Rich Lemon Tart

Lemon Tart

I’m celebrating a milestone birthday in a mere handful of weeks. I can’t help but ponder what I want for rest of my life. What do I want to do – for a living; as a passion? Where should I live? Who do I want to be? How will I leave my mark? Who do I want by my side? That Talking Heads song, “Once in a Lifetime,” has been running through my brain this week.

And you may tell yourself, this is not my beautiful house
And you may tell yourself, this is not my beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself, well how did I get here?

In truth, I don’t know what I want – and haven’t a clue how I ended up here. My chosen path isn’t clear to me – I just know this isn’t it. Not having a clear notion of what one wants for their life is fine at 18, not so much when one has less than half her years remaining.
So, I bake tarts and ponder life.


Rich Lemon Tart


Ingredients

    FILLING
  • 1 Tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/3 cup sugar
  • 4 large eggs and 2 egg yolks
  • pinch salt
  • 1 ¾ sticks unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ½ teaspoon gelatin
  • CRUST
  • 1 1/3 cups All-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cups sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick plus 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Directions

  1. Make Lemon Curd: Whisk together zest, juice, sugar, eggs, and salt in a saucepan. Add butter all at once and cook over moderately low heat, whisking constantly until curd is very thick and first bubbles appear on the surface, about 10 minutes. Pour curd through a sieve into a bowl. Cover and chill.
  2. Make Crust: Heat oven to 325 degrees. Whisk together flour, sugar, zest and salt. Add melted butter and stir together until dough forms a ball. Press dough on bottom and up sides of 9” tart pan. Prick bottom of shell with fork and pre-baked until golden, 20-30 minutes.
  3. Assemble Tart: Whisk together heavy whipping cream with gelatin. Add 2/3 of lemon curd to whipping cream and fill tart pan almost full. Finish with a layer of pure curd. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

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Obsessed

Lemon Tart

Lemon Tart

A baking obsession isn’t necessarily a bad thing – unless you’re compelled to sample each of your creations. Then, it can be detrimental, indeed. In the last 12 hours, I’ve managed to bake and devour two lemon tarts, one coconut tart, one and a half plum tarts and two apple tarts – all with the wrong crust.

I commanded myself to put the tarts aside today, step outside, run errands, exercise, get some sun, leaving the crust dilemma for another day. Instead, I’m on my second crust recipe today without any desire to step outside. Yesterday, I was using a version of Amanda Hesser’s no roll pie crust. I erroneously thought substituting heavy cream for the milk would result in a richer crust, but my attempts crumbled in my fingers.  Now, after re-referring to Gisslen’s Profession Baking, I’m convinced that my “improvement” was my downfall. Flour needs liquid to create that much maligned pastry glue, gluten, to hold it all together. I’ve moved back to her crust as written and I really love the crumbly texture, but I don’t know if it will hold up to the fumbling hands of 18 year old culinary school interns at the Steakhouse.  Next up – side by side comparisons of Amanda’s crust and Pate Sucree.

The Decision

Me: Where’s Poco de Chile?

Sous Chef Billy Joel: He’s suspended until Monday. He got into it with Big D’s girlfriend and was sent home.

Me (out loud): Oh, that’s too bad. He wanted me to bring in a few new potential menu items.

Me (in my head): Are you fucking kidding me? I just spent the majority of the week – including all of my Saturday – and my cash trying develop new menu items that HE asked for and he’s not even here to try them. What a fucking waste of time!!

I spent the next hour trying to ply the tart and cheesecake of the other sous chefs, servers and Big D’s girlfriend. The comments were good – good balance, good texture, good flavor. But, let’s face it, NONE of these people can make the final decision.

I finally had a minute with Big D:

Me (casually): Hey D, try these. I brought in a few ideas for desserts.

Big D: Oh, I can’t, I’m on a diet.

Me: You wanted me to bring in ideas for desserts, try them so you can see if you want them on the menu. (Thankfully, D’s girlfriend stepped in with a “try them, they’re good”).

Big D: OK, I’ll take a small bite. (he tries them) Mmmm, that’s is really good. I like that one (points as he walks out).

