A big call no? The ultimate lemon tart? Well it isn’t even in the oven yet and I am tempting fate monumentally by making this call, and yet I feel confidant. I have been cooking variations on a standard lemon tart for years making little tweaks and changes along the way, in fact I used to make it so often as a go-to dessert, I got bored with it (how is that even possible – it’s lemon tart!?). Ayhoo, I am going to a friend’s house for dinner tomorrow night and her lovely 16 year old son is a fan of my tarts (nothing euphemistic there whatsoever), so I thought, why not go for gold and make the ultimate? Here is why I have called it that, and let me start by telling you what disappoints me in a lemon tart – I mean I barely order them if I am going out for dinner because I hate a bad tart so much! So, what we don’t want is thick, tough pastry, hard set, not lemony-enough custard with a miserable filling to pastry ratio – nope – what we want is crispy, light pastry with deep, thick, extra lemony, soft custard and, un-decided as yet, but possibly bruleed on top (you know – burny, caramelised sugar). Right then, so this is what I have done, and I am half-way through, so while my pastry chills and my filling sits, this is it:
200g butter, out of the fridge for 20 minutes, just a bit soft, chopped into 3cm cubes
1/2 cup icing sugar
1 3/4 cups plain flour
the finely grated zest of 1 medium lemon
1 egg yolk (keep egg white)
3 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
400ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
You will need a 5cm deep 26 1/2 cm tart tin with a removable base or a 2 1/2 cm deep 29cm tart tin for this recipe. (You will also need a food processor and a beater.) Pastry first – whiz butter, icing sugar flour and lemon zest just until it forms big clumpy breadcrumbs. Add yolk and pulse until it all comes together in a ball. Pat into a big fat disc, flour the top and bottom lightly, wrap in Gladwrap and chill in the fridge for 15 minutes. While it chills, prepare the filling. Beat eggs and yolks with sugar for 5 minutes, until sugar is dissolved (not gritty). Beat in cream, then whisk in lemon juice gently to combine. Pour into a big jug and leave to sit in the fridge while you finish the base.Remove the pastry from the fridge, sit for 5-10 minutes, then roll out on a floured surface, into a circle a little bigger than your tin. Use a big fish slice or similar if you need to, to unwedge it from the bench. (A wee tip here – when flouring the bench, flour an area as big as you want to roll your pastry…) Now this is a tricky bit – this a soft pastry, lots of butter will keep it short and crisp, but it also makes it a little less amenable when getting it into the tin. Gently roll up the pastry around your rolling pin, and un-roll it over the tin so that it flops roughly into position. (No-one is looking, and if they are shoo them out of the kitchen – this is private cooking business that does not like an audience). Gently squish the pastry into place up the sides of the tin and press gently into the base. Patch up any tears – you will never see them – but you do want to finish with an evenly distributed pastry base. Chill in the freezer for half an hour while the oven preheats to 180˚C (350˚F).
Now – do not fudge this bit – it makes all the difference, gently prick the base of the pastry with a fork and cut out a large circle of baking paper, it needs to come up the inside sides of the pastry. Put it in and fill it with baking beans or rice – it must come at least some way up the sides of the pastry, what you want is to pre-cook it so that it doesn’t shrink, and provides firm, non collapsing sides to the tart. Cook for 15 minutes, carefully remove paper and beans/rice, brush with quickly whisked reserved egg white and cook a further 10-12 minutes, until lightly golden. Reduce oven temperature to 150˚C (300˚F) and skim the fluffy bubbly layer off the top of your filling. This gives your tart a very clean, deep yellow appearance like the beautiful tartes au citron you will find in France – you can stir the creamy bit in, and it will taste fabulous, but the top of your tart will have a slightly ‘milkier’ appearance. (I skimmed off at least 1 1/4 cups – it seems very wasteful, but you can bake it separately in a couple of ramekins at 150˚C (300˚F) for 25 minutes later to make baked lemon cream for 2) Pull base half way out of the oven and gently pour in the filling – by my calculations you should be just about spot on with the amount – you want it to come almost to the top. Gently push back into the oven and cook 45-50 minutes until set but still with a bit of wobble in the middle. Turn the oven off, open the door wide and let it sit there for 5 minutes before removing to cool on the bench, then in the fridge.
This can be made the day before or in the morning of the day you want to serve it. Remove from the fridge half an hour before serving. I am still in two minds about whether I am going to do this, but you can easily sprinkle a quarter to a third of a cup of sugar evenly over the surface and blow-torch it brulee style for a bit of extra textural crunch if you wish…I am anticipating this will serve 8-10, we shall see!
OK – next day – it did indeed serve 8-10 (depending on the number of starving teenagers / hungry men) and as you can see I did not end up brulee-ing the top – but only because my blow-torch ran out of gas mid-shoot and my trusty back up cylinder didn’t work – argh! It was lovely without, but if you fancy, you could still definitely ‘gild the lily’, (or dust with icing sugar, or enjoy just as it is) then serve with softly whipped cream.