lemon cream tart (twd)

I don’t deal well with lemon desserts. I lose self-control. Lemon tastes so light and fresh that I have trouble wrapping my mind around all the butter that’s usually paired with it. The Extraordinary Lemon Cream Tart that Mary chose for this week’s Tuesdays With Dorie recipe is extreme in the amount of butter called for – just shy of a full pound for a 9-inch tart.

With only Dave to share it with, I had to consider my options concerning this dessert. Unless I planned to serve nothing but salads or do nothing but exercise for several days, I was going to have to find a way to control my lemon tart intake. I decided that I needed tartelette pans so I could cut the recipe in half. Plus tartelette pans are super cute.

One of the fun aspects of being in a group like TWD is the opportunity to troubleshoot recipes. When my gooey chocolate cakes were a bit overcooked the first time I made them, my first thought was that my oven temperature was off, but with 100 other people making the recipe and most having the same problem, it seemed like it was the recipe that was off.

This week the problem that popped up involved the temperature that our lemon mixture was supposed to reach while being stirred over a double boiler. Dorie wanted our mixture to get to 180 degrees, which she said would take about 10 minutes. That seemed accurate for about half of us, but for the other half (myself included), the temperature topped out around 155 degrees and stayed there. In our ongoing discussion of the recipe, it seemed like there might be a correlation between the material of the mixing bowl used and the temperature reached – metal bowls were more likely to reach 180 degrees than glass bowls (although there were a couple outliers). I’m interested in trying the recipe again with a metal bowl instead of the pyrex bowl I used.

But I doubt I’ll be making this again. Not that it wasn’t good, because it was – very good in fact. But there’s just so much butter in it. I don’t generally shy away from rich foods, but they have to be worth it. And with over 600 calories per slice at the serving size that Dorie suggests, this tart has a lot to live up to.

The lemon cream was delicious – smooth with just the right balance of sweet and tart. But lemon curd is delicious too, and it only takes 4 tablespoons to make enough curd for a 9-inch tart, as opposed to 21 tablespoons that this cream needed. I’ll have to settle for rich-but-not-ridiculous lemon curd in the future.

The Most Extraordinary Lemon Cream Tart (from Dorie Greenspan’s From My Home To Yours)

The filling in this tart is everything. It is the lemon cream I learned to make from Pierre Hermé, and it is the ne plus ultra of the lemon world. The tart is basic-a great crust, velvety lemon cream-and profoundly satisfying. It is also profoundly play-aroundable. You can add a fruit topping (circlets of fresh rasp-berries are spectacular with this tart) or a layer of fruit at the bottom; you can finish the tart with meringue; or you can serve it with anything from whipped cream to raspberry coulis.

1 9-inch tart shell made with Sweet Tart Dough, fully baked and cooled
1 cup sugar
Finely grated zest of 3 lemons
4 large eggs
½ cup fresh lemon juice (from 4-5 lemons)
2 sticks plus 5 tablespoons (10½ ounces) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size
pieces, at room temperature

Getting Ready: 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.

Serving: It’s a particular pleasure to have this tart when the cream is cold and the crust is at room temperature. A raspberry or other fruit coulis is nice, but not necessary; so is a little crème fraîche. I know it sounds odd to offer something as rich as crème fraîche with a tart like this, but it works because the lemon cream is so light and so intensely citric, it doesn’t taste or feel rich.

Storing: 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:
Makes enough for one 9-inch crust

Storing: Well wrapped, the dough can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 2 months. While the fully baked crust can be packed airtight and frozen for up to 2 months, I prefer to freeze the unbaked crust in the pan and bake it directly from the freezer-it has a fresher flavor. Just add about 5 minutes to the baking time.

In French, this dough is called pâte sablée because it is buttery, tender and sandy (that’s what sablée means). It’s much like shortbread, and it’s ideal for filling with fruit, custard or chocolate.

The simplest way to make a tart shell with this dough is to press it into the pan. You can roll out the dough, but the high proportion of butter to flour and the inclusion of confectioners’ sugar makes it finicky to roll. I always press it into the pan, but if you want to roll it, I suggest you do so between sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper or inside a rolling slipcover.

