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May 24, 2016

Petite Berry Tarts with Easy Vanilla Custard and Graham Cracker Crust

Petite Berry Tarts with Easy Vanilla Custard and Graham Cracker Crust

For a couple of years now, I've been donating dessert for a dinner that our church sponsors at Sheffield Place, an organization and facility that serves homeless women and their children.  The program houses Up to 75 people (fourteen homeless mothers and their children at any one time).  The average length of stay is nearly four months.

Nearly all of the mothers have a mental health diagnosis, most commonly depression, anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and bi-polar disorder.  Most of the mothers have a dual diagnosis of addiction.  Most are survivors of domestic violence, and many grew up in foster care and/or were runaways, lack a high school diploma or GED, and have felony convictions.

A typical family at Sheffield Place is headed by a mother in her 20's and the average mother has two children under five years of age. 

To prepare families for self-sufficiency and the challenges of managing a home, families practice life skills.  The mothers care for their own living unit and take responsibility for cleaning shared living spaces. With guidance, they learn to prepare healthy food on a tight budget and to resolve conflict in a positive manner. Financial education helps each woman resolve debt and place money in a savings account to begin preparing for the time when she leaves Sheffield Place.

The mission of Sheffield Place is “To empower homeless mothers and their children to heal from their trauma and help them become self-sufficient.”

The dinner that a group from our Church sponsors is to honor the mentors of the women.  The women invite someone to this dinner that has helped support them through their journey.  Sometimes it is a friend, foster care mother helping care for her children, mother, or in one instance her twelve-year-old very sweet daughter that the Mom is working hard to impress.  They get up and speak about their mentor as a way to thank them.  Hearing the stories is always heartbreaking and joyous, as they are growing in their personal strength.  These women are fighters and working so hard to overcome their circumstances.  It is amazing to witness.

To be honest, I always feel a little un-worthy to hear the stories and get to partake in the celebration.  All of the women there deserve so much respect, and here I am basking in the glow of their journey, enjoying the stories they are telling and cheering them on... and all I do is bring dessert.  But then I remember, I can share it here.  I can share with you this reminder of constant struggle that happens on the outskirts of our communities, and right under our noses.  

Celebrating with them is important.  When we celebrate with them, they feel our support and respect.  Just as with any other party we may attend or host, we are celebrating life with our friends and family.  Getting together with loved ones, giving each other hospitality and love in the form of dinner (or bringing dessert), is what I love so much about entertaining.  

As they went through the buffet, and we serve them, we here things like, "Oh I love lasagna - my Mom made the best lasagna.  My favorite meal."  Hearing things like that makes me think, these women are just like us.  She remembers the great lasagna her mom made for family dinners when she was little and now she is here.  And here I am with a group of women, serving these needing, struggling women, and caring for them.  It is a privilege to be a stand in for a family, though it is the tiniest small gesture.

Don't discount and the opportunity to share, support and celebrate... or the power of dessert.

Last year, I made big Cherry Cupcakes piled with frosting.  They were so pretty!  However, many of the women were following the programs nutritional guidelines and learning to make healthy choices.  My cupcakes were like a giant temptation for them in front of their mentors and counselors!  Oops -ugh!  So, this year, I wanted to make something more nutritious for them that they would be able to enjoy a little more guilt free : )   I also thought it would be great for them to see something that is so simple to make, that might be a good option for them to make for their family.

Of course, this would be a great dessert for a Bridal/Baby Shower since it is light and fresh or even a 4th of July party... and it is Red, White and Blue ; )  They are made ahead of time (a couple of days, even!), which always makes everything easier.

I used the Small Tart Pans from my store.     Here, you can see the Small Tart Pans ($5 for 10) compared to the Petite size ($6 for 10).  The Small are a bit smaller, making a nice individual portion of a dessert.

I put a Graham Cracker crust in each, and packed it with a measuring cup.

And then I made homemade Vanilla Pudding (pastry cream, custard.... whatever).  So yummy hot from the stove!!

This was a huge batch!  I think I had to do 8 of the original recipes.

I filled each pan about half way up with the pudding.  This is a great starting point for any tart/pie.  

Here are a few I plan to try...
Banana Cream Tart : Banana slices in before the pudding, then top with whipped cream.
Chocolate Cream Tart : Chocolate pudding, whipped cream and topped with chocolate shavings.

Here are 6, that fit on a Small Sheet Pan, $7.  Twelve-Fourteen fit on a Large Sheet Pan, $8.

Classic French Blue Linen Tea Towel, $18 for 2

Petite Berry Tarts with Vanilla Custard

recipe makes 8

10 graham crackers
1/4 cup of sugar
6 tablespoons of butter, melted
1/3 cup of cornstarch
1 cup of sugar
1/4 teaspoon of sea salt
4 eggs
4 cups of milk
1 tablespoon of vanilla
4 tablespoons of butter
fresh berries

Preheat oven to 350.

Graham Cracker Crusts :

Make crust by pulverizing graham crackers and sugar in a food processor (or in a plastic bag) until fine crumbs.  Add melted butter and pulse until it comes together.  

Portion into tart pans on a baking sheet and press with measuring cups to pack crust. 

Bake on baking sheet for 10 minutes.  Cool.

Vanilla Custard : 

In a medium sauce pan, combine cornstarch, sugar and salt with a whisk.  In a separate bowl, whisk together milk and eggs.  Add milk/egg mixture to the cornstarch and combine.  Bring to bubbling over medium heat, whisking constantly, until thickened.  It should cook for about 2-4 minutes.  Remove from heat, add vanilla and butter.  Whisk in until smooth.

Scoop portions of warm custard into the crusts.  Let cool.

Top with fruit.  Refrigerate until serving.

I would love to hear what ideas you have for this Mini Tart & Vanilla Custard concept!  I use the Tart Pans all of the time.  Here are my favorite recipes : 

Products Used : 

Small Tart Pans ($5 for 10)

For more information about the Sheffield Place, visit here.  You can see photos of some of the children and mothers that are benefitting from the amazing programs.


  1. These look so pretty! I love that you are a part of such a wonderful program!

  2. A very moving post! Thank you for the recipe, and for sharing your experience with these beautiful woman and children. I am inspired to try these recipes, and even more inspired to cook for, and give my time, to those that could use more love and care in their lives.


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