I've been wanting to tell you about this tart since last summer, which was the last time I made it, and that's where (or is it when?) these pictures are from. They've been lounging about my Flickr page, nudging me every few months with a gentle reminder of their existence, and I promptly swat them away with mild irritation and the knowledge that every stinkin' food blogger on the planet has this recipe posted and I'm not one to join the masses. Despite the fact that, like it's title, it really is the most extraordinary lemon cream tart ever to be spooned into my tummy, I dislike redundancy almost as much as black jellybeans - and that's quite a bit.
I started thinking about the possibility that someone who is not an avid food blog reader but has a penchant for exceptionally creamy, tart, buttery lemon desserts might use this little niche of the World Wide Web as their go-to source for every sweet tooth craving that strikes. Now I know that's ambitious for this little blog, but a girl can dream, can't she? What if I am the only place they check on their quest for a cream tart? What if I let them down because I fear repetition in my life? What if they resort to eating a palmful of those nasty-as-hell black jellybeans as a desperate last resort for a sugar rush? What if they give up all hope after finding my recipe section void of this particular confection? What if their world comes crashing down around them in sheer disappointment that I deemed this tart unworthy of another posting in the food blogging world!? What if!?
What if I just posted the dang recipe and we all calm the heck down? Yips.
This recipe is plastered all over the web for good reason - it's incredible. It's sort of like a lemon curd, only better because the butter is whipped in via blender after cooking the eggs and sugar, as opposed to cooking and cooking and cooking it all at once until it forms a curd. It creates an emulsion of sorts, the butter never melts completely only to harden back up, it stays soft and luscious and absolutely delicious. I must say, this recipe is not for the faint of heart - it contains thirty tablespoons of butter between the filling and the crust, but it is worth every uncounted calorie. I feel a little woozy just think about it.
This recipe is the original, but Dorie did a little rethinking on how to make this process friendlier on your watch and your whisking arm, you can check it out here. I strongly recommend reading through it before you get started, otherwise your arm might fall off and your last concern will be over how your tart turns out, 'mmkay?
The Most Extraordinary Lemon Cream Tart
Adapted from Baking: My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan
1 cup sugar
finely grated zest of 3 lemons
4 large eggs
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 4 to 5 lemons)
2 sticks plus 5 tablespoons (21 tablespoons; 10 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into tablespoon-sized pieces
1 fully-baked 9-inch tart shell (see below)
Getting ready: Have a thermometer, preferably an instant-read, a strainer and a blender (first choice) or food processor at the ready. Bring a few inches of water to a simmer in a saucepan.
Put the sugar and zest in a large metal bowl that can be fitted into the pan of simmering water. Off heat, work the sugar and zest together between your fingers until the sugar is moist, grainy and very aromatic. Whisk in the eggs followed by the lemon juice.
Fit the bowl into the pan (make certain the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl) and cook, stirring with the whisk as soon as the mixture feels tepid to the touch. You want to cook the cream until it reaches 180°F. As you whisk the cream over heat—and you must whisk constantly to keep the eggs from scrambling—you’ll see that the cream will start out light and foamy, then the bubbles will get bigger, and then, as the cream is getting closer to 180°F, it will start to thicken and the whisk will leave tracks. Heads up at this point—the tracks mean the cream is almost ready. Don’t stop whisking and don’t stop checking the temperature. And have patience—depending on how much heat you’re giving the cream, getting to temp can take as long as 10 minutes.
As soon as you reach 180°F, pull the cream from the heat and strain it into the container of a blender (or food processor); discard the zest. Let the cream rest at room temperature, stirring occasionally, until it cools to 140°F, about 10 minutes.
Turn the blender to high and, with the machine going, add about 5 pieces of butter at a time. Scrape down the sides of the container as needed while you’re incorporating the butter. Once the butter is in, keep the machine going—to get the perfect light, airy texture of lemon-cream dreams, you must continue to beat the cream for another 3 minutes. If your machine protests and gets a bit too hot, work in 1-minute intervals, giving the machine a little rest between beats.
Pour the cream into a container, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface to create an airtight seal and chill the cream for at least 4 hours or overnight. When you are ready to construct the tart, just whisk the cream to loosen it and spoon it into the tart shell.
Serving: The tart should be served cold, because it is a particular pleasure to have the cold cream melt in your mouth.
Storing: While you can make the lemon cream ahead (it will keep in the frige for 4 days and in the freezer for up to 2 months), once the tart is constructed, it’s best to eat it the day it is made.
Sweet Tart Dough
Adapted from Baking: My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (4 1/2 ounces) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk
To make the dough: Put the flour, confectioners' sugar and salt in the workbowl of a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is cut in coarsely - you'll have pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and pea-size pieces and that's just fine. Stir the egg, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses - about 10 seconds each - until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. Just before your reaches this clumpy stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change - heads up. Turn the dough out onto a work surface.
Very lightly and sparingly - make that very, very lightly and sparingly - knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing. If you want to press the dough into a tart pan, now is the time to do it.
If you want to chill the dough and roll it out later (doable, but fussier than pressing), gather the dough into a ball (you might have to use a little more pressure than you used to mix in dry bits, because you do want the ball to be just this side of cohesive), flatten it into a disk, wrap it well and chill it for at least 2 hours or for up to 1 day.
To make a press-in crust: Butter the tart pan and press the dough evenly along the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Don't be stingy - you want a crust with a little heft because you want to be able to both taste and feel it. Also, don't be too heavy-handed - you want to press the crust in so that the pieces cling to one another and knit together when baked, but you don't want to press so hard that the crust loses its crumbly shortbreadish texture. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.
To make a rolled-out crust: This dough is very soft - a combination of a substantial amount of butter and the use of confectioners' sugar - so I find it is easier to roll it between wax paper or plastic wrap or, easiest of all, in a slipcover. If you use the slipcover, flour it lightly. Roll the dough out evenly, turning the dough over frequently and lifting the wax paper or plastic wrap often, so that it doesn't roll into the dough and form creases. If you've got time, slide the rolled out dough into the fridge to rest and firm for about 20 minutes before fitting the dough into the buttered tart pan. Trim the excess dough even with the edge of the pan. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.
To partially bake the crust: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and fit the foil tightly against the crust. Bake the crust 25 minutes, then carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon. Bake for another 3 to 5 minutes, then transfer the crust to a cooling rack; keep it in its pan.