My dad tells a funny story from when I was young. I was sitting in my high chair while they were eating fish and chips for dinner, I stretched out my arm and grabbed a wedge of lemon from the table and proceeded to put it in my mouth, as two-year-olds are wont to do. Imagine my surprise! I screwed up my face and put the lemon down. A few minutes later I decided to give it a second chance, I’m forgiving like that. Another bite, another sour shock, another funny face pulled, but oh no, I hadn’t learnt my lesson quite yet. Can you believe I tried it a third time? It must run in the family, I have an Uncle who will eat a lemon skin and all!
Nowadays I am a real lemon tart girl, second to only one other lovely lady (and she knows who she is!) What does this mean for all the other desserts on the menu? If there’s a lemon meringue pie or a lemon tart, anything chocolate is left for dead, I know what I want without a second thought. I’ve had some good lemon tarts and some bad lemon tarts, but this one? Oh, this one is something special indeed.
Dorie Greenspan calls it The Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart, and Fanny too had praised the lemon cream recipe by Pierre Hermé. I think the name is completely justified, it was definitely the best lemon tarts I’ve ever eaten. This was also a chance to try a new method of making sweet tart dough (pâte sablée) and it was fantastic. Dorie’s method of freezing the dough means that you do not have to use baking weights. It is a fairly time consuming recipe, but the end result is absolutely worth the effort. Or if you want to do the preparation in advance, the lemon cream and the unbaked tart crust can be frozen for up to 2 months
On a slightly unrelated note, until recently we had a ‘lemonade’ tree in our backyard. I never knew much about it, except that the fruit it produced was much sweeter than normal lemons. It turns out that it is a hybrid between lemon and Meyer lemon trees. The fruit was round and bright, and I used to eat them like oranges. Unfortunately I never got to cook with them! This saddens me, because they would have been absolutely wonderful in tarts, cakes and cookies. Has anyone else heard of them, or better yet, tried them?
Recipe from Baking: From My Home To Yours by Dorie Greenspan
Note: For this recipe you will need a candy thermometer and a blender or food processor.
For the crust
• 1 ½ cups plain flour
• ½ cup icing sugar
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 125g unsalted butter, very cold, cut into pieces
• 1 egg yolk, lightly whisked
For the lemon cream
• 1 cup sugar
• Grated zest of 3 lemons
• 4 eggs
• ¾ cup lemon juice
• 300g unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into pieces
1. To make the crust, put the flour, icing sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture is coarse. Add the egg yolk a little at a time, pulsing after each addition and then processing in 10-second pulses once the whole egg has been added until the dough forms clumps.
2. Turn the dough onto a flat work surface and lightly knead the dough until all dry ingredients are just incorporated.
3. Butter a 22cm (9 inch) fluted removable-bottom tart pan. Press the dough into the pan evenly. Freeze for about an hour.
4. Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F). Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminium foil and fit it tightly against the crust. Bake for 25 minutes.
5. Carefully remove the foil, and press the dough down gently if it has puffed using the back of a spoon. Return it to the oven for another 8 minutes, or until it is beautifully golden brown.
6. Before you start the lemon cream, have a candy thermometer, a strainer and a blender at hand. Simmer a little water in a saucepan.
7. Put the sugar and lemon zest in a large heatproof bowl. Off the heat, rub the mixture together with your fingers until the sugar is moist, grainy and aromatic. Whisk in the eggs and then the lemon juice.
8. Set the bowl over the pan of water and whisk continuously until it reaches 80°C (180°F). As it gets close to temperature it will start to thicken. This can take up to 10 minutes, so be patient!
9. Remove the cream from the heat and strain it into the blender. Discard any solids. Let the cream stand at room temperature for about 10 minutes, or until it cools to 60°C (140°F)
10. Turn the blender on high, and add the butter a few pieces at a time. Scrape down the sides to incorporate the butter. Keep the machine on for 3-5 minutes once the butter is in to ensure a perfect lemon cream
11. Pour into an air-tight container and refrigerate for at least 4 hours (it will keep in the fridge for up to 4 days). When you are ready to assemble the tart, whisk the cream and spoon it into the tart shell.