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Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The Best Ever Lemon Tart

"When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down 'Happy'. They told me I didn't understand the assignment, and I told them they didn't understand life."
- John Lennon

There is something about the lemon tree that makes me happy. It is beautiful, like a piece of sunshine. Very fresh, healthy, optimistic and promising of colour, tang and versatility. From the tree's bark, to the leaves, the blossoms and the actual lemons, all reek of the fresh and tangy scent that flirts with your senses, ever so gently leaving you refreshed and appetised. Have you ever smelled lemon and orange blossoms? I can safely say, it is about the best fragrance that you can ever smell. Something about the lemon tree, to me, evokes roots and grounding! I remember my childhood, when I would go with Dad to the farm, especially in spring when the trees have filled up with blossoms. The whole farm smelled like a sweet gentle breeze from heaven. When we used to stay there overnight, we used to make a camp fire using the wood of lemon trees, and as we munched on oranges, pomelos, clementines, mandalinas (Mandarin) we would throw the skin onto the burning wood, and as the skin burned away, the smell of the caramelising citrus bouquet was just Divine! This time of year is the season of Lemon and oranges in Jordan. The farm is now in full production mode, and at this time of year I reminisce the Lemon Tree; the camp fire, the rustic smell of wood against the wet earth. At this time of year I reminisce the earth from which I fed.

From the love of lemon, and its tang, sprung a love for lemon desserts. I find lemon to be a very good ingredient for desserts. The use of these tart fruits in desserts teaches you how to achieve balance in your creations. The sweetness of a desert balances the tartness of the lemon, creating a fresh and even-handed experience for your palate. One of my most favourite desserts is a Lemon Meringue Pie, and so I had first decided to post the recipe here for you to try, and maybe see for yourself why I am so deeply in love with this pie. However, and since it includes the making of Meringue, which deserves a post on its own, I have decided to go for my best loved Lemon Tart first, as it is a base for the Lemon Meringue pie, and move on from there to another post on meringue, including the Lemon Meringue pie. In this post I will focus on the flaky crust and leave the meringue for another session.

This lemon tart is one that I make regularly, and back in the day when I was catering it was always in demand and the most selling dessert option. I am always complimented on its flavours, and always asked for seconds. Therefore I strongly recommend you give it a go, it will make you a star!

The tart's shell is made out of a flaky crust, in which I incorporate lemon zest. The zest offers the essence of the lemon flavour, and does not tamper with the constitution of the crust. The crust is blind baked (baked topped with baking beans to weigh it down, for an even surface, free of air pockets), then fully baked till done. I then fill it with home-made lemon curd (recipe below). Then I spread a very thin layer of lemon syrup on top to protect the curd and prevent the formation of skin. I like the contrast of a couple of branches of red currents against the yellow of the curd, and a little green goes a long way, so I place a couple of fresh mint leaves on the side and sprinkle the whole with a light dusting of powdered sugar. Epic!

The lemon curd used in this recipe can also be canned in sterilised jars, and used as spread, or kept for use on another occasion. You can even use fancy looking jars and offer it to a friend or relative as a gift from the kitchen :)

Tips for guaranteed shell success
The ideal crust has to be light, tender and flaky. It should never be tough, hard to work with or rubbery. To ensure best results, follow these guidelines and you are guaranteed to achieve success every time.
  • Traditionally crust is made using lard. The use of lard results in super flaky crust, but too much lard can have a strong taste, that offsets the whole flavour. Therefore, butter is used along side a little lard in order to achieve best results without the strong flavour of lard. If you are not into lard, you can use vegetable shortening instead. With that said, shortening is not a very healthy option; therefore and if you are still uncomfortable you can go for an all butter crust, but since butter is high in water content and has a low melting point, the dough made of 100% butter is harder to work with than that made with some lard or shortening. Also the use of all butter results in a softer, dryer and crumblier crust. For best Results use a mixture of butter and lard.
  • The ingredients have to be used cold, not at room temperature. Using warm ingredients results in a tough finished product. Use ice water instead of room temperature water, and use cold butter and lard instead of room temp. Rest the dough in the fridge for 30 minutes before rolling.
  • Ideally while making the crust the fat should remain visible in little lumps. That is why we pulse, use finger tips or use a pastry cutter, and never process continuously. The crumbs resulting from the pulsing are actually little separated lumps of fat that clung to the rest of the ingredients. Friction produces heat, so a continuous processing causes friction, which in turn produces heat and softens the fat as it gets warmer. The soft fat will result in it blending into the flour instead of remaining in separate pieces leading to a dough that is hard to work with and which turns out non-flaky after baking.
  • Never knead a short crust, or a flaky crust. Kneading transfers heat from your hands to the dough, which softens and melts the fats. Instead gently bring the dough together (minimal handling) using the finger tips.
  • The flakiness of dough depends immensely on the flour to fat ratio. The more flour is used the harder the dough becomes, the tougher and harder the overall outcome is. Therefore follow the recipe precisely, and use minimal amount of flour when rolling the dough. I find that rolling the dough between two sheets of parchment paper is the best way to exclude the addition of any extra flour.
  • Finally if you have scrapes of dough, you must handle them as you would puff pastry scraps. Never knead them, instead layer them on top of each other and roll them out.

