My heart is yours

Make these heart-shaped vanilla custard tarts for Valentine’s Day

Vanilla heart cookies

Photo: Kristi Bissell
Vaniljihjärtan—Vanilla Hearts—combine tender, buttery crust and the creamy vanilla pastry cream for a love-filled dessert.

KRISTI BISSELL
True North Kitchen

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and I’ve got a fun and delicious Scandinavian baking project to help you celebrate. Let me introduce you to Vaniljhjärtan, Swedish vanilla custard tarts. These buttery little pastries are baked in small heart-shaped molds, making them the perfect sweet treat to serve to your loved ones on Feb. 14 (or any day of the year, really).

According to the Nordic Baking Book by Magnus Nilsson, Vaniljhjärtan are a variation of the Norwegian pastry linser, which are small lemon custard tarts.

The idea is quite simple: a buttery heart-shaped tart shell is filled with rich vanilla pastry cream, topped with a second layer of dough and baked until golden. Once the Vaniljhjärtan have cooled, they are dusted with powdered sugar and enjoyed warm or at room temperature. While there isn’t much going on in these little pastries, the combination of the tender, buttery crust and the creamy vanilla interior is utterly sublime. Sometimes simple really is best.

The good news is that the components, both the dough and the pastry cream, can be made in advance if you wish to do so. The small heart-shaped pans can be a little difficult to find (I found mine at a local Scandinavian specialty store), but you can always use your sandbakkel tins in a pinch. They will work just fine and allow you to create a variety of different shapes, not just hearts.

Vaniljhjärtan are a bit of an undertaking, but one that is well worth your time. You will be rewarded with a batch of delicious tarts and oohs and aahs from everyone you choose to share them with.

All photos by Kristi Bissell

Vaniljhjärtan (Vanilla Hearts)

Makes 12-16 tarts

By Kristi Bissell of True North Kitchen

For the dough:

1 large egg yolk

3 tbsps. heavy cream

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2½ cups all-purpose flour

11/3 cup powdered (confectioners’) sugar

½ tsp. salt

16 tbsps. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes and chilled

For the Vanilla Pastry Cream:

3 egg yolks

1½ tbsps. cornstarch

1½ cups half and half or whole milk

3 tbsps. sugar

Pinch of fine salt

2½ tbsps. unsalted butter

1½ tsps. vanilla extract

Special equipment needed:

Food processor

At least 8 small heart-shaped pans or sandbakkel tins (any shape will work just fine)

Make the dough: Whisk the egg yolk, cream, and vanilla together in a small bowl. Set aside.

Combine the flour, powdered sugar, and salt in the work bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Scatter the butter over the top and pulse until the mixture resembles wet sand, about 10-12 pulses.

With the machine running, pour the egg mixture into the food processor through the feed tube. Process until a cohesive dough forms.

Remove the dough from the food processor and divide into two pieces. Wrap each tightly in plastic wrap, pressing it into a 6-inch disc in the process. Chill for at least an hour or up to two days (the dough will harden significantly if it’s in the refrigerator for more than a few hours, so you may need to let it warm up slightly before rolling).

While the dough chills, make the pastry cream: Whisk egg yolks, cornstarch, half and half, sugar, and salt together in a medium saucepan. Add butter. Place pan over medium-low heat and whisk constantly until butter melts and mixture becomes smooth and thick, about 3-5 minutes. Strain mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a clean bowl. Stir in vanilla. Place a piece of parchment paper directly on top of the pastry cream, followed by a layer of plastic wrap (this prevents the custard from forming a skin). Refrigerate until you are ready to use. (Vanilla Pastry Cream can be made 1-2 days in advance.)

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Remove one of the discs of dough from the refrigerator and roll out on a lightly floured work surface until it is 1/inch thick. Using a biscuit or cookie cutter just slightly larger than the heart mold, cut 8 circles from the dough. Press a round of dough lightly into a mold and let the excess dough fold over the edge. Transfer the mold to a parchment-lined baking sheet and repeat with the remaining pieces of dough. Store the tart bottoms in the refrigerator while you prepare the tops. Gather any dough scraps, wrap in plastic and transfer to the refrigerator for a second batch.

Remove the second disc of dough from the refrigerator and roll out on a lightly floured work surface until it is 1/8 inch thick. Using the same biscuit or cookie cutter, cut 8 more circles. Remove the tart bottoms from the refrigerator and fill about 2/3 full with chilled pastry cream. Lay a second dough circle on top of each filled bottom and gently wrap the dough around the edges of the tart pan. Using a sharp, small knife, cut any excess dough from around the molds and press the edges gently to seal. Chill the assembled tarts in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes before baking. Gather any dough scraps, wrap in plastic and transfer to the refrigerator for a second batch.

Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake the tarts until golden and puffed slightly in the center, about 18-23 minutes. Let the Vaniljhjärtan cool slightly in the molds and then carefully remove them and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar before serving. Repeat the process with the chilled dough scraps once they are cool enough to work with for a second batch.

Note: These tarts are best the day they are made, but you can store any leftovers tightly covered in the refrigerator. Set them out at room temperature to warm slightly before enjoying.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 4, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Kristi Bissell

Kristi Bissell is the founder of True North Kitchen, a Nordic food blog designed for the American home cook. She enjoys creating recipes that celebrate her Scandinavian heritage and that approach traditional Nordic ingredients in a modern, fresh and approachable way. Kristi is a native of Minneapolis and currently resides in Omaha, Neb. When she’s not cooking and baking in her cozy kitchen, Kristi teaches private and corporate yoga classes and leads Scandinavian cooking and baking workshops. For more information, visit her blog, www.true-north-kitchen.com.

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