That’s it? Okay…now what? I’m using my personal time to develop the perfect addition to the dessert menu and I get less of a comment than my tasters? What am I supposed to do with that?

I cornered him a little later in the night – asked him what next steps would be. He said he needed a food cost. I don’t have his prices – he needs to do that. I gave him the recipe (and emailed him another copy today) and, now, it’s in his hands.

I’m doubtful my dessert will ever make it onto the menu. I’ll mention it again to Pico de Chile next week.

But, for any of you interested, the winner is: White chocolate lemon tart with ginger shortbread crust.

Tart – Round 2

It’s all in the crust.  I changed it to a pressed shortbread a’ la lemon bars and it worked perfectly.  I played with three versions – ginger shortbread, ginger cardamom shortbread (I don’t like this combo, but it DID place #2 so I thought I’d try it again) and ginger shortbread with a white chocolate layer between crust and custard. 

I also whipped up a lemon swirl cheesecake with a gingersnap crumb crust. 

My tasters narrowed it down to the cheesecake and the tart with the layer of white chocolate.  Now the tricky part – the final decision:

Them:             They’re both good.

Me:                  But which one do you like better

Them:              I don’t know, they are both good and completely different

Me:                  OK, but if you were going to order one of them for dessert…

Them:              I’d order crème brulee. I always order crème brulee.

Me:                  Crème brulee is not a choice.  If there are only two desserts on the
menu – the tart and the cheesecake, which one would you order?

Them:              I wouldn’t order a lemon dessert. But if someone gave me either I would be happy.

Me:                  If you had to ORDER one…

Them:              So, you’re saying  the dessert CAME with the meal and I had to order…then I’d ask the server which one they liked better.

Me:                  OK, let’s say the server said both of them were good.

Them:              I would ask the server if the cheesecake was New York style. I don’t like York Style cheesecake, it’s too dry.

Me:                  I don’t like New York style either.  So the server says, “no”.

Them:              I’d order the cheesecake.

Ugh!

Tart

The results are in…and I disagree

Winner:          White Chocolate Lemon Tart
2nd place:       Cardamom Ginger Crust
3rd place:        Lemon Tart Brulee
4th place:        Ginger-Crystalized Ginger Crust
Loser:              Vanilla Lemon Tart

I’ve been testing lemon tarts with ginger snap crust today – using my co-workers as guinea pigs.  These were their results.  The white chocolate lemon tart is good, but it’s not lemony enough.  The Cardamom Ginger Crust was just odd – the cardamom overwhelmed the lemon and the ginger.  For me, it’s O-U-T.  The brulee was the most classic – and, oddly, as many people loved it as hated it. 

For the next permutation, I’m going to continue with the White Chocolate lemon tart theme but add additional lemon zest to bring up the lemon flavor.  Filling is decided.

The crusts, on the other hand, were a disaster and I almost didn’t have any tarts to taste.  My first issue was the pans.  They were inexpensive $1.50 numbers from Sur la Table with ill-fitting removable bottoms.  “Sur la Table” and “inexpensive” are dichotomies – that should have been my first clue.  The crust was a combination of ginger snap crumbs, sugar and butter.  I’ve used this crust for cheesecake with great results.  Lesson #1 – what’s good for a springform isn’t good for a removable bottom tart pan.  The butter oozed and the sugar crumb crust imbedded around the bottom.  Once cooled, I could barely pry tart from pans and I needed a pairing and filet knife to do so.  One tart died this morning during the process.  By the time I brought the tarts to work, the bottoms were soggy and disintegrating. 

So, Step 2 (most likely taking up my Saturday) is to try a graham cracker crust with ginger (and line the pans with foil or parchment).  I’m also going to try a pressed shortbread ginger crust (lemon bar style) as well as a Phyllo dough crust (sprinkled with ginger sugar).  The last option will be to pour a layer of white chocolate between the filling and crust in an attempt to thwart a soggy bottom. 

And I wanted to play with a lemon curd cheesecake, too?  No time, no time.