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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Meyer Lemon Tart



There's an old saying:  when co-workers give you lemons... make lemon tart!  Or something like that.

Someone brought a huge bag of lemons to work, all bumpy, sooty, and misshapen.  A big sniff of the contents revealed the distinct orange of Meyer lemons.  Having been invited to a dinner of tikki masala and palak paneer the following day, I decided to make a fresh lemon tart for dessert.


I'd seen this video on YouTube of a British lady making a classic lemon tart, and the impression was that she was the Queen of Lemon Tarts.  It turned out to be Mary Berry on the heels of a Great British Bake Off.  It was a video more for entertainment than instruction, and her results were different from mine.  For example, her crust dough was butter yellow.  Also, she ended up with exactly a pint of filling, which fit perfectly in her 9-inch pan (of course), while I had more than a pint, and extra filling, even though I was using a 9.5-inch pan.  Granted, my measurements had to be adjusted slightly for the conversions, and of course eggs come in different sizes, but it shouldn't have made much of a difference.  The magic of Hollywood.  (Paul Hollywood, hahaha... get it?  Okay, never mind...)

The other big mystery is that everyone knows cream will curdle in lemon juice, and yet here we are mixing the two.  She doesn't say anything about it.  I ended up with large globs of curdled cream, and had to pull out the electric mixer to break them down.  The final product also had a somewhat curdled texture, which I was not anticipating.  (I wanted something very smooth, more like lemon curd.)

About the ingredients:  Meyer lemons are not as acidic and have an orange flavor, so the tart will be less tangy, like an orange/lemon cross.  Double cream has a higher fat content than heavy cream -- there is no widely-available commercial equivalent in the U.S.  According to Mary, using granulated sugar in place of caster sugar (which has a slightly smaller grain size) will give a rough surface.  Indeed it did.  There must be something else causing the difference, because I completely dissolved the sugar in the solution, so grain size wouldn't have had an effect.  It's the froth that causes the rough surface texture, but I don't know what is making the froth.  I added a little salt not only to brighten the lemon flavor but also to balance the sweet richness of the dessert, and I lessened the sugar in the crust slightly.  Other recipes call for up to 1/2 cup more sugar in the filling -- I found this plenty sweet as it is, especially since Meyer lemons aren't as tart.  In fact, I would prefer this with regular lemons in order to give it more zip.

Here's what I used:

For the pastry
175g/6oz plain flour
25g/3 2 tablespoons confectioner's sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
100g/7 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon cold water

In a food processor, combine flour, sugar, salt, and butter and process until no butter pieces remain.  Add egg yolk and water and process until it comes together in a ball.  Knead lightly for a few seconds and shape into a disk.  Place a 9-inch tart base on a non-stick surface (such as parchment or a pastry cloth) and sprinkle with flour.  Roll out the dough on top of the base to about 1/8" thick, extending about 2" beyond the base edge.  Flip the edges to the center and move the base with the pastry into the tart pan.  Lift the pastry edges back up and press dough firmly against the sides of the pan.  Allow the excess dough to fold over the outside pan edge.  Prick dough lightly all over, line pan with foil, and fill with baking beans.  Bake on a cookie sheet at 200C/400F for about 10 minutes.  Remove tart from oven, remove foil, and trim edge of pastry.  (You can leave the pieces on the sheet to finish baking, for later snacking.)  Return to oven for another 10-15 minutes, until pastry is completely dry.  Allow to cool.  Reduce oven to 160C/325F.

For the filling
5 eggs
225g (1 cup) caster granulated sugar
zest of 4 lemons
150ml (2/3 cup) lemon juice (from 4-5 lemons)
1/8 teaspoon salt
125ml (1/2 cup) double heavy cream
confectioner's sugar, for dusting (optional)

In a bowl with a pour spout (I used my 4-cup liquid measuring cup), whisk eggs and sugar together until smooth.  Add zest, juice, and salt and mix until well combined, then whisk in cream.  With the tart pan still on the cookie sheet, place on the oven shelf.  Stir the filling contents, then pour filling into tart pan and bake for about 35 minutes -- it should still have a wobble in the middle.  Leave to cool in tin for about 10-15 minutes, then remove from tin and cool completely.  Refrigerate for several hours before serving.  Best served cool, but not right out of the refrigerator.

Conclusion:  Good.  Not great.  Whenever I have lemon something, I expect a great tangy impact, and rarely receive it.  This was no exception.  That was partly due to the use of Meyer lemons, so it's not a fair criticism.  I still have issue with the texture, though, and I don't know if that was my inexpertise or the recipe.  (I blame it on the curdled filling.)

Original recipe:  Mary Berry's Lemon Tart video with Paul Hollywood (from which I transcribed the recipe) or her written recipe for Tarte au Citron via BBC Food.

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