Food for Thought: Lemon Tart

It’s a rainy spring Sunday and I’ve decided there’s no better way to embrace my inner-sunshine than to bake a simple, gorgeous lemon tart.

The work involved is minimal for such a sumptuous and impressive desert.  Best of all, you can fill the hour or so you’ll need to wait before eating the tart with some writing time.

The tart recipe I offer here is one I learned at a cooking class in Nice, France.  It riffs on a traditional lemon tart by adding local olive oil to both the crust and filling (Nice olives produce a light, mild oil that pairs well with the tart lemons).  While this may sound strange, it only imparts the faintest essence of olive oil to the taste and gives the crust a cookie-quality and the filling a silkiness that’s the stuff of dreams.  Trust me 🙂

Lemon Tart with Olive Oil (serves 4)

First, you need to make a pastry crust.  This sounds intimidating, but the crust here is very resilient and hard to mess up.  Start by cutting 1/4 cup of cold unsalted butter into pieces.  Place them in a bowl and sift 1/4 cup powdered confectioners sugar over them.  Add 1 1/2 TBS of finely ground macadamia nuts (or almonds, if you prefer).  You can pulverize the nuts in a baggie with a mallet, or use a nut/spice grinder.  To this, add 1/4 tsp sea salt and sift in 2 TBS of flour (you’ll need 3/4 cup flour in total, so measure out the full amount and then sift in just 2 TBS of it).

Work this mixture with a pastry paddle, a spoon, or your fingers.  The goal is to get the dry ingredients well integrated into the butter.  Don’t worry if it looks a mess.  Once it’s mixed, sift the rest of the flour in and add 1 egg yolk (separate and discard the white) and 3 1/2 TBS olive oil (if you can’t get an AOC Nice oil, select something light and mild).  Mix this all together with a fork.  It’ll be quite wet.  You may even want to put the bowl in the fridge for 10 minutes or so to stiffen the dough up before you work it into the tart pan.

Plop that dough out into the tart pan (you’ll need a 9 1/2 inch one with a removable bottom) and, using your fingers, work it until it thinly covers the entire bottom and sides.  You want this to be thin – such that you can almost see the tart pan through the dough.  Pay special attention to the corners.  The dough on the sides will sink slightly while the tart bakes, so make sure you get the corners extra thin to start.  If the dough gets too soft to work with, just toss the whole thing in the fridge a few minutes to firm it up.  Scrap the excess dough off and discard.

Bake the tart shell in the oven at 425 degrees for about 10 minutes.  Watch it carefully near the end so it doesn’t burn.  You want a nice, golden brown color.  Set the shell aside to cool while you prepare the filling.

For the filling, begin with 3 plump lemons.  Roll them on the counter before you juice them (this helps release the goodness within).  Squeeze the juice into a bowl, discarding any seeds.  Before cutting and juicing the final lemon, use a microplane grater to zest 1 lemon.  You can add the zest right into the bowl with the juice.

In a small pot, crack 2 whole eggs and 2 egg yolks (separated from the whites; whites discarded).  Whisk these together with 3/4 cup of granulated sugar.  Whisk in the lemon juice and lemon zest and sift 2 tsp of cornstarch over the mixture.  Whisk the entire mixture over medium low heat until it thickens.  The idea is to keep whisking constantly so the lemon curd aerates.  Once the mixture is fairly thick, remove it from the heat and whisk in 4 TBS of unsalted butter.  Then whisk in 2 TBS olive oil, the same type you used for the crust.

Pour this mixture into the cooled tart shell and put in the fridge for at least an hour to set and cool.  Rather than drive yourself crazy waiting to cut into the tart and devour it whole, take this time to sit down and write.  The tart, after all, will be your reward for a good word count 🙂

After you’ve achieved at least a couple hundred words, or can wait no longer, whip a little lightly sweetened cream.  Cut the tart and serve with a dollop of cream.

Happy writing and eating!

2 thoughts on “Food for Thought: Lemon Tart

  1. moniquejt@yahoo.com

    Hey Miranda,

    I made lemon curd for Easter and my recipe is slightly different than yours. I used 5 whole eggs, 1/2 the butter, a cup sugar and no cornstarch nor oil. I’ll have to try your way next time to taste if there’s a difference!

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