A recipe with a name like that has some hype to live up to. The Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart was this week’s assignment at Tuesdays with Dorie. It’s a shockingly good dessert if you like things on the tart side . . . which I do. Which is why I drank the leftover lemon juice straight up. Lemon may be the star of this recipe, but butter is the co-star. There’s almost a pound of butter in this tart, so splurge and buy the good stuff.
This recipe looks simple to put together because it has very few ingredients. But there are some pitfalls if you’re not paying attention to what you’re doing or haven’t set out your ingredients.
Let’s start with the crust. I chose the Sweet Tart crust (this name starts my craving for a certain sour candy). This is a recipe that could have benefited from some photographs of the process. You might assume that this should mix together quickly like a pie crust. But you will pulse the mixture in your food processor for much longer than you will feel comfortable with (the rhythmic sound of the food processor as I pulsed it put the Queen’s of the Stone Age song, “Sick, Sick, Sick” in my head for the rest of the day). Don’t talk yourself into adding liquid. Think of it as more of a cookie dough than a pie crust. Be patient and keep pulsing. You actually will hear the sound of the food processor change when the mixture is ready, just like Dorie promises. The mixture may look dry, but if you pinch some between your fingers, it will hold together.
When you’re ready to press the dough into the pan think of it as a graham cracker crust. Add crumbs of dough to the pan and lightly press them in, adding more crumbs as you go, working up the sides of your tart pan. Don’t be too skimpy on the sides, as thin sides will brown too quickly when the crust is baked off. Don’t forget to save a small bit of dough in case there are some cracks to repair halfway through the baking. I’ve pictured my dough half pressed in and some of it still crumbly below.
Bake the crust as directed. My edges browned a bit faster than the rest of the crust. Next time I will try to make them thicker.
Now to the lemon pastry cream. Have all your ingredients ready to go because things will heat up rather quickly. Without thinking things through, I had the crust in the oven at the same time the filling needed to be constantly stirred. Fortunately I wasn’t home alone at the time and was able to yell for help. Once again, be patient. And if the curd doesn’t seem to be getting from 150 to 180, don’t be afraid to goose up the heat a little to make the final push. Just be sure to keep whisking and you will be rewarded.
Before assembling the tart, Dorie suggests refrigerating the curd separately and leaving the crust at room temperature. When you are ready to serve she advises whisking the chilled curd, pouring it into the crust and serving. I found that if you do that you lose all the body that has developed in the curd during the refrigeration. If you serve it right away the slices will not hold their shape. So, while the first slice wasn’t pretty, it was delicious. I dammed up the curd, refrigerated overnight, and this time the result was pretty AND delicious. When it’s chilled you can also make the pretty swirls that were in the cookbook photo.
This is a tart tart! Which I love! And it’s very rich. I do have to admit that the amount of butter bothers me slightly. I could probably satisfy the craving with a good key lime pie filling. But it’s not like I’m going to eat this every day. So serve it with lightly sweetened whipping cream, tell your conscience to shut up for a few minutes, and enjoy. Next week . . . Marshmallows.
The Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart
From Baking: From My Home to Yours
1 cup sugar
Grated zest of 3 lemons
4 large eggs
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from 4-5 lemons)
2 sticks plus 5 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces, at room temperature
1 9-inch tart shell (a sweet or nutty crust would be best)
Have an instant-read thermometer, a strainer and a blender 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 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.
Makes 8 serving