You know how a lot of citrus recipes warn you to be careful not to get any of the white pith when you zest the fruit, because it’s bitter? Well, guess what?
Bitter is good.
This was my first whole lemon dessert, where everything but the seeds is included. It was simple. Blend sugar and lemons together, then add the rest of the ingredients – eggs and cream, cornstarch and of course butter – to the blender and mix it all together. Then bake it, supposedly until it sets, but it never set for me. The filling boiled instead, until the crust was quite a bit darker than I like and I figured I’d better take the tart out of the oven, bubbling or not.
It did set up once it cooled, and it was delicious. I loved it. I didn’t think it was exceptionally tart, but it’s possible that I either had a lemon that was on the milder side, or my smallish organic lemons had a very thin layer of pith. It was just the slightest bit bitter, which was perfectly balanced by sour and sweet, adding an extra dimension to the dessert without dominating it. I am definitely sold on the idea of whole lemon desserts – so much so that I made another one two days later!
Tartest Lemon Tart (adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Tartest Lemon Tart recipe found in Baking from My Home to Yours)
Sweet Tart Dough with Nuts:
1¼ cups (6 ounces) all purpose flour
¼ cup ground almonds (or pecans, walnuts or pistachios)
½ cup (2 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 stick, plus 1 tbsp (9 tbsp) very cold or frozen unsalted butter, diced
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
1½ lemons, scrubbed and dried
1½ cups (10.5 ounces) sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1½ tbsp cornstarch
½ cup heavy cream
½ stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1. For the dough: Put the flour, ground almonds, confectioners’ sugar and salt in a food processor, pulsing a few times to combine. Scatter the butter pieces 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.
2. 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.
3. To partially bake the crust: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. 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. 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. Transfer the crust to a cooling rack (keep it in its pan).
4. For the filling: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Place tart pan on baking sheet lined with parchment or silicone mat.
5. Slice whole lemon in half and pull out seeds from it and the half. Then cut lemons into small pieces. The filling is best made in a blender, but you can use a food processor. Put lemons and sugar in the blender or processor and pulse, blending and scraping down the sides until you have smooth mix. Add the remaining filling ingredients and pulse and blend until the filling is homogeneous. Rap bowl on counter several times to de-bubble the filling as much as possible, and pour it into your prepared partially baked crust.
6. Very carefully – tart shell will be full – transfer baking sheet to the oven. Bake 20 minutes, then increase the oven temp to 350 degrees and bake the tart for an additional 25 to 30 minutes. (The total time is 45 to 50 minutes). Don’t be alarmed when the filling starts to bubble up. (It might even bubble over the edge of tart – that’s okay.) When tart is properly baked, it should be set, although perhaps still shaky in center, and most of top will have formed a light sugary crust.
7. Transfer the tart pan to a cooling rack and let cool to room temperature. Chill, if you’d like, before serving with cream or a dusting of confectioners’ sugar.