Sunday, February 20, 2011

Lemon Tart with Curious Pastry

First published Canberra Times Newspaper, 16 February 2011.
A couple of months ago, a friend visited with a bag of lemons picked from her tree. I don’t like seeing fresh produce wasted, so I juiced them and stuck them in the freezer. Until recently, the lemon juice sat undisturbed in the back of the freezer next to the frozen stock, a block of my home-made pastry, cassoulet, egg whites and some other food like substances that were covered in frozen crystals. I am prone to filling the freezer and forgetting what frozen gems are lurking in the back.

In a moment of inspiration when deciding what to take for dessert to a family dinner, I grabbed for the frozen lemon juice and pastry and settled on making a lemon tart. This, unfortunately did not go to plan. For starters, given the slippery nature of frozen food, everything, including the cassoulet came tumbling out of the freezer and crash-landed at my feet. I spent the next twenty minutes in a cleaning frenzy, removing the smashed bits of food and plastic container shards from the floor that had made their way into corners and crevices.

With my tart preparations seriously interrupted and the pastry now in pieces in the bin, I hunted down an alternative tart base recipe to make from scratch. I am generally a fan of Maggie Beer’s pastry recipe, but when I found this one it appealed because it didn’t involve using a rolling pin. It was adapted from a recipe by Paule Caillat, who runs a cooking school in Paris, called Promenades Gourmandes. Ms Caillat’s school came up when researching patisserie classes for an upcoming trip to France, but that’s another story.

The quantities were adapted to fit a 25cm tart tin with a removable base. The lemon curd tart filling is made on the stove top in the usual way, but the pastry method is curiously simple. When cooked, it does have a few hairline cracks that can be sealed up with some of the reserved pastry.

Preparing pastry in this way comes with a warning; the heatproof mixing bowl of butter is very hot when it comes out of the oven and it can be very tempting to grab hold of the bowl without gloves, when mixing the flour into the butter. Don’t! You may also need to sit it on a heatproof mat.

To make matters worse, after a particularly clumsy manouvere when extracting the first tart from the pan, I destroyed the pastry base so then had to work quickly to whip up another one. Maybe the moral of the story here is, there are some days when it’s best to just put down the spoon and walk away from the kitchen.


125g unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 tbsp vegetable oil
4 tbsp water
1½ tbsp sugar
¼ tsp salt
1½ rounded cups plain flour

Preheat the oven to 210 C

In a medium sized ovenproof bowl, such as Pyrex, combine the butter, oil, water, sugar and salt. Place the bowl in the hot oven for 15 minutes, until the butter starts to bubble and is just brown around the edges.

When done, remove the bowl from the oven, using oven gloves, dump in the flour, stirring it in quickly, until it comes together and forms a ball that pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Transfer the dough to a lightly greased 25 cm tart tin with a removable base and spread the dough with a spatula, pressing into the sides and base evenly. Reserve a small piece of dough, the size of a marble to repair cracks later.

Prick the dough base with a fork, then bake the tart shell in the oven for 15 minutes or until the shell is lightly golden. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before patching any cracks with the reserved dough. Allow to cool before filling.

Lemon filling

1 cup fresh lemon juice
grated zest of one lemon, unsprayed
¾ cup sugar
95g unsalted butter, cubed
3 large eggs
3 large additional egg yolks

Preheat oven to 180 C

In a medium non reactive saucepan, heat the lemon juice, zest, sugar and butter. Have a mesh strainer nearby. In a small bowl, beat together the eggs and the yolks.

When the butter is melted, whisk some of the warm lemon mixture into the eggs, stirring constantly to warm them. Scrape the warmed eggs back into the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and almost begins to bubble around the edges. Be careful not to overheat at this stage.

Have the pre-baked tart shell, still in the tin ready to add the lemon curd. Pour the lemon curd through a strainer into the pre-baked tart shell, scraping the curd through with a rubber spatula. Smooth the top of the tart and cook in the oven for about five minutes, just to set the curd.

Remove from the oven, when cool remove by sitting the tart over a glass and carefully push down on the sides of the tin until it releases the tart from the sides of the tin. The tart can be sprinkled with icing sugar if preferred and served with sweetened whipped cream.