The Perfect Tart

While I wait for a copy of French Kids Eat Everything from the library (I’m still only #108 in line on 14 copies) I’ve been pretending that

A) I’m French and

B) my kids eat everything.

In reality I have some very picky eaters. Some of it I can’t control. There’s only so much you can do when you are competing against a biological mom with a very different idea of what constitutes a healthy meal plan. Lilli on the other hand I can only explain by remembering that I am actually a very picky eater myself and she is, after all, related to me.

So when I say I pretend the above things, it means that I just make whatever the hell I please from what is freshest, without any regard for if they actually will eat it.

The one thing we can almost always agree on is dessert. As in, having some.

Which leads me to lemon tart, naturally.

While I was in France all those years ago, we were lucky enough to be treated to a meal in a restaurant that was well known by the locals but probably completely off the map to anyone else. We got to sit down as a family, along with the friends my uncle was staying with, and eat a four or five course meal on a night the small bistro was normally closed. I can’t remember much about the meal. I have vague memories of the cheese at the end. What I do remember very clearly is the lemon tart that was served as dessert.

Rich eggs slowly cooked with the juice from the brightest lemons produce a sweet filling that is many things at once. A good lemon curd is astonishingly tart, but just sweet enough that you don’t really seem to notice. It’s gooey and luscious and, if done right, somehow creamy. Paired with a crust that snaps when you break it with a fork, yet completely melts in the mouth, a lemon tart is a dessert that has it all.

I don’t know why the tart stands out so much in my mind from that meal. A good lemon tart isn’t that hard to come by, even though it can go horribly wrong. The rest of the meal was probably equally superb. Maybe we had been driving a long time to get there, and the first bites were eaten in a rush. Maybe it was that phenomenon that happens at the end of the meal, where you are starting to get full so you are eating very slowly and can therefor remember more details. Maybe it was that I had just finished pastry school and was very keenly aware of excellent pastry. Who knows.

What I do know is that it will forever be a reminder of a time when my family got along a little better. Since that trip, there has been a lot of internal strife in my mom’s extended family–where the people I was travelling with hail from–and all four of us have been involved one way or another. We’re all on speaking terms now, but sometimes there is still a little bit of strain. It has saddened me countless times, and I guess there’s just something about how we all sat together and admired the simple surroundings while enjoying an exquisite meal that stuck with me in that exact moment.

I served a lemon tart for dessert at the dinner I hosted with James for all our parents a couple of weeks ago. It was paired with a delicate Earl Grey ice cream–a new twist on the classic Arnold Palmer summer beverage–and it was a hit. They were an excellent pair, but even still the tart could not compare to that perfect tart I had in France.

We’ve been enjoying the leftover curd (I always make a big batch, because I do love it so) spooned on top of the leftover ice cream. Or, if you’re me, you have been eating it straight out of the dish off of a spoon. It’s also excellent paired with just about any fruit, and since it’s summer now after all, that is how I decided it would be best to share it with you.

This particular lemon curd recipe is my favorite. There are lots of different recipes for lemon curd, but I like this one because it uses the whole egg, and for the addition of the whole lemon during the cooking process–it makes it way lemonier.

You could use a fancy tart pan, or you could use even fancier individual tartlette pans if you happen to have a large stash of them. Or you could just repurpose your muffin tin and make them that way. Personally, I think that’s a lot more fun, especially if they are for something as informal as say, an afternoon snack.

Lemon Tarts
makes 12 mini or one 8″ tart

For the crust–short dough:

3 oz granulated sugar
7 oz cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 lb all purpose flour

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, blend together the flour and sugar. Add in the butter, egg yolk and vanilla, and mix until the dough comes together. Place the dough on a parchment lined sheet pan and flatten into a disk. Cover and refrigerate until it is firm enough to work with, at least 30 minutes. You can make the dough in advance, just be sure and pull it out of the fridge to warm up a bit before rolling it.

