May 1, 2012

Lemon tart - inspired by Paris

You'd think that after coming home from Paris, I'd be filled with inspiration on the baking front.  That actually wasn't the case.  When I first got back, I wasn't feeling much motivation to go into the kitchen although I was craving many of those wonderful pastries we ate while we were there.  I kept wishing we were still in Paris and could walk to a pâtisserie to pick up an amazing croissant, tart or eclair.
But I'm happy to report that those initial feelings of lethargy passed fairly quickly.  Reality set in.  I do not live in Paris (but very close to New York City, which is not too shabby either) and I still love to putter around in the kitchen, playing with flour.  If anything, the trip has given me more focus - to take my time and make what I think my family and I would really like to eat and explore. 

Now, I sit here with some ideas and inspirations from Paris.  The first thing I did was make this lemon tart, or tarte au citron since we're in a French mood.  I talked about the delicious lemon tarts I tasted in Paris and I now know why the French are known for their citrus tarts.  The flavor of a lemon tart is decidedly lemon, rather than sugary sweet.  I really wanted to recapture and enjoy that flavor again so I made this lemon tart recipe from David Lebovitz, who I consider a great, approachable source on pastry and French living.
One of the things about French pastry you notice right away is the artistry.  It's not just cake but many of the creations are miniature works of art as far as flavor, textures, and the layers involved.  At the same time, though, the French excel at simplicity, using high quality ingredients, not messing around with it too much, to create something delicious.  I find that duality really interesting.  For me, I'm certainly more at home sticking with the simple but delicious, which brings me back to this tart. 

I started with what I think is the simplest tart shell there is and filled it with a fairly modest amount of lemony lemon curd.  The whole thing is quite simple to put together, especially if you do what I did and make the tart shell (up to a month) in advance, store it in the freezer, and have it ready to bake the day you plan to put the whole thing together.  The lemon curd is simply cooked over the stovetop, with an equal ratio of 1/2 cup of lemon juice to sugar so that you have a delightfully lemon result.  Most recipes call for a lot more sugar and I'm happy to report that the end result here was not too tart and the taste was very reminiscent of the tart I ate from La Maison Paul so it really brought back a happy memory for me.
When it comes to the filling, I highly recommend using organic lemons if possible.  Take a sniff of the organic variety and you'll know what I mean.  Before making this, I wrestled with whether or not to make a bit more of the lemon filling.  Ultimately, I decided to stick with the recipe and make the modest amount, which I think is perfectly suitable to everyday eating.  For me, the relatively thin layer of filling was just right.  I didn't walk away from the table feeling like I over-indulged.
Incidentally, I highly recommend a cup of hot coffee to go with a slice of this tart.  My husband and I were sharing the last slice I'd tucked away in the fridge one morning (yes, morning) and it was particularly delightful with coffee.

The tart shell

If you're interested in making this lemon tart, start with the tart shell.  I made mine (I actually made two) in advance one afternoon when I had a couple of extra egg yolks on hand. 
You can find the recipe and details on the tart shell I use here.  The dough comes together in a stand mixer and then you simply press it into a tart pan.  To freeze (up to one month), I covered the tart with plastic wrap and a layer of aluminum foil over the top.  When you are ready to bake it, just take it out of the freezer, dock it all over with a fork, and put it straight into a 375 degree oven.  An added benefit of the longer freezing time was the tart barely puffed up during baking.

Lemon curd filling

This recipe from David Lebovitz is quite simple.  You could easily double the recipe (or make 50% more) if you want more filling for this tart or save the extra curd for toast, biscuits, or as a filling for a cake.  It takes 4 ingredients: lemons, sugar, butter, and eggs.  We cook the lemon curd directly over a low heat on the stove.  Once it's ready, strain it into the baked and cooled tart shell, then pop it in the oven for 5 minutes just to set the curd. 

Begin with the all-important lemons, using organic/unsprayed if possible.  Into a saucepan filled with 1/2 cup of sugar, zest one lemon right over the top.  Then do a little trick I picked up not long ago and rub the zest into the sugar with your fingertips to release the oils into the sugar.
We need 1/2 cup of juice, which translates to 3-4 lemons (I used 3 1/2).
Add the lemon juice to the sugar and zest mixture, along with 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter that's been cut into small pieces.  Throw in a pinch of salt for good measure.  Heat this mixture until the butter is melted.  Meanwhile, beat 2 large eggs and 2 large egg yolks together.  When the butter has melted in the lemon mixture, temper the eggs by whisking a little of the hot liquid into it.  Scrap the warmed eggs into the saucepan and cook over a low heat, whisking constantly.
Cook the mixture (whisking all the time) until it really thickens to a consistency like soft jelly.  Over a low flame, it took me a good 20 minutes to reach that point.  When it's done, the mixture should be thick enough that it coats a wooden spoon and sort of holds its shape.
Strain the curd into the baked and cooled tart shell, pressing the mixture through the strainer to get every last bit. 
Spread the curd around the tart shell, smoothing out the top, and put the tart into a preheated 350 degree oven for 5 minutes to set the curd.
Let cool completely before serving it up. 
Ideally, the tart is best eaten fresh the same day.  But I did stock away 2 slices and to me, they were still quite tasty one and two days later.


Lemon Tart
Adapted (very slightly) from David Lebovitz

- One 9-inch tart -

If you can find Meyer lemons (which I haven't seen anywhere), David Lebovitz says you can use it instead of the lemons and reduce the sugar to 1/3 cup.  If you like lime, you can make it a lime tart.

One pre-baked and cooled 9-inch tart shell: I use this one here

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 3-4 lemons), preferably organic/unsprayed
Zest of one lemon
1/2 cup sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Pinch of salt
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Have a strainer nearby.

Place sugar into a medium-size, non-reactive saucepan.  Zest one lemon directly over the sugar.  Using your fingertips, rub the lemon into the sugar until it feels slightly moistened.  Add lemon juice, salt, and butter.  Heat the mixture over a low flame.

Whisk eggs and egg yolks together in a small bowl and set it nearby.

When the butter is melted, temper the eggs by whisking in some of the warm lemon mixture into it.  Scrape the warmed eggs back into the saucepan and cook over low heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens to a consistency like soft jelly.  This could take up to 20 minutes or so.

Pour the lemon curd through the strainer into the pre-baked and cooled tart shell, pressing the mixture through the strainer with a rubber spatula. 

Spread the lemon curd around the tart and smooth the top.  Bake the filled tart in the oven for 5 minutes, just to set the curd.

Remove from the oven and let cool completely before slicing and serving. 

Like so many things, this tart is best enjoyed fresh the same day it's made.  If you do have leftovers, wrap tightly in the refrigerator for up to two days (it's still really good).


  1. What gorgeous photos! I'm all over lemons, and this looks totally beautiful. WOW.

  2. Thank you so much, Zsofi!
    I really liked this lemon tart with the modest amount of filling (and sugar).



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