2 cups unbleached flour
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/4 cup milk
3/4 tsp. vanilla
1 egg, well beaten
2/3 cup sugar
3 tbsp. corn starch
1 1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 cup custard
1 egg yolk, slightly beaten
1 tsp. almond extract
1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons milk, for the egg wash
Dough: Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Cut in the shortening with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Add the milk, vanilla, and egg; use your hands to mix the ingredients into a smooth ball of dough. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and set aside.
Filling: In a medium saucepan, whisk together the cornstarch and sugar, making sure there are no lumps. Gradually whisk in the milk. Add the butter, place the saucepan over medium heat, and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until thickened. Remove from the heat and stir in the egg yolk and almond extract. Set the custard aside.
To Assemble and Bake: Divide the dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll one piece into an 11-inch circle, about 1/4-inch thick. Using a 3-inch fluted biscuit cutter, cut out circles of dough and press each one into the bottom and up the sides of 3 x 1 1/4-inch tart pans. Reroll the scraps and cut out additional circles. You should have 12 tart shells.
Place the tart pans on a cookie sheet. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of filling into each tart shell. Roll out the second piece of dough and cut out 3-inch circles. Place a circle over each tart and pinch the edges closed. With a pastry brush, paint the top of each tart with the egg wash. Refrigerate the tarts for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 425º. Bake the tarts on the middle oven rack for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown. Remove the tarts to racks and let cool completely.
Carefully remove the tarts from the pans. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Makes 1 dozen (3-inch) tarts.
*If you make miniature tarts, bake for only 8 to 10 minutes. This recipe makes about 2 1/2 dozen miniature tarts.