1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup (2 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk

Put the flour, confectioners’ sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in-you should have some 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 press the dough into the pan: Butter a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan, using all but one little piece of dough, which you should save in the refrigerator to patch any cracks after the crust is baked. Don’t be too heavy-handed-press the crust in so that the edges of the pieces cling to one another, but not so hard that the crust loses its crumbly texture. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees 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 for another 8 minutes or so, or until it is firm and golden brown. (I dislike lightly baked crusts, so I often keep the crust in the oven just a little longer. If you do that, just make sure to keep a close eye on the crust’s progress-it can go from golden to way too dark in a flash.) Transfer the tart pan to a rack and cool the crust to room temperature before filling.

To patch a partially or fully baked crust, if necessary: If there are any cracks in the baked crust, patch them with some of the reserved raw dough as soon as you remove the foil. Slice off a thin piece of the dough, place it over the crack, moisten the edges and very gently smooth the edges into the baked crust. If the tart will not be baked again with its filling, bake for another 2 minutes or so, just to take the rawness off the patch.


  1. Your little tarts look beautiful! I have to admit that one of the reasons I did not make this week’s recipe was the amount of butter. I am on WW and there was just no way I could justify making it, plus I was pretty sure my co-workers would not eat the leftovers since they are not into froo froo lemon desserts, lol! I am drooling over all the tarts in my google reader today!

  2. c’est superbe !

  3. I used a metal bowl, but I didn’t use a thermometer! I made little tarts too. I had only one, but it was worth every portion of butter.

    Yours look great!

  4. Looks so pretty with the lemon peels!

  5. The lemon peels are a very nice touch, looks delicious!

  6. I love the sprinkling of lemon strips! Very creative!

  7. 600?? really?? as a dietetics student, I have to calculate all the time and I was afraid I wouldn’t eat it if I knew! Oh, but wasn’t it fun to make and so pretty to look at?!! your little tarts are indeed gorgeous…..and at least you got some new pans out of it!

  8. I definitely agree with you on the lemon cream vs lemon curd thing – it tasted amazing, but I wasn’t sure it was completely worth it. Either way, I love the pictures of it!

  9. Tartlette pans are super cute!! Great job!

  10. LOVE your pictures! Thanks for the reinforcement for the reason I only had 3 bites!

  11. The lemon zest is such great decor!

  12. Your tart looks lovely, good job.

  13. love your photos, the lemon peels make it look so playful! your tartlets came out looking yummy, butter and all!

  14. Very pretty! Love the lemon peels!

  15. It looks excellent! The lemon peels make for a perfect picture.

  16. Wow! It’s beautiful! I’m sticking with lemon curd too. I can’t afford 600 calories for dessert!

  17. arriba says:

    I have made that lemon cream and it is worth EVERY calorie! Truly sublime! Your pastry looks perfect–I know those tarts were great.

  18. smellslikehome says:

    beautiful job Bridget!!

  19. Love the tartelettes!

  20. Love what you did with it- it looks luscious!

  21. VERY nice! Love those great pictures!

  22. pretty looking tarts! I used a metal bowl and spent 30 mins to whisk the cream and it didn’t reach 180 deg either. 😉

  23. 600 calories!! yikes! I was guesstimating my little tartlettes were 100 each. Maybe it was just wishful thinking on my part since I ate 2 of them! LOL
    Clara @ I♥food4thought

  24. Gorgeous tarts! Doesn’t the citric acid cancel out some of the calories? 😉

  25. mini tartlets rule!.. and urs slice up so nicely too!

    great work on those beauties!

  26. This tart’s a great reason to invest in a mini tart pan or two. Six hundred calories per serving?!?! I see a lot of time on the treadclimber in my future…

  27. Just beautiful mini tarts! Love the look and the simple lemon curls. Gorgeous!

  28. Your tarts are beautiful! I love the addition of the lemon curls.

  29. Your lemon tart is so pretty–and the tart half really showcased the cream texture. I agree with you about the butter. I felt guilty and sneaky and mortified that I used that much!

  30. beautiful tart! i agree about the amount of butter – it was so good though! 🙂

  31. Student cooking, when i was a student most days we did not get more adventurous than baked beans on toast to my shame! These days i love cooking.


  1. […] and my capacity to bake outstrips our capacity to eat. But I didn’t want to take pictures of yet another mini-tart. I actually don’t have a fluted 9-inch tart pan, but I’ve […]

  2. […] (well, technically it’s Pierre Herme’s). An excellent copy of the recipe be found on Crumbly Cookie. Note that, as mentioned there, if using a glass bowl (as opposed to a metal one) the temperature […]

  3. […] the lemon cream tart, I was pretty sure I was done with lemon cream. With thirty tablespoons of butter in the whole […]