Taking care not to overwork the dough or add too much flour, roll the dough out to about 1/8″ thickness, turning the disc about 1/6 of a turn after a couple of strokes with the rolling pin. Cut the dough into as many 4″ circles as you can get in one go, then carefully gather the dough into a ball. Flatten it back into a disc and put it in the fridge while you line the muffin tin. Very gently ease each circle down into a mold of the tin and using the crook of your finger, guide it into the corners. It’s ok if it isn’t perfect, but you do want the shell to be about the same height all the way around. Repeat rolling out the dough and lining the tins until you have filled the whole tray, or made as many as you would like. Place the whole tray into the freezer. Leftover dough can be stored wrapped in plastic, in a baggie, in the freezer for about a month.

Once the dough is frozen solid, line each cup with a piece of parchment paper big enough to poke up over the edge of the crust. Fill with pie weights and bake at 375 F until the edges look a nice golden brown–anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes, depending on size/thickness/oven variations (full sizes tarts take longer, and you need to remove the weights about halfway through to brown the bottom of the crust as well). Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack until the weights are cool enough to handle. Take out the weights and let the shells cool completely before filling. If making them ahead of time, store them in an airtight container in a single layer.

For the filling: (about 2 1/2 cups)

3/4 cup lemon juice from fresh lemons
zest from the lemons, as well as the juiced halves
4 eggs
12 oz granulated sugar
6 oz unsalted butter
heavy whipping cream to top the tarts

To make it sturdy enough for a large tart, where it will need to be sliced, I recommend whisking 2 Tbsp cornstarch into the sugar before you add the eggs.

Beat together the eggs and sugar (and cornstarch if using) in a heavy saucepan made of non-reactive metal (not aluminum). Add the lemon juice, zest, and juiced lemon halves. Heat to boiling over low heat and cook for about a minute, stirring constantly, until the curd starts to thicken. Strain out the zest and lemon halves into a glass or stainless steel container. Stir in the butter and allow to cool completely before filling the shells.

Using a #30 (1 oz) scoop or a large spoon, fill the shells. Whip the cream to as soft or stiff a peak as you would like, add a touch of sugar and vanilla if desired and place a generous dollop on each tart. Top with the fruit of your choice.

Good News

You know how when the sun comes out in the middle of winter it’s like you’ve never seen it before? Even if it was out the day before? (But especially if like here in Seattle it was raining cats and dogs?) 

You know also, how when you actually get to go outside and let your totally bundled up self absorb some of that sunlight it makes you feel really warm and happy and want to skip around in a meadow somewhere.

Yeah me neither. Not at all.

Recently I made muffins that pretty much served to encapsulate that breath of sun in a slightly sweetened fluffy goodness. They had apricots. Lots and lots of them. Frozen at the peak of summer but then folded into a muffin batter hearty enough to sustain you on even the coldest winter day.

The bad news about these muffins is that you probably don’t have several gallon sized freezer bags full of apricots with which to make them over and over, like I have. The good news about them is that you really could use just about any type of fruit in them. They could have frozen berries, or peeled and chopped apples or pears, or even frozen peaches.

Oh, I thought of some more good news about these muffins. They are pretty healthy, since they’re whole wheat and oat and have a whole mess of protein rich ingredients alongside that pile of fruit.  They are a great breakfast or snack for this time of year, when most people are trying to eat a little bit lighter. Even more good news is that they are great slathered in butter, in case eating light isn’t a priority.

Sun is Shining Good News Muffins
makes 12 regular sized little cups of joy

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup oat flour
  • 1/2 cup garbanzo bean flour
  • 1/4 cup ground flax
  • 1/2 cup bran flakes
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt (I like to use greek, it’s tangy!)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup chopped almonds
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen berries or chopped fruit, loosely measured

Preheat your oven to 500°F. This will make the muffins rise up a lot and have a nice domed top. Don’t worry, you’re going to turn it down when you actually put the muffins in. 

Beat the liquid ingredients together until well combined, then add the bran flakes and stir till they’re mixed in all the way. Let it sit while you whisk together the dry ingredients and prepare your muffin tin. 

Whisk together all the dry ingredients, including the flax, in a large bowl. Then add the fruit and nuts and stir around to coat all the pieces in flour. This helps to keep them all from sinking to the bottom when the muffins bake.

Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients, and combine just until you don’t see any large streaks of flour left. It’s ok if the batter doesn’t look completely smooth.

Fill the cups of your tin about three-quarters full, maybe a little more. Place muffins in the oven and immediately drop temperature to 400°F. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until muffins test done with a toothpick.