I have a very good friend who has worked in some of the best kitchens in SA as a pastry chef. Her resume is, needless to say, pretty impressive and when I had breakfast with her yesterday, I was telling her about my hassles with lemon tart and how it always ends up like lemony scrambled eggs or the filling never sets. She told me about this insane lemon tart she used to make at one of the best boutique hotels in the country and how it was fool proof. She gave me the recipe and I got working the moment I got home.
One thing I was happy to see was that there were no fancy-pants techniques or equipment necessary (which is often the case with professional chef’s recipes). I think the trick to a perfect, smooth and tangy lemon tart is to make sure you bake it at a really low temperature so the eggs don’t get a chance to go into shock and curdle. They almost just mellow themselves into a smooth, rich custard. The shortcrust base also needs to be fully baked before you pour in the custard as this will prevent it from going soggy. As a back-up, I brushed the base with beaten egg white and allowed it to dry, just to make sure.
I took the tart out of the oven when it was a little jiggly in the centre and allowed it to cool to room temperature before popping it into the fridge to set completely (pretty much like a Crème brûlée). When it came to serving the tart, I was delighted that the filling was smooth, creamy and just set. I can’t stand it when a custard-based tart has a rubbery filling and this lemon tart was just perfection. I used my tried and tested sweet shortcrust recipe flavoured with a little lemon zest as the base and the light, buttery and biscuity base was perfectly complemented by the tart filling. This, is why I call this tart the Ultimate Lemon Tart (Tarte au citron). Because it well and truly is!
for the sweet shortcrust pastry
- 250 g cold butter cubed
- 400 g flour
- 100 g icing sugar
- zest of 1 lemon
- 2 egg yolks
- 3-4 T ice water
for the filling
- 500 ml cream
- 250 g sugar
- 9 extra-large free range eggs
- 250 ml lemon juice
- zest of 2 lemons
- To make the pastry, combine the butter, icing sugar, flour and lemon zest in the bowl of a food processor.
- Pulse until the mixture resembles rough bread crumbs.
- Add the egg yolks and with the blender running, pour in the water, spoon by spoon until the mixture comes together in a ball.
- Turn the mixture out onto a floured surface and shape into 2 discs. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 15 minutes.
- Pre-heat the oven to 180°c. Roll the chilled pastry out on a floured surface and press into 2x 28cm tart cases.
- Blind bake the pastry for 10 minutes then remove the baking paper and baking beans and return the pastry back to the oven for another 10 minutes to finish baking.
- Remove and set aside while you make the filling. Turn the oven down to 100°c.
- For the filling, heat the cream and sugar in a saucepan until small bubbles appear around the edge of the pan, do not allow to boil.
- In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs.
- When the cream is hot, slowly pour into the eggs, whilst continuously whisking.
- Pour in the lemon juice and lemon zest and mix well.
- Strain the mixture into a jug and carefully pour into the baked tart cases.
- Bake the tart for 50 minutes until the edges are set and the centre is still slightly jiggly.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature before placing in the fridge to cool completely.
- When you are ready to serve, slice the tart and serve with a dusting of icing sugar.
- Blind baking: Line the pastry with a round of baking paper and add baking beans, dried beans or rice.
- This recipe makes 2x28cm tarts. If you don't want to make two, simply freeze the remaining pastry and filling for another time. Alternatively, you could use the remaining filling to make little lemon pots. Just pour the filling into oven-proof ramekins and bake with the tart until the pots are a little jiggly in the middle, then cool and eat.