One of the joys of winter, to brighten the dull days of February, is the plethora of citrus fruits. In my market this week there are no fewer than fifteen varieties: Cara Cara, Blood, Navel, Temple, Honey Tangerines, Mineola, Tangelos, Clementines, and Sumo oranges, along with pink grapefruit, pommelos, kumquats, lemons, limes, and Meyer lemons. The colors! The smells! The flavors!
I use zest in many dishes, savory and sweet. Grate lemon zest over buttered pasta, throw in a handful of arugula and powdery parmesan with lots of ground black pepper, and presto-zing, you have dinner. Zest makes salad dressing sing, brings liveliness to roasted meats, coaxes flavor from simple chicken dishes and vivifies butter sauces for fish. Sprinkle grated zest on quinoa or couscous to give it dimension. Lemons are not just for lemonade.
If you don’t already have one, order yourself a microplane grater today. It costs about 12 bucks. It is in my top ten, must-have, bring-on-every-foreign-travel-experience kitchen tools. Use it to quickly zest citrus, make tiny curls of grated chocolate and to convert Parmesan or other hard cheeses into cloud-like mounds of shavings.
This lemon tart uses the zest and the juice. It’s a mouth puckering blast of citrus in an elegant sliver of tart, threaded with pretty little shards of zest. I love Meyer lemons for their complex taste. Kind of like a hybrid of orange, lemon and grapefruit. Floral and rich. Acidic yet bewitching. If you can get your hands on these babies, snap them up! If not, use whatever lemons (or limes or anything citrus) in this tart.
Thank you to my daughter, Eliza Jane, for helping me this week. She used some of her precious vacation time to shoot the photos in this post. Talented girl.
Meyer Lemon Tart
Based on a recipe from Patricia Wells
The beauty of this recipe is time and flavor. Unlike most pastry-making recipes, this one uses melted butter, which means no rolling pin or chilling time needed. Just mix up the dough and press it into the tart pan with your fingers. Bake it and fill with the lemon curd. That’s it. A fancy, winter citrus dessert in about one hour. Plus you can make it in advance. This goes on the “Best Of” list of winter desserts!
For the Pastry Shell
8 tablespoons (4 ounces/120 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus additional for buttering the tart pan
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon pure almond extract
Grated zest (just the peel) of 1 Meyer lemon, blanched and refreshed*
1/4 cup (30 grams) confectioners’ sugar
A pinch of fine sea salt
1¼ cups (180 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
For the Lemon Curd
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1 cup (200 grams) sugar
8 tablespoons (4 ounces/120 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 8 pieces
Grated zest (just the peel) of 2 organic Meyer lemons (or regular lemons), blanched and refreshed
1/2 cup (12.5 centiliters) freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice (from 2-3 lemons), strained
Make the Pastry
- Preheat the oven to 350˚F.
- Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-10” fluted tart pan with a removable bottom.
- In a medium bowl, combine the melted butter, vanilla and almond extracts, grated zest, sugar and salt, and stir with a spoon to blend. Gradually incorporate enough flour to form a smooth, soft dough (The dough will resemble soft cookie dough). Place the dough in the center of the buttered tart pan. With the tips of your fingers, press the pastry evenly on the bottom and sides of the pan. The dough will be quite thin. No need to weight or prick the pastry shell before baking.
- Place the shell in the center of the oven and bake until the dough is firm and lightly browned, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool for at least 10 minutes before filling. Do not remove from the pan.
Make the Lemon Curd/Assemble Tart
- Bring a large pot of water to boil, lower heat to simmer, and place a large metal bowl (non-reactive, such as stainless steel) over the pot. The water should not touch the bottom of the bowl. Combine the eggs, egg yolks and sugar in the bowl. Whisk frequently until the curd thickens and is pale lemon colored, about 10 minutes.
- Add the butter, tablespoon by tablespoon, allowing each tablespoon to melt before adding the next. Add the zest and lemon juice, whisking frequently over the simmering water, until thick and custard-like, about 5 minutes. The mixture should not boil or the curd will break up. Pour the curd into the prebaked and cooled pastry shell. Smooth with a rubber spatula and set aside until set, about 30 minutes. Just before serving sprinkle with a light dusting of confectioners’ sugar. Cut into thin wedges and serve.
* How to blanch and refresh lemon zest:
Bring a small saucepan of water to boil. Drop zest into boiling water and simmer for a few minutes. Strain and submerge strainer filled with blanched zest into a bowl of ice water. This removes some of the bitterness.