Let's do this....

Makes 1 10" loose bottom tart pan
You Need
For the Crust
178g bread flour
3g salt
35g cold lard or vegetable shortening
114g cold unsalted butter cut into cubes
40 ml ice water
2 tsp lemon zest

For The Lemon Curd
45g cornstarch
340g granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups water
70g unsalted butter
5 egg yolks, beaten
90 ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest

For the Lemon Syrup
6 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
75g caster sugar

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, the zest and the salt together and place aside. Place the cold butter, lard and flour mixture in the bowl of a food processor and pulse till mixture resembles crumbs. Do not over mix. Add the water and pulse again until the mixture gets together and forms a small ball. Do not over mix. The fat should still be lumpy. Turn onto a work surface lined with parchment paper. Gather the dough into a ball, using your fingertips. Flatten slightly into the shape of a disk (this helps the dough to chill faster). Wrap with cling film, chill for at least 1 hour.

You Can use beans instead of baking weights to weigh down the dough

Make the Shell
Roll the dough in between 2 sheets of parchment paper (3 mm thick). Transfer to a lined loose-bottom tart tin, and gently smooth - with your hands - into place. Press the dough onto the fluted edges. Remove excess dough, and place the lined tin in the fridge for 30 minutes to cool.
Prick the bottom and sides of the tart shell with a fork. Line the top of the shell with parchment paper and fill with dried beans or baking weights. Blind bake in a preheated oven (375F) for about 15 minutes. Remove the beans and the parchment paper, return to the oven, and bake until the shell is light brown and baked through, about 10 minutes longer. Set aside to cool.

Make the lemon curd
In a heavy bottom saucepan, place the cornstarch, sugar, and salt and mix until combined. Add the water while continuously whisking. Cook over low heat, continuously whisking until the mixture comes to a boil. Simmer gently for 3 minutes, then add the butter and stir until its completely melted and incorporated into the mixture. Remove from the heat. Ladle a small portion of the cornstarch mixture into the egg yolks to temper them, whisk to combine. Add the egg mixture back into the cornstarch mixture and stir all until well incorporated. Add the lemon juice and zest to the mixture and stir. Place the saucepan back on the stove, and cook again on low heat stirring constantly until the mixture boils, continue cooking while constantly stirring for 2 minutes extra.
Immediately pour the curd over the cooled shell. Cover with cling film, to prevent skin from forming. Refrigerate for several hours before serving to allow the filling to set.

Meanwhile make the Lemon Syrup
In a saucepan, place sugar and juice and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, and allow to cool. Place in clean air tight container till ready to use.

Once ready to serve, gently remove cling film from the top of your tart. Release tart from the tin, and place on serving plate. Lightly pour a little lemon syrup on top of the filling and gently spread without breaking the top of the filling. Place a couple of branches of red currents in the centre, and place 2 fresh mint leaves on its upper side. Dust lightly with icing sugar and serve.

If you like to learn more about Pies and tarts, different pie and tart crusts, fillings, toppings..etc, join my Course "Baking Perfect Pies & Tarts Every Time". For more information about this course, or any other course, or for further assistance, please don't hesitate to let me know.

Related Links

Check out Simple and in Season/Fabulicious Foodand submit any seasonal recipes you post :)
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Thank you for reading this post, hope you like it and that you will give this recipe a try. I know you will love it. Come back again soon, but before you go do show me the love and leave me a comment :))