Why I Made Dinner (and Dessert)

April 10, 2011

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.

One Year Ago:  Baked Rice with Chiles and Pinto Beans
Two Years Ago:  Pasta with Broccoli Rabe and Chickpeas

Lemon Cream Tart
Adapted from Tartine
Makes one 9-inch tart, 8 to 12 servings

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
Pinch salt
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.


  1. I enjoyed that tart at Tartine a month ago – completely divine!
    Glad to hear things are picking up over there – have a great week~

    Comment by kimberly — April 10, 2011 @ 11:01 pm

  2. Well I’m certainly glad to hear that the boys are okay! ER visits are always stressful. And time consuming.

    I’ve become a real lover of lemony desserts lately and, honest…I’ve never attempted a tart before. I KNOW. The HORROR! It’s just that tart dough, like pie dough…kind of scares me. But if you promise that this will turn out okay and that it will blow my mind in extreme amounts of ways, then I am just going to have to make it. The lemon cream sounds too good to pass up.

    Comment by Joanne — April 11, 2011 @ 12:36 am

  3. The lemon tart looks divine. I have the pasticcio in the oven right now for our supper but there is no lemon tart for dessert here. Sniff. There is plum almond crumble though so we’ll just have to make do.

    V. glad all is well with the kids – Children’s ER is not a good place to be visiting but I love that Graham has already put his spin on the tale. They seem to recover faster than we do.

    Comment by Charlotte — April 11, 2011 @ 12:38 am

  4. I’ve had a major craving for all kinds of creamy desserts lately. This one sounds perfect for filling that sweet, tart, and creamy fix!

    Comment by Jacqui — April 11, 2011 @ 4:52 am

  5. What a lush lemon tart. The crust sounds super easy and looks great in the photos.

    Comment by Nisrine M. — April 11, 2011 @ 10:59 am

  6. Our family has always loved lemons. My newest grand daughter (age 14 months) loves to suck on a slice of lemon while teething.

    But a lemon tart? Hmmm…, great idea for dessert tonight!


    Comment by Penny — April 11, 2011 @ 12:34 pm

  7. YUM! Dana, I really admire you. I think YOU’RE the brave one! Bravo.

    On an other note, I love lemon and just realized I have not had anything sweet and lemony in quite a while. It may be time for me to whip this up!

    Comment by Sarah — April 11, 2011 @ 2:00 pm

  8. This is exactly what I’ve been looking for. You’re right, regular lemon pies always taste kind of off, but this looks very yummy :) Thanks for posting!

    Comment by Helena — April 11, 2011 @ 2:35 pm

  9. Yummy!
    So, that filling ingredient list looks just like lemon curd, with eggs sugar lemon butter, but then it gets cooked and whipped like sabayon–fluffy and light, followed by whipping in the butter? Rather than just stirring normally in the double boiler, and stirring in the butter at the end—am I understanding that right?

    I haven’t seen this method in a recipe before, though I have unintentionally used it! I am very much excited to try it; sweet-tart citrus goodness of all kinds are my favorite!

    Comment by Betsy — April 11, 2011 @ 4:58 pm

  10. Meyer Lemons fall into the category of my top five favorite foods! Thanks for sharing your tart recipe. My mouth is watering!

    And how wonderful you have a group of close girlfriends you get together with. I know I cherish mine and it’s important to make time to be with them!

    Comment by Emily — April 11, 2011 @ 6:35 pm

  11. Continued inspiration!
    Vegetarian Rockstar that you are, you keep us all looking brilliant.
    Quick question:
    After listening to The Splendid Table and enduring tales of Camel Burgers and pork, I was wondering, is there a Vegetarian Food Podcast that you recommend?

    Comment by Lisa Hoffman — April 11, 2011 @ 7:02 pm

  12. You are amazing! This dessert looks divine!

    Comment by Maria — April 11, 2011 @ 10:09 pm

  13. oh, that looks so decadent. Thank you for posting this. My mom is a lemon lover, and mothers day brunch is creeping up on me.

    Comment by sara — April 13, 2011 @ 1:35 am

  14. I know what you mean about lemon curd tasting metallic. My brother has requested pound cake with lemon curd and whipped creme fraiche for his birthday, but I think I’ll be making this lemon cream instead of curd!

    Comment by Ashley — May 20, 2011 @ 10:23 pm

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