Someone once said to me that “you can judge a good chef is by the lemon tart!”
Since then I have been determined to perfect my recipe.
I have had some outstanding lemon tarts and I must admit a few dismal ones.
I think it one of the most classical desserts. The fresh zesty lemon flavours are an excellent end to a meal. Yet there is enough decadent creamy richness to provide satisfaction.
The pastry must be crisp and crumbly (short) and be delicately thin. For this recipe you bake the pastry ‘blind’. All that means is pre-baking the pastry before you add the moist filling. This ensures that you have a crisp pastry, with no ‘soggy bottoms’. I always make my short crust pastry in the food processor. It is quick and ensures that it is not heated with warm hands. The other secret is to make it well in advance, even the day before, wrap it in plastic and allow it to ‘rest’ in the fridge.
There are dozens of recipes for lemon tart around, but I find this one to be foolproof in my kitchen. Don’t be tempted to reduce the eggs or the cream, both are essential for the creamy texture.
Always use fresh lemon juice.
If there are no lemons available make something else, but please do not use commercially packed lemon juice! When we make Limoncello (our Italian lemon liqueur, that calls for lemon zest only) I squeeze the lemons and freeze the juice in ice trays. That juice, defrosted, is perfect for this recipe.
I like using a rectangular pan as it slices neatly, but you can use round or square too, as long as it has a loose base.
Some chefs brûlée the surface of the tart. Castor sugar is sprinkled on the surface and it is melted and caramelised under a grill or with a blow torch, but I like mine plain, or maybe with just a sprinkling of icing sugar.
What do you do with all the egg whites that remain? I place them in ‘sandwich bags’ , clearly marked with a freezer pen e.g. 3 or 5 and pop them in the freezer for meringues or Pavlova at another time. Simply defrost them in the fridge or at room temperature if you are in a hurry.
I usually serve the lemon tart with a dollop of lightly whipped cream, but this time we made an ice cream infused with lemon verbena and lemon thyme, so added a sprig of lemon thyme on the side! The ice cream was good, but the family’s consensus was, just serve cream.