Lemon Tart

[from Charlie]

Now that we're into dessert recipes, I'll add my own favorite -- an elegantly simple and lushly rich lemon tart. On the academic honestly front, it's not my own recipe, but comes from a very good dessert cook book by a Richard Sax, who if he isn't gay, is clearly a jammer. The book is called "Classic Home Desserts". What's nice about it is that it has both contemporary and "heirloom" recipes in it, some of them, like "Lime Fool" -- basically heavy cream whipped up with lime juice and rum -- are taken from cookbooks as far back as the 17th century.

I haven't seen the book around recently, but it may be in print. The ISBN is 1-881-527-52-2. It was published in cloth in 1994 Chapters Publishing in Shelburne, VT.

The recipe for "The World's Best Lemon Tart" is as follows. [My annotations, originally written for my mother, are in brackets, and a note to the copyright lawyers, that means it can be included in the various publications, as long as the source is cited]:

World's Best Lemon Tart (Tarte au Citron Nézard)

Rich Tart Dough

1.5 cups all-purpose flour
2 T sugar
pinch salt
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces 3 T ice water or cold orange juice, as needed

1. If making dough by hand, sift together the flour, sugar and salt into a large bowl. Cut in the butter with two knives or your fingertips, until the mixture is the texture of crumbly meal. [This works best if all the ingredients are freezer cold, and you use a chilled metal bowl. If the butter gets a little oily while you work it, throw the mixture back in the fridge a bit to chill it down again.]

2. Sprinkle 3 T of the liquid [also ice cold] over the flour mixture and toss with a fork until the pastry just comes together. Add more liquid if necessary, but do not moisten the dough too much. Gather the pastry into a ball, and flatten it into a disk. Wrap the fought in plastic or wax paper, and chill it for at least 1 hour before rolling out.

[OR, if you have a food processor, this works even better:

1. Place the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of the food processor with the blade already in. Put the whole thing in the freezer until it's cold.

2. Take it out, and add the cut-up butter. Pulse the mixture 6 - 7 times, until the butter is broken up and the mixture looks like very rough corn meal.

3. Turn the processor on, and add the water steadily, but no too fast, into the mixture. This should take no more than about 6-8 seconds. Don't overblend the mixture.

4. Turn the mixture out onto your work surface, and using the heel of the palm of your hand, press down and away on the mixture to blend it one more time. It should "smear" across the work surface. It only takes about 4-5 smearings to blend it all. Form a ball with the dough and chill it as above.]

Lemon Curd Filling

Juice of 2 lemons [or more, I err on the side of extra lemon juice. Some day I will get an accurate liquid measure for this, but not yet.]
6 large eggs
1 scant cup sugar
10 T unsalted butter, cold, cut into pieces.
Finely grated zest of 3 lemons [I usually only use the two from the juicing, unless I've juiced three.]
3 T apricot preserves or orange marmalade

1 paper thin lemon slice. [very optional to my mind, but pretty. I tend to melt just a little bittersweet chocolate myself, and spell out "citron" across the top of the glazed tarte, which is how it's often done in France. You can make a simple cone of waxed paper, or put the chocolate, shaved or coarsely chopped, inside a sealed zip lock sandwich bag. Melt it in the microwave using 10 - 15 second bursts, not more, then snip a tiny hole in the corner, which you can use as a "tip" for writing with.]

1. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into a large circle; the crust for this tart should be thin. Gently fold the crust in half, then quarters, and transfer it into a 9 or 10 inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. [He suggests you lightly butter the pan, I've never found this to be necessary.]

Trim off the excess dough so there's a 3/4 inch overhang [I just trim to the place where the dough hits the counter again] Tuck in the overhang, pressing the edge of the dough against the sides of the tart pan to form a high, smooth border. Chill the tart shell while you preheat the oven to 400 degrees F, with a rack in the center.

2. Line the tart shell with a sheet of buttered foil, buttered side down. Weigh down with dried beans, rice, etc., place the shell on a heavy baking sheet. Bake until the edges are set, about 8 - 10 mins. Carefully lift out the foil and beans/rice. Prick the dough lightly with a fork. Continue to bake until the pastry is very pale gold, about 8 minutes longer. [About half way through this time, I re-check the pastry; it often blows up a bit, and needs to be re-pricked with a fork.] Cool on a wire rack; leave the oven on.

3. Lemon Curd Filling: In the top of a double boiler or a heatproof bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, eggs and sugar until blended. Add the butter, and set over simmering water. Whisk the mixture constantly until thick and smooth, about 8 minutes. Do not let the mixture boil, be sure to scrape the bowl down occasionally as you wisk. [The filling will thicken fairly quickly towards the end of the cooking period. Once it begins to thicken, I usually cook it just a little longer. It will continue to thicken as long as you cook it, but you don't want to get it too stiff. After you cook it a few times, you can learn the right consistency.]

Remove from heat. Strain the mixture into a clean bowl, whisk in the lemon zest. [Be sure to use two separate spatulas to scrape off the underside of the strainer and to push the curd through from inside. What you're straining out is any cooked egg solids and any lemon seeds, and you don't want to transfer the egg solids into the stained mixture.] (If you're not going to use the custard immediately, lay a sheet of waxed paper or plastic wrap directly on the surface and refrigerate.) [I find the tart doesn't bake as well if the curd has been refrigerated, so I try to let it sit out just a bit to warm it up when I do. You can also just stop at this point, and you have a great lemon curd for use with ice-cream or other desserts, it can be spread on top of a cheese cake, used as a filling for a light butter cake, used in petit fours, etc.]

4. Pour the custard into the tart shell. Bake until the filling is set and slightly golden, about 30 mins. [Sometimes in baking, the lemon curd will start to boil and bubble. If it's just a little bit, that's ok, but it may mean your oven's a little hot.] Cool the tart to room temperature on a wire rack, 1 - 2 hours, or overnight.

5. Strain a thin layer of preserves directly onto the surface of the tart. If you are using a stiff marmalade, you may need to warm it before straining. Gently brush it over the surface of the tart, glazing evenly. Brush gently so you don't tear the custard.

[Here, he's just wrong, in my mind. What I do is heat the preserves in a sauce pan with a little bit of water, stirring until it's all liquid, but still thick. Then I strain it through a small strainer directly onto the tart, filtering out any apricot solids, or orange slices for the marmalade. Then I lift the tart and tilt it from side to side, or in a circular motion, to spread the glaze out evenly. Be sure to get the glaze all the way up to the crust all the way around so it seals the custard completely. If you've strained on too much, just let is pour off on point of the crust. It will likely seep into the pan, but you can clean it up once you've removed it from the pan if you're so inclined.]

Lay the thin slice of lemon in the center of the tart; glaze the lemon slice with the preserves. Remove the tart from the rim of the pan and serve at room temperature. [I find the lemon slice gets in the way of slicing the tart. So I let the glaze set (usually about 30 mins to an hour) and then pipe on the chocolate "citron." I also serve it with unsweetened whipped cream, which helps cut some of the tartness of the lemon for some people.]


Love, Charley

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