Sunday, March 21, 2021

My Best Lemon Tart

Since baking is my hobby, I've gotten pretty good at making tarts, but the tart I baked for Sweetie's birthday last week is probably the best one ever. Although the tart shell was good and baked long enough that there was plenty of flavor (make sure to bake tart casings until fully golden brown), the outstanding thing about this tart was the filling.

For many years I've found excellent recipes in Dorie Greenspan's cookbook Baking, From My Home To Yours. I've baked the Perfect Party Cake and the  Swedish Visiting Cake,  French Yogurt Cake,  All -in-one Holiday Bundt Cake, and many more recipes.

One recipe from the book has been calling to me for a while, but I never got around to making it...until now. The Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart really is extraordinary. She learned the technique for making this intensely lemon flavored silky cream filling from Pierre Herme' and I hope you try it, too. If you want it to be most like mine, combine Meyer lemons and the regular lemons from the market so that you get the almost floral notes of the Meyers and the zing of the regular lemons.

It starts out almost like lemon curd, with the sugar, eggs, lemon zest and lemon juice cooked over simmering water, but then you put the cooked mixture into a blender, let it cool a bit, then blend in chunks of butter (or margarine in my case) to make the most wonderful, tangy, smooth and seductive lemon filling. Adding the butter and blending it in emulsifies the butter, rather like making fresh mayonnaise. I baked the tart case the day before and made the lemon filling even earlier the day before (because the filling has to sit in the fridge a minimum of four hours), then put it all together before we went out to dinner on the 17th. Even though it is supposed to be best the day it is made, I found that the flavors became even more intense the next day. Sweetie ate the last piece on the third day and he liked it even better, so if you can resist eating it all in one sitting, know that it will make a fine tea time treat (or decadent breakfast!) if kept tightly covered in the fridge.

Use the best quality ingredients that you can for this tart. If you like you can use your favorite pie dough to make a blind-baked pie case to hold the filling, but it might not fill it. Of course you can add fruit (raspberries or strawberries would be delightful) to decorate the top or hide under the filling, or as a fruit sauce. You can finish it off with a dollop of whipped cream, too.

I followed the recipe as written except for two things. I used non-dairy plant based 'butter' and some margarine instead of butter, and I kept the zest in the filling instead of straining it out. Be sure to rub the sugar and zest helps the oils stay in the filling when cooked and enhances the flavor.

The Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart 

By Dorie Greenspan in Baking, From My Home To Yours

1 cup sugar
Grated zest of 3 lemons
4 large eggs at room temperature
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from 4-5 large lemons or up to 9 smaller ones)
2 sticks plus 5 tablespoons (10 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces, at room temperature (I used Miyokos plant-based 'butter' plus a few tablespoons margarine)
1 9-inch tart shell made with Sweet Tart Dough (recipe follows), fully baked and cooled

Have an instant-read thermometer, a strainer (if straining out the zest), and a blender (first choice) or food processor at hand.
Bring a few inches of water to simmer in a saucepan or the bottom of a double boiler.

Put the sugar and zest in a large heatproof bowl that can be set over the pan of simmering water, or in the top pan of a double boiler. Off the heat, rub the sugar and zest together between your fingers until the sugar is moist, grainy and very aromatic. Whisk in the eggs, followed by the lemon juice.

Set the bowl over the pan, or set the top into the bottom of the double boiler, and start stirring with the whisk as soon as the mixture feels tepid to the touch. Cook the lemon cream until it reaches 180 degrees F. As you whisk and you must whisk constantly to keep the eggs from scrambling, you'll see that the cream will start out light and foamy, then the bubbles will get bigger, and then as it gets closer to 180 degrees F, it will start to thicken and the whisk will leave tracks, which means that the cream is almost ready. Don't stop whisking! Continue to check the temperature. It might take a while. so be patient. Usually it's done in about 10 minutes.

As soon as the cream reaches 180 degrees F, remove from the heat and, if removing the zest, strain it into the container of the blender (or food processor); discard the zest. If not removing the zest, just scrape the cream right into the blender (or food processor). Let the cream stand, stirring occasionally, until it cools to 140 degrees F, about 10 minutes.

Turn the blender to high (or turn on the food processor) and, with the machine going, add the butter, about 5 pieces at a time. Scrape down the sided as needed as you incorporate the butter. Once all the butter is in, keep blending/processing for another 3 minutes.

Pour the cream into a container (I used a large Pyrex bowl), press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface to create an airtight seal and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.

When you are ready to assemble the tart, just whisk the cream to loosen it and spoon it into the tart shell. I like to swirl the top with the back of a spoon. Serve the tart, or refrigerate until needed.

Note: The filling will keep in the fridge for 4 days, or tightly sealed, in the freezer for up to 2 months. Thaw it overnight in the refrigerator and whisk before putting into the tart shell.

Sweet Tart Dough
From Dorie Greenspan

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons) very cold (Frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk

Put the flour, confectioners' sugar and salt into a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in- there will be some tiny pieces and some the size of peas.

Stir the yolk to break it up, then add it a little at a time, pulsing afer each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses - about 10 seconds each - until the dough forms clumps and curds. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and, knead lightly just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing. In all of this, don't overwork the dough.

Butter a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Press clumps of the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan, using all but one little piece (about a teaspoon worth), which you should save in the fridge wrapped in plastic wrap to patch any cracks after the crust is baked. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.

Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F.

Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and fit the foil, buttered side down, tightly against the crust. Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil. If the crust ahs puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon. Patch the cruse if necessary, then bake for another 8 minutes or so, until it is firm and golden brown. Keep an eye on it the last few minutes and pull it out if it gets darker than golden. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and cool to room temperature before filling. 

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