Thank you all for your sympathy over my challenging week. First let me tell you that my kids are fine. I took Graham to the ER at 4am on Tuesday because he had been complaining for days of a tummy ache and woke up in the middle of the night crying. Since that is completely unlike him, I started to really worry. After many hours and tests, he is fine and fond of telling anyone who will listen how brave he was with the doctor.
Second, I have to be honest and tell you the only reason that I persevered and made that Pasticcio and this most favorite lemon tart is because I had friends coming over for dinner. If it had just been Randy and me, I would not have hesitated to punt on cooking and ordered in. I even considered take-out for my dinner guests but I already had all the ingredients on hand and we needed to celebrate one in our midst.
This small group is friends from a co-op preschool. We attended for two years when Graham was one and two years old. I met an amazing group of women there and a few of us have remained close. We try to get together at least monthly and our evening usually (ok, always) revolve around food and drink. I will often offer to host when Randy is out of town because I do so love these women and it gives me something to look forward to.
One of our group is about to give birth to her fourth child. Yes, fourth. She, more than almost anyone I know, is equipped with the energy, the boundless love, and the sense of humor that four children requires. It is just a couple of weeks before her due date and I thought a special dinner was in order before all hell breaks loose in her house. Again.
So you see, I had to make dinner. And dessert. I can’t send a dear friend off to infant-land on a dinner of takeout pizza and boxed cookies, right? Plus I needed an excuse to make this lemon tart. A few weeks ago, I received an email from a reader saying she had a plethora of Meyer lemons and wondered what to do with them. I didn’t hesitate to tell her she should make this tart from the Tartine cookbook. And then I realized that I had not posted the recipe. I wrote about it, way back in May of 2008, the second post ever on this blog, but there was no photo and no recipe. Considering this a fall-back recipe, one I make over and over, it really needs to be here in all its glory.
Until I started making this particular tart, all the other lemon tarts in my life featured lemon curd as a filling. I like lemon curd as much as the next person, but something about all those tarts just did not taste right. A little metallic, a little funky. This tart uses lemon cream and the addition of butter makes all the difference. The cream is silky smooth but with over a half cup of lemon juice, it has the perfect amount of pucker. The sour marries perfectly with the Tartine sweet crust. For last week’s tart, I had a round of my favorite tart dough in the freezer and a hole in my ceiling, so I decided to save myself the step of making the Tartine crust. But truthfully, for this tart, theirs is better. It is sweeter and the balance against the sour lemon is intoxicating.
A few notes. This dough recipe will yield 4 tart crusts. They freeze beautifully, so don’t be tempted to scale down the recipe. Just set one aside in the fridge and wrap the other three, separately, in plastic wrap and then foil. Put them in a Ziploc bag, date it, and put in the freezer. They will keep at least one month and possibly two. You can use this crust for any sweet tart that goes in a 9-inch tart pan (which is the most common size). Also, I use my immersion blender to mix the butter into the lemon cream and while that might sound strange, it works really well.
I made a few changes in the recipe just in terms of streamlining and personal taste.
For the crust
9 ounces (1 cup + 2 tbsp.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
¼ tsp. salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3½ cups all purpose flour
For the lemon cream
½ cup + 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
3 whole large eggs
1 large egg yolk
¾ cup sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
To finish the tart
1 cup heavy cream, very cold
2 tsp. sugar
Make the crust
Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter, sugar, and salt and mix on medium speed until smooth. Mix in 1 egg. Add the remaining egg and mix until smooth. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the flour all at once and mix on low speed just until incorporated.
On a lightly floured work surface, divide the dough into 4 equal balls and shape each ball into a disk ½ inch thick. Wrap well in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight. (At this point, unless you are planning to make four lemon tarts, make sure three of your crusts are well-wrapped in plastic and then foil, then put them in the freezer.)
Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface and roll out to 1/8-inch thick round, rolling from the center toward the edge in all directions. Lift and rotate the dough a quarter turn after every few strokes, dusting underneath as necessary to discourage sticking, and work quickly to prevent the dough from becoming too warm. Roll the dough out to an 11-inch circle. If the dough becomes too soft to work with, place it in the refrigerator briefly. Loosely roll the dough onto the rolling pin and then unroll it into a 9-inch tart pan. Carefully coax the dough into the pan without stretching it, but making sure it is touching the whole bottom of the pan and is in the “corners”. Fold the excess dough over to double the thickness of the sides. Dock (make small holes in) the bottom of the pan with a fork or a knife and place the pastry shell in the freezer for 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 325ºF. Place in the oven and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool completely on a wire rack.
Make the lemon cream
Pour water to a depth of about 2 inches into a saucepan, place over medium heat, and bring to a simmer. Combine the lemon juice, whole eggs, egg yolk, sugar, and salt in a stainless-steel bowl that will rest securely in the rim of saucepan over, not touching, the water. Whisk the lemon juice, eggs, yolk, sugar, and salt together. (Never let the egg yolks and sugar sit together for more than a moment without stirring; the eggs will “cook” the yolks and turn them granular.) Place the bowl over the saucepan and continue to whisk until the mixture becomes very thick and registers 180ºF on a thermometer. This will take 10 to 12 minutes. Remove the bowl from over the water and let cool to 140ºF, stirring occasionally from time to time to release the heat.
Meanwhile, cut the butter into 1 tablespoon pieces. When the cream is ready, leave it in the bowl if using an immersion blender, or pour it into a counter top blender. With the blender running, add the butter 1 tablespoon at at time, blending after each addition until incorporated before adding the next piece. The cream will be pale yellow and opaque and quite thick. You can use the cream immediately, or pour it into a storage container with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate for up to 5 days. To use after refrigeration, gently heat in a stainless-steel bowl set over simmer water until it has softened.
Finish the tart
Make sure the tart shell is completely cool. Pour the lemon cream filling into the crust and smooth the top. Chill the tart until firm, about 2 hours, before serving. It will keep for up to 3 days in the refrigerator.
To serve the tart, in a mixing bowl, whip the cream with a whisk until thickened. (DT: I used my hand mixer.) Add the sugar and whip until the cream holds soft peaks. Top the tart with the whipped cream. Serve the tart cool.