Thursday, March 01, 2007

Individual Lemon Tarts

I was looking for a recipe for a lemon tart in which the lemon filling is baked inside the shell, as opposed to simply pouring a lemon curd into the shell and waiting for it to firm as it cools. I'm not as fond of unbaked pie fillings. To me they taste like custard on top of a cookie, as opposed to a real marriage of textures and flavors. I make one exception, chocolate tart, which is usually a simple ganache of cream and dark chocolate, poured into a baked shell. But I'd still like to try a baked version of a chocolate tart, as the unbaked version tastes, well, like truffles on top of a cookie. Which really isn't such a bad thing.

But back to my lemon tartlets. I found the following recipe in Joy of Cooking. What drew me to try it is the unusually large amount of egg yolks it calls for. I had lots of egg yolks left over from making my Meringue d'automne cake, and didn't want them to go to waste. For some reason I'm happy to freeze egg whites for later use but don't feel as confident freezing egg yolks.

So yes, this makes a very rich filling. But a small portion goes a long way.

I like this recipe for individual tartlets as the crust is delicious on its own, and with such a rich filling a high ratio of crust-to-filling is actually quite desirable.

I also made a larger tart, which worked out well too (but the photos didn't come out, see the one to the right. I wish I could bake more during daylight hours to get better photos).

Some of the tartlets I've made did not have a pretty surface: bubbles formed, as well as brown spots. Perhaps I have to work on how I whisk the filling, and on the oven temperature.

Another thing to watch out for is to lightly oil the plastic film wrap when you store the tart: if you lay it on as is, it will stick to the top of the tart and remove a thin coat of filling when you take it off. This happened to the tart in the photo on the right.

A few more things I like about this tart: it stays crunchy, even after a night in the fridge. As a matter of fact, I froze a whole (large) tart, let it defrost several hours at room temperature, and served it as is, and the crust was lovely and crispy. And I don't think it was particularly thick either.

The other thing is has a very lemony flavor. If you're temted to increase the lemon juice, don't, and increase the zest instead. Unless you like super-sour flavors.

Recipe: Lemon Tart
Adapted from: Joy of Cooking

Prepare a baked crust (or several small ones) from your favorite Pâte sucrée recipe, or use my favorite. The recipe says to glaze the crust with egg yolk before baking, I don't bother.
If you use tart rings, I find it quite helpful to cut the bottom out as a large cookie, then build the walls from strips of chilled dough that you just position around the bottom, against the ring. Make sure the walls aren't too thin.
Baking with or without pie weights, that's up to you. For the little tarts I manage without pie weights, but I have to be very vigilant during the first minute or two in the oven, to prop up with a spoon any wall that threatens to drop. Maybe freezing the dough before baking can help keep the crust's shape. I so far have only tried chilling it.

Ingredients for the filling
- 200 g sugar (1 cup)
- 115 g unsalted butter (8 Tbsp), cut into small pieces
- 130 g egg yolks (8 large)
- 120 g strained fresh lemon juice (1/2 cup, from 2 to 3 lemons)
- 1 Tbsp grated lemon zest

Making the filling
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

2. Combine in a heat-proof bowl the sugar and the butter. Bring 1 inch of water to a bare simmer in a skillet. Set the bowl in the skillet and stir until the butter is melted. Remove the bowl from the skillet.

3. Add the egg yolks and beat until no yellow streaks remain.

4. Stir in the lemon juice.

5. Return the bowl to the skillet and, stirring gently, heat the mixture until thickened to the consistency of heavy cream (lightly coats a spoon), 6 to 8 minutes.

[Note: Aha, I now know what I did wrong (nothing like typing up a recipe to actually really read it through): I whisked the mixture vigorously, which probably created the bubbles that occasionally marred the surface of my tartlets. Also, I never thought the mixture thickened sufficiently, and after 10 or 12 minutes gave up and used the filling as is, with no apparent harm done.]

6. Strain the lemon mixture through a clean fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, then stir in the grated lemon zest.

7. Pour the filling into the tart crust(s). Bake the tart(s) until the center looks set but still very quivery, like gelatin, when the pan is nudged, 15 to 20 minutes for a 10 inch tart. For tartlets, 10 minutes I believe is sufficient, perhaps less. [unfortunately I don't remember]. If overbaked, the tart will be grainy around the edges. Let cool completely on a rack. Lightly oil a sheet of plastic wrap and press it directly on the filling. The tart can be stored in the refregerator for up to 1 day. Let warm to room temperature before serving.
[I also like it cold from the fridge, but the texture is different, more firm.]


deinin said...

That looks delectable! I once made something very similar, except there the custard was topped with lemon segments that were sprinkled with sugar, so they sort of caramelized. Mmmm, tartness...

zorra said...

As usual it looks delicious and very nice pics.

Astrid said...

Deinin - Caramelized segments of lemon, yummy!

Zorra - Thanks, you're too kind. I almost always bake at night and the lighting in our apartment isn't great, but I'm glad if the pictures are decent nonetheless.

Anonymous said...

These tarts look fabulous AND easy too ? (easier than croissants it seems to me). I'll definitely try - but 350° F is how much in Celsius ?

tanya said...

The crust looks so interesting, I presume from using tart rings instead of tart pans, which I've always used. I like it the look of yours.

Astrid said...

Update (notes to myself):
- Freeze the pastry crust before blind baking
- Use fringed baking paper liner that sticks out over tart shell to make removal of pie weights easier
- A nice dark color for the shell tastes best
- A little less than half a cup of lemon juice is more than enough
- Filtering may not be essential
- Try letting the filling rest a little before pouring it into tart shell: the white foam is easier to remove, then carefully ladle into tart shell.
- 10 min for small tarts, 15 for 20 cm shells

Anonymous said...

These look great but how many tartlets could you make with the filling?

Patrick said...

This is an easy and tasty desert. It has impressed many a guest at my table. Great for serving with a heavy pasta or fish dish

Anonymous said...

use a blow torch to quickly remove the bubbles from your tart mix, then bake, it should come out nice and flat for you.

Elisa Etemad said...

very delicious! I halved the recipe and it made 6 small tartlets so I imagine it would make 12 if you did it as is :)