~ Pucker up for French Lemon Tart (Tarte au Citron) ~
One thing I love about the late Fall and Winter is the vibrant-colored citrus fruit. Because it's available all year long, a lot of folks don't realize that citrus fruit (lemons, limes, grapefruit and oranges) are in fact "winter fruit". This year, for some reason, the citrus fruit I've been purchasing, is extra-over-the-top, plump, tart 'n sweet and juicy. I've been eating grapefruit every morning, putting orange segments in our salads, lime slices in my gin and tonics, and, today I'm baking a lemon tart for dessert. Tarte au citron is a classic French dessert and every patisserie (bakery) in Paris sells them whole and by the slice each and every day all year long.
In terms of classic tarte au citron recipes, mine is more easy than classic. That said, please know, I would not pass it along unless it stacked up to the best of them. It's got a really super-easy-to-make flaky crust and a seriously tart center. I liken it to the tartness of a key lime pie only made with lemons. The hardest part is juicing the lemons -- fresh juice is indeed the key. Depending on their size, you'll need six to seven lemons, enough to yield one full cup of juice.
Citrus fruits are all appreciated for their juice and the oils in their zest. While the interior segments of all citrus can be eaten (or squeezed to extract the juice for drinking), grapefruit and oranges are the two most associated with hand-to-mouth consumption. Tart lemons and limes are usually sweetened with sugar or sugar syrup and used in a host of beverage and baking applications.
We bakers all have our favorite recipe for pâte brisée, and pâte sucrée (unsweetened and sweetened recipes for flaky quiche and pie pastry). I know I do. Some folks simply purchase pie pastry and I am neither going to judge nor criticize. What happens in your kitchen stays in your kitchen. Just remember: Whether making it from scratch or taking it out of a box, it's got to be rolled enough to fit into the bottom and up the sides of an 11" tart pan with a removable bottom.
That said, I have a nifty little three-ingredient-recipe that is so easy-to-make you'd have to be crazy to use a store-bought crust. Technically, it's in a category all its own and the fancy French word for it is pâte sablée. Literally translated, it means "sand dough", because it has a coarse sand-like texture when mixed together. It is so sandy, it gets dumped into a tart pan and pressed into place because, unlike a pie pastry, it's next-to-impossible to roll and impossible to pick up and move after rolling. It produces a cookie-like crust, which makes it perfect for tarts. In my version, I simply melt some butter in the microwave, stir it into a mixture of flour and sugar, then pat and press it into the tart pan -- that's all there is to it. It bakes up perfect each and every time.
10 tablespoons salted butter (1 stick + 2 tablespoons) (Note: If you choose to use unsalted butter, which a lot of bakers do, stir a scant 1/8 tablespoon salt into the flour and sugar mixture.)
2 cups + 3 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour
5 tablespoons granulated sugar (1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon)
~Step 1. In a 1-cup measuring container, melt butter in microwave. In a medium bowl, using a fork, stir together the flour and sugar. In a thin stream add the butter to the dry mixture, stirring constantly with the fork, until all the butter is added. The mixture will resemble pea-sized crumbs that come together when a few small bits are pressed together with the fingertips.
~ Step 2. Transfer all of the loose crumb mixture to the bottom of an 11" tart pan. Using your fingertips, pat and press the mixture evenly but firmly across the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Note: Feel free to use a small hand-held tart roller if you have one (like the one pictured above), but it is not necessary. Place on center rack of 340°-350º oven and bake until crust is a very light golden brown, 18-20 minutes. Remove from oven and place pan on a wire rack to cool the crust while preparing the tart filling.
1 cup fresh lemon juice
zest of 1 of the lemons
6 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup heavy or whipping cream
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting baked and cooled tart
~Step 1. Place the tart crust on a large baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper. Juice 6-7 lemons via your favorite method until you have 1 cup of juice. Using a microplane grater, zest one of the lemons before you juice it.
In a medium bowl, on medium speed of hand-held electric mixer, thoroughly combine the eggs, lemon zest, sugar and salt. Lastly, add and beat in the lemon juice.
~Step 2. Wash and dry the mixer beaters. In a medium bowl over high speed of mixer, beat cream to soft peaks. Over medium-low speed of mixer, add and thoroughly incorporate the cream into the egg mixture. Pour all of the filling into the crust. Note: If you have used an 11" tart pan, it will be full to capacity with none left over.
~ Step 3. Bake on center rack of 340°-350º about 23-25 minutes. The tart will be a pretty golden across the top and the center will be just set (it should be wobbly in its entirety yet set to the touch in the center). Remove baking pan from oven, transfer the tart to a wire cooling rack and allow to cool to room temperature, about 2 hours. Just prior to slicing and serving, generously dust the top with a coating of Confectioners' sugar.
Remove sides from tart pan & dust top w/Confectioners' sugar:
Special Equipment List: 11" tart pan; 1-cup measuring container; fork; hand-held tart roller (optional); wire cooling rack; microplane grater; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper
Cook's Note: My favorite key lime pie recipe, which can be made with fresh key limes or high-quality key-lime juice is ~ The Famous Mar-a-Lago Key Lime Pie ~. Like today's lemon tart, the filling gets made, poured into a pre-baked graham cracker crust and placed in the oven until just set. Unlike todays lemon tart, this one is best after it's been refrigerated. My recipe is in Categories 6, 21 and 26.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)