe makes enough to fill 8, 4 1/2-inch individual tartlet pans but the quantity of ingredients for both the crust and filling can easily be doubled to fill more tart pans to feed a larger crowd. Both the tart shells and the filling can be made ahead and refrigerated for a few days. The tart shells can also be frozen. (If you decide to freeze the shells or store them for a day or so in the refrigerator, keep them in their pans to maintain the shape and protect them from breakage. Defrost in the refrigerator overnight before filling).
- 1 cup pecans
- 1 cup almonds
- 1 cup dried coconut, shredded, raw and unsweetened
- 8 Medjool dates, seeded, chopped
- 2 tbsp. date syrup (homemade or store bought)
- 2 tbsp. water
- Seeds from a 4-inch vanilla bean, scraped
- ¼ tsp. salt
Place nuts, coconut, salt, dates, water, date syrup and vanilla bean seeds in a food processor and process until quite fine and mixture is sticky. Divide between pans. use wet hands if you need to. At this point the tartlets can be refrigerated overnight but refrigerate for 30 minutes before baking, regardless.
Remove tart pans from refrigerator and poke a couple holes in the base with the tines of a fork to prevent the crusts form rising during baking. Bake the tartlets at 350°F for about 14-16 minutes or until crusts begin to darken around the edges and the base seems done. (In my oven, this is exactly 14 minutes). If your oven bakes a little unevenly or has hot spots, spin the baking sheet around halfway through total baking time. When done, remove from the oven and cool the shells in their pans on the baking sheet. Cover the shells in their pans with saran wrap and freeze or refrigerate.
For the Custard
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup chopped dates
- ½ cup cashews or blanched almonds
- 3 tbsp. cornstarch or arrowroot
- 2 tsp. vanilla
- Pinch salt
- Selection of fresh fruits such as assorted berries, pomegranates, cherries, apricot, peach or peach slices, etc.
- Pistachios or hazelnuts; roasted and coarsely chopped.
Process everything except the fruit and nuts (first 6 ingredients) in a high-powered blender until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a saucepan and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened. This should only take a few minutes. Pour the thickened custard into a clean bowl and place saran wrap or sheet of parchment cut to size directly on the surface of the filling. Refrigerate until completely cool and set.
When ready to serve, place one tart shell on each of 8 plates. (If you have made the custard ahead, you will need to whisk it again before using). Spoon or pipe some of the custard into each tart shell and decoratively arrange fruits and chopped nuts on top. Serve at once. (In the photos, the tarts are topped with fresh blackberries, a couple of satsuma orange wedges, pomegranate seeds and roasted chopped pistachios)
Want in on a secret? This is a great “switch-up” dessert – just do away with the tart shells and layer the custard, fruits and nuts in a large wine glass and you’ve got a dessert parfait!
It’s hard to believe that this year is almost over. I wish all of my readers the happiest of holidays and a big thank you for your support this year! I can’t wait to develop a fresh new batch of great, healthy recipes for you in 2017!