Look, this just isn’t working here. We both know that things are off. We work so well apart, but put us together and you’ve got a problem. I mean, why are we so great individually and yet as a couple, we are a mess. I know, I know, maybe next time things will work out, but right now I need some space.
No, I’m not breaking up with you- I’m taking a break from the ever-so fickle and feisty tart. These are not my forte, to say the least. When I saw that Mary from Starting from Scratch picked the French Lemon Cream Tart for this weeks Tuesday’s With Dorie pick, I could feel the apprehension rising. I made my first tart, an Apple Tart from the same book, last year and the results were less than stellar.
Delicate and tempermental, no matter how many hours you spend slaving on them, these flaky bastards can stab you in the back, leaving you high and dry. Handle them too much and they get tough, or handle them not enough and you get a rather flaky crust. Throw in a little performance anxiety, and you know you got a problem. Give me cookies, cakes, bread- those are easier to master. But these tarts can be French whores sometimes (pardon my French)!
I spent all day Sunday, reading the instructions as carefully as possible, prepping my ingredients, I even went out to buy a new tart pan and you know what? I am still not impressed my tart-making skills. My initial plan was to place raspberries on top of the crust and then layer the cream on top, but my frozen raspberries didn’t thaw properly so I made the executive decision to use hem as a garnish. While fresh is the best, these raspberries added some needed color to this dish, and well as a more tartish bite to the sweet dessert.
I couldn’t tell you what was off. Individually, the components of this tart were stellar. In fact, they blew me away. The luscious lemon cream tasted sweet and smooth with a slight sour aftertaste that went down quite nicely. The buttery crust was a little crunchier than normal, probably because I handled it too much, but it tasted fine by itself nonetheless.
But slab these two together and you are left wondering, what is wrong here?! I still can’t put my finger on it. The cream might not have been cooked to the highest recommended temperature (180 Fahrenheit) therefore making it a little runnier than normal, but I swear I cooked it to around 170 so I don’t know what was up with the texture.
My mom, who isn’t in to heavy, rich chocolate desserts, loved this tart. She exclaimed that she could’ve eaten the entire batch of cream on her own. Left to her own devices, I don’t doubt her and who knows, she just might do that since there was still a little cream left over.
Overall, the dish was ok. Not stellar, not blow your pants off fantastic- just alright. I hate it when they turn out alright. That’s the inner perfectionist in me talking though. After this baking experiment, one thing is for sure: I need to practice my tart making skills. No way I’m letting this bitch of a dish keep me down. Pretty soon, you’ll see us together again. But for now, I might need some space.
last minute note: After spending a day on my kitchen table, I have succumbed to this tart’s allure. It is devastatingly addicting. The cream practically screams “DEVOUR ME” and the crust has softened a little bit, just to my liking. Either I am delirious from studying or bored shitless as I watch “The Hills” but this tart is now officially a favorite. And it only took a couple of slices and licks here and there to win me over.
French Lemon Tart
from Baking: from my home to yours
1 cup sugar
Finely grated zest of 3 lemons
4 large eggs
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (from 4-5 lemons)
2 sticks plus 5 tablespoons (10-1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces, at room temperature
1 9-inch tart shell made with Sweet Tart Dough (see below), fully baked and cooled
Have an instant-read thermometer, a strainer and a blender (first choice) or food processor at hand. Bring a few inches of water to a simmer in a saucepan.
Put the sugar and zest in a large heatproof bowl that can be set over the pan of simmering water. 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, 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-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. Heads up at this point-the tracks mean the cream is almost ready. Don’t stop whisking or checking the temperature, and have patience-depending on how much heat you’re giving the cream, getting to temp can take as long as 10 minutes.
As soon as it reaches 180 degrees F, remove the cream from the heat and strain it into the container of the blender (or food processor); discard the zest. 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 processor) and, with the machine going, add the butter about 5 pieces at a time. Scrape down the sides of the container as needed as you incorporate the butter. Once the butter is in, keep the machine going-to get the perfect light, airy texture of lemon-cream dreams, you must continue to blend the cream for another 3 minutes. If your machine protests and gets a bit too hot, work in 1-minute intervals, giving the machine a little rest between beats.
Pour the cream into a container, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface to create an airtight seal and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. (The cream will keep in the fridge for 4 days and, or tightly sealed, in the freezer for up to 2 months; thaw it overnight in the refrigerator.)
When you are ready to assemble the tart, just whisk the cream to loosen it and spoon it into the tart shell. Serve the tart, or refrigerate until needed. While you can make the lemon cream ahead, once the tart is constructed, it’s best to eat it the day it is made.
Sweet Tart Dough
from Baking From My Home to Yours
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons; 4 1/2 ounces) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk lightly beaten
Put the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in-you should have pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and some the size of peas. Stir the yolk, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses-about 10 seconds each-until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. Just before you reach this stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change-heads up. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and, very lightly and sparingly, knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.
To roll or press the dough into the pan: Butter a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom.
If you want to roll the dough, chill it for about 2 hours before rolling (unless you’ve used frozen butter and the dough comes out of the processor firm and cold, in which case you can roll it immediately). I find it easiest to roll this dough out between two sheets of plastic film – make sure to peel away the film frequently, so it doesn’t get rolled into the dough.
If you want to use the press-in method, you can work with the dough as soon as it’s processed. Just press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Don’t be too heavy-handed – press the crust in so that the edges of the pieces cling to one another, but don’t press so hard that the crust loses its crumbly texture.
Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.
To fully bake the crust: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F.
Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and fit the foil, buttered side down, tightly against the crust. (Since you froze the crust, you can bake it without weights.) Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon. Bake the crust for another 8 minutes or so, or until it is firm and golden brown, brown being the important word: a pale crust doesn’t have a lot of flavor. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool the crust to room temperature. This makes enough for one 9-inch crust.