It’s been a warm week here, almost spring-like. Whenever I think of spring I always want easy, light, fruit-based desserts. I imagine myself on a porch somewhere in the south of France (a place I’ve never been, but bear with me), hanging crisp white linen on a line and reaching up to pluck a perfect little lemon from my lemon tree. I examine it, smile a secret smile to myself, and then drop it gently into my apron pocket, as a warm breeze floats through the backyard carrying the scent of lavender. Then Johnny Depp sneaks up behind me, enveloping me in his manly embrace. Then I, um, bake a tart. WIth Johnny. Let’s move on.
I wandered around the market the other day looking for ingredients to satisfy my craving for French, um, food, and found Meyer lemons. I had never cooked with these before, but of course had heard of them, as every yuppie cooking store and bakery has something with Meyer lemon curd. Being a foodie nerd, I frequent these places, but am always too scared to try baking anything I see. No longer. It’s no surprise these little guys are so popular, because holy cow are they delicious. A cross between a mandarin orange and a lemon, they are slightly sweeter than a regular lemon and have a beautiful, free-range egg-yolk colored rind.
I made this tart last night, let it cool, and then took it out this morning for photographing. I cut a slice of it, thinking I’d arrange it on a pretty plate. People. It didn’t even make it to the plate. It went straight from my hot little hands to my mouth. (It’s got eggs, so it’s kind of like breakfast, right?)
I used Martha’s recipe for both the crust and the filling, but honestly, it’s a LOT of butter. You can follow hers, or you can use this one, which I adapted from The Greens Cookbook by Deborah Madison. Both are utterly versatile and utterly delicious. For garnish, you can see I used raspberries, but serve it plain if you like; it’s mostly the color that I love. I also sliced one of my zested lemons extremely thin and arranged them in a little circle on top (well, it WAS a Martha Stewart recipe), but this is also totally optional. If you decide to do this, make sure you slice them super super thin to get them to sweeten up in the oven, otherwise they will be beautiful and also sour, chewy, and the part of the pie that ends up pushed to the side of your plate.
Meyer Lemon Tart
adapted from marthastewart.com
and The Greens Cookbook
Note: The key to perfectly crisp crust is keeping the butter cold; don’t stress out about it, however, because it will be delicious either way. If you have more than one tart pan, make double the crust recipe and freeze one (wrap it well in plastic wrap, then slide it into a freezer ziploc bag). Then you can just bake it off and fill it whenever you get a hankering! To speed along the cooling process between steps 4 and 5, I put my baked tart shell in the freezer after it had cooled a bit and it was ready to fill when my filling was done.
For the tart shell:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ teaspoon finely grated Meyer lemon zest
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the lemon curd:
2 large eggs plus 3 large egg yolks
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon cornstarch
3 tablespoons finely grated Meyer lemon zest, plus 1/3 cup fresh Meyer lemon juice (from 3 lemons)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
A 9 inch tart pan
A medium saucepan
- First, make the crust. Combine the flour, salt, sugar, and lemon zest in a bowl. Cut the butter in small pieces, add it to the dry ingredients, and rub the mixture between your fingers to make a coarse meal. Add the vanilla and about a tablespoon of ice water and mix lightly with your fingers until the dough comes together. You might need to add a bit more water. Gather the dough into a ball, press it into a round disk, and wrap well in plastic wrap. Place it in the refrigerator and let it rest for ½ an hour.
- Take the dough out of the fridge and press it into your tart pan. It is best to do this with your fingers and the heel of your hand, since the dough will soften quickly. Take care to get the dough all the way up the sides, rising about ¼ inch above the rim. Cover the shell lightly with foil and freeze for 30 more minutes.
- While the dough is freezing, preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.
- Bake the shell for about 20 minutes. After 5 minutes of baking, check on it and prick any large bubbles that may have formed with a sharp knife. You may need a little more or a little less baking time depending on your oven. Take it out when it is light golden brown. Let it cool completely on a rack.
- Meanwhile, make the lemon curd: Whisk together eggs, egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch in a medium saucepan. Whisk in lemon zest and juice. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, about 7 minutes. It will froth up and lighten in color considerably. Remove from heat and whisk in butter, 1 piece at a time.
- Pour filling into cooled tart shell. Bake until filling is browned, slightly puffed, and set, about 30 minutes. Let cool completely. Store in the refrigerator for up to three days.