Okay, all right, I do have a citrus obsession. I didn’t even realize it until I started this blog, and found that every other dessert I posted was lemon this and orange-chocolate that. But can you blame me? There is something so divine about the pairing of tart citrus flavors in desserts; the citrus brings balance to dishes that might otherwise be too sweet and one-dimensional.
A few months ago I picked up Tartine, by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson, to add to my already-groaning cookbook shelf. I had a hard time deciding what to make first, and the book’s format didn’t help. All of the recipes sounded mouth-watering, but many of them aren’t pictured. How is my stomach supposed to tell me what to do if it can’t fixate on an image?! Hmph. I finally bit the bullet and settled on a variation of their Lemon Cream Tart.
The good: the tart dough recipe was fantastic. It came together easily and behaved very well–rolled out nicely and didn’t shrink or otherwise misbehave while baking at all. Once baked it had a nice crispness and a good buttery flavor.
The bad: the lemon cream was too rich for me. It’s basically a lemon curd emulsification with gobs of butter, to produce a very creamy, opaque filling. I wanted more of a lemon “bite” to my tart, so I divided the curd and only added butter to half of it. I layered the cream and the curd in the tart, so that it still had some of the rich cream, but also retained the lemon flavor I wanted. Compromise: not just for losers anymore.
My final change to the recipe was adding a meringue topping. The original recipe calls for the tarts to be topped with sweetened whipped cream. Since I don’t hate my heart that much, I opted for a lighter meringue that had the added bonus of reuniting me with my long-lost love, the blowtorch. Yesssss! After making a quick Swiss meringue, I piped it onto the tartelettes and gave it a quick once-over with the ole torch, just enough to get the edges of the meringue a toasty brown color.
The tarts were finished with a sprinkling of chopped candied violet, which was done mostly for visual effect, but which added a nice crunch and light floral flavor as a bonus.
Do I have you craving lemon tarts now? The (loooong) recipe is after the cut.
Sweet Tart Dough
Yield: 12 4-inch tart shells
9 oz unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
3.5 cups AP flour
Cream the butter, sugar and salt in a large stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Cream until very light and smooth. Mix in one egg until smooth. Stop and scrape the bowl, then mix in the other egg. Scrape the bowl again. Add all of the flour at once, and mix on low speed just until incorporated. Shape the dough into two discs and refrigerate at least 2 hours, or overnight.
To line the tart shells, roll the dough out on a well-floured work surface until it is 1/8″ thick. Work quickly so that it does not become too soft. Transfer the rolled dough to the shell, and press it gently into place–do not stretch the dough or it will spring back once baked. Place the shells in the refrigerator or freezer to chill until ready to bake.
To bake the shells, preheat the oven to 350 (the original recipe calls for 325). The recipe does not call for the shells to be blind-baked, but I am always suspicious of that method, so I blind-baked it with pie beans for about 10 minutes until the sides were light golden. I then removed the beans/parchment and continued baking for about another 10 minutes, until the shells were golden. I brushed the shells with beaten egg and baked them a few minutes more, to give them a thin coating to seal them and prevent them from getting soggy. The shells should be dark golden brown when finished.
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp fresh-squeezed lemon juice
3 whole large eggs
1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, cool* (or 2 sticks; see note below)
Bring 2 inches of water in a medium saucepan to a simmer on the stove. In a double boiler (or bowl that fits snugly over the saucepan), whisk together the lemon juice, eggs, yolk, sugar, and salt. Place over the simmering water and cook, whisking frequently, until thickened and 180 degrees (10-12 minutes). Remove the bowl and let cool to 140, stirring from time to time to release the heat.
Cut the butter into small 1-inch pieces. When the curd is the right temperature, remove half of it from the bowl and set aside. Place an immersion blender in the bowl with the remaining half of the curd and turn it on. With the blender running, add the butter on chunk at a time, making sure each addition is incorporated before adding the next piece. The cream will be pale yellow, opaque, and quite thick.
*The original recipe calls for 2 sticks of butter to be incorporated. I found this to be quite heavy and not lemony enough, so I used the method above and had a dual-layer tart: the opaque bottom layer with the butter, and the tarter, translucent top layer of pure lemon curd. If you want, you can use 2 sticks of butter in the full amount of lemon curd to produce a silky, rich lemon cream.
Assembling the Tarts
Divide the lemon cream among the baked tart shells and spread it into an even layer. It should come a little more than halfway up each shell. Spoon the reserved lemon curd on top of the cream in each shell and spread into a thin layer, covering the cream completely. Refrigerate to set the cream and curd while you prepare the meringue.
Meringue for Pies and Tarts
This is my basic recipe; it will probably make more than you need but I find it’s hard to work in smaller quantities.
4 egg whites, room temperature
8 oz granulated sugar
Bring 2 inches of water in a medium saucepan to a simmer on the stove. In a very clean mixer bowl, whisk together the egg whites and granulated sugar. Place the mixing bowl over the simmering water and heat the egg white mixture, whisking constantly, until it is hot to the touch. Place the mixing bowl on the stand mixer and beat with a whisk attachment until it is white, very glossy, and hold stiff peaks. Use immediately.
Finish the Tarts
Spoon or pipe the freshly made meringue onto the top of the tarts. Use a kitchen torch (or a butane torch, mwahaha) to lightly and evenly brown the meringue. Top the tarts with crystallized flowers, or fresh or candied fruit. These tarts will keep for up to a day, but they taste best if eaten immediately.