Cook in the Moment: Lemon Curd Tart

Lemon Curd Tart (c)2012 LaDomestique.com

One of my unofficial resolutions this year is to bake more fruit tarts. Year after year I find myself wishing I had baked with the strawberries of spring, the peaches of summer, and autumn’s glorious apples. Time passes so quickly, and I regret not celebrating fresh fruit at the peak of its season. It may seem silly to worry about such things, but I believe investing precious spare time in baking a fruit tart slows time down a little. Eating fresh fruit out of hand is a true pleasure, but it’s a fleeting one. Baking a tart is a ritual beginning with selecting the fruit, composing the pastry and blind-baking it, filling the tart shell and finishing it off in the oven. We plan each step then we wait as fruit bubbles and crust caramelizes under the heat of the oven, filling the kitchen with its tantalizing aroma. To me, a fruit tart embodies hospitality. If you’ve got a tart and a pot of tea, then you’ve got a party waiting to happen. For my first fruit tart of the year, I’ve baked Martha Stewart’s Rustic Meyer Lemon Tart, which is actually based on a recipe from Chez Panisse Desserts. I made the tart with Meyer lemons and then with regular lemons- both variations were delicious.

It makes me sad to hear someone say they’ve given up on making fruit pies and tarts because the pastry is too difficult. Perfect comes with practice, and since the trend in the food world is to make everything look easy, we’ve got unrealistic expectations. With practice, your tart crusts will get better every time. If a recipe fails, look at what went wrong and seek out troubleshooting ideas from baking books to ensure success next time. Baking, by James Peterson is my favorite book when it comes to tart dough. The pictures and step-by-step instructions are great, but the best part is the way Mr. Peterson sets up our expectations. The first time I baked Martha Stewart’s Rustic Meyer Lemon Tart, I had difficulty with the short crust. After chilling the dough, her instructions read:

“Using your fingers, press dough evenly into bottom and up sides of a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Freeze for 30 minutes.”

The dough was so stiff I struggled to press it into the pan. The rolling pin tore it to pieces, which sent my anxiety through the roof. I felt abandoned. What to do? Then I found a section on Working with Fragile Pastry Dough in James Peterson’s Baking book that helped me adjust my expectations and troubleshoot the situation:

“Some pastry dough, especially that which contains a lot of butter or contains very little liquid, can be almost impossible to roll out without cracking.”

Good to know. Peterson encourages patching tears and moving on- these things happen. He gives us permission not to be perfect.

Lemon Curd Tart (c)2012 LaDomestique.com

Here are a few more tips I’ve learned for making short crust pastry for fruit tarts:

 

  • The pastry must never get warm. A short crust is made by cutting cold pieces of butter into flour. Flaky layers are the result of pieces of butter suspended in the dough. If the pastry starts to get warm just stop what you’re doing and pop it into the freezer for a few minutes. James Peterson writes that “Pastry dough will withstand any number of mistakes- even the dreaded overworking- as long as the butter it contains never melts.”
  • Reading James Peterson’s book, Baking, I learned that you can make pie and tart dough in a stand mixer! I don’t own a food processor, so this was exciting news to me. I also found it easier to see the pastry coming together in the stand mixer: from fine gravel to coarse gravel to large lumps. Use the paddle attachment to combine the ingredients on medium speed for about 4 minutes, then add the liquid and mix a few seconds to combine.
  • To get the fragile tart dough disk flattened out and into the tart pan, I employed a technique I had seen Martha Stewart do on tv- beat the pastry (gently) with the rolling pin to flatten it. That made rolling the dough out much easier. Then I pressed the dough into the tart pan and trimmed off the excess.
  • You don’t have to use a tart pan with a removable bottom. Sure, it makes for a nice presentation, but a ceramic tart dish (like the one I used) will do just fine. Make sure to grease the ceramic tart dish with butter before pressing in the dough. Once baked, just cut and serve the tart from the dish.

Homemade Lemon Curd (c)2012 LaDomestique.com

Each week I contribute a column to the Whole Foods Market Cooking Boulder website expanding on one of my 10 Ways Tuesday ideas. This week I baked a lemon tart with sweet, flaky pastry and tart, buttery lemon curd filling. The heat of the oven caramelizes the lemon curd, imparting a rustic quality and depth of flavor not found in other lemon tarts. For my column and the recipe, click on the icon below.

Lemon Curd Tart (c)2012 LaDomestique.com

16 Comments

  1. These are wonderful tips and you are so right about unrealistic expectations. My Mom always made her own crust for pies, so I never had that “fear of the crust” many people have. With a little love, it will all come together! Joy the Baker even has a no-roll crust where you piece together the crust in the pie pan. The other plus is that “rustic” desserts are completely charming :)

    Reply
    • I’m going to have to check out Joy’s no-roll crust, Nicole. Thanks for sharing that.

      Reply
  2. I’m totally with you on the conquering fear thing – I’ve worked on my pastry fear, and now just turn it into something fun. I mean, I get to eat pie afterwords, right?! A little effort when cooking and baking goes a long way. Your lemon tart looks incredible – can’t wait to see the rest of your fruit tart series!

    Reply
    • Thanks for your encouragement, Renee. Love your outlook- there is always pie at the end. :)

      Reply
  3. Beautiful crust! I must try the recipe:) My dough almost always needs some patchwork but it tastes perfect. Besides, nothing beats a homemade crust!

    Reply
    • I agree, Emi, nothing beats a homemade crust! Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply
  4. A meyer lemon tart sounds so wonderful for this full blown summer weather we have jumped into. It was so cool and refreshing in Missouri over Easter and how hot, hot, hot. I actually, just started making fruit tarts last year. Yours looks wonderful and that crust turned out great!

    Reply
    • Sarah,
      I used to live in Houston and remember that oppressive heat and humidity. I hope you get a bit of relief from it soon. Lemon tart is a good dessert for that kind of weather!

      Reply
  5. we should make summer resolutions, not new years resolutions : more time spent outside, start gardening, go strawberry/blueberry picking, and most importanly, make fruit tarts. I totally agree with your sentiments of seasons passing you by and no tarts to show for it. I was just in Southern Italy, Ostuni, and ate the most amazing lemon tart. Their name for the tart was ‘When a Lemon Becomes a Cake’. It was glorious, with a wonderful, thick, shortbread crust, and a thinner-than-usual lemon layer. So glad to find your post and this recipe and the subsequent post about lemon curd. Wonderful!

    Reply
    • Talley,
      It’s great to meet you! I just visited your blog for the first time and it’s fantastic. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, the tart you had in Italy sounds wonderful.

      Reply
  6. This looks incredible – that brilliant lemon! That flaky crust! I couldn’t agree more that perfect comes with practice, and we need to do some of that patchwork along the way :)

    Reply
    • Thanks for your beautiful comment, Kathryn.

      Reply
  7. This loooks so scrummy! I love lemon curd… the taste of summer! I will be giving this one a go at the weekend. Thanks for sharing those tips too, really useful.

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comment, Clementine. The tart is delicious and I hope you enjoy it.

      Reply
  8. Ever since you mentioned lemon curd, I’ve thought about making it. Then putting it in a tart, on toast, and spooning it from the jar. Your tart and curd are both knockouts! Thanks for planting the lemon curd/tart seed in my head, a must make for spring!

    Reply
    • Thanks, Nikki. I’m so glad you were inspired!

      Reply

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