As much as I dislike pairing sweet and sour flavours in savoury dishes, I have always found it irresistible in desserts and the French Lemon Tart represents for me the apotheosis of this combination. I have written about it a long time ago, but the photo was far from appetising and the recipe passed almost unnoticed. I am very grateful to Arudhi from The Box of Kitchen, who has recently dug out my old post, baked the tart and, most of all, enjoyed the results. Her experience and kind compliments made me decide to change the photo, to add some important explanations and to re-post this extraordinary recipe, sharing it with all those who have a passion for tangy desserts.
Even though lemon tart (or pie) is popular in many countries, the thin crust and the absence of cream, flour or condensed milk in the filling make the French version the most subtle and particularly light (by “light” I mean taste, since the tart is far from being low-fat or low-calorie). I don’t know if it’s the thin, crumbly, buttery, almond crust, the delicate, falsely light filling, the perfect balance between the sweet and the tangy or simply the combination of all the flavours, but this is the only tart I can easily finish on my own in two sessions. Served after a nourishing and heavy meal it is a refreshing relief for the palate. For me it is the ideal ending of a spicy meal, such as Beef Rendang, Indian or Thai curry.
The recipe comes from “Le Grand Livre de Cuisine d’Alain Ducasse: Bistrots, Brasseries et Restaurants de Tradition”, a highly reliable source of French recipes I recommend to everyone. This one is as foolproof as other Ducasse’s recipes I have made (madeleines, crème brûlée or my transformation into Matcha Crème Brûlée), but has to be followed attentively without skipping or simplifying any stages.
TIPS: If you wish – and have a blowtorch – you can sprinkle the tart with brown sugar and burn it before serving, like crème brûlée. (Personally I prefer it simple or with some grated lemon zest.)
You can make either one big tart or, as you see on the above photo, individual tartlets (with the amounts below you will obtain about 12 standard tartlets). The tartlets are in my opinion easier to make. If you decide to make individual tartlets, cut down the baking time as advised below.
beans for blind baking (I have been using the same real dried cheap beans for several years now)
Preparation: 1 hour + 2 hours in the fridge
Ingredients (one 28 cm diameter tart or about 12 standard tartlets):
100 g flour
30 g ground or powdered almonds
90g softened butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons caster sugar
200 ml lemon juice
100 g butter
120 g confectioner’s sugar
(grated lemon zest)
Prepare the pastry case.
Mix the butter, the almonds, the salt and the sugar in a food processor. When these ingredients are mixed thoroughly, add the flour and mix again.
Stop when you see a big ball is being formed.
(You may also knead the pastry without the food processor, but then you have to do this very quickly, maximum 5 minutes, pushing with the heel of your hand and minimising the use of your fingers, otherwise the tart will be too crumbly.)
Wrap the dough in a cling film and put into the fridge for at least 30 minutes (you can leave it there up to 48 hours).
Take it out of the fridge and let it soften a bit before using it.
Roll it thinly with a rolling pin (I would advise 1/2 cm) and line the tart pan or individual tartlets forms. (If you don’t manage to roll it out, you can wait until it softens more and spread it with your fingers).
Pick the surface with a fork and place it into the fridge for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 150°C.
Take out the tart dish from the fridge.
Cover the flat surface with a baking sheet and put some dried beans on it. This way the pastry will not rise.
Precook the tart shell (or tartlets shells) until it’s no longer raw, but still white. Take it out, put the beans back into their jar and let the tart shell cool.
Lower the oven temperature to 130°C.
Melt the butter in a pan. Put aside.
Break the eggs in a bowl, add the sugar, the lemon juice and the warm butter. Stir well.
Pour the lemon filling on the warm (not hot) tart shell (or individual shells) and bake it at 130°C for about 30 minutes (or 15-20 minutes if making individual tartlets), depending on the oven (when the tart is moved the surface should be only slightly trembling in the centre).
Let it cool down and put into the fridge for at least two hours.
Take it out of the fridge no more than 30 minutes before serving (it must be cold, but the pastry should soften a bit). At the last moment either sprinkle it with fresh lemon zest or gently pat it dry with paper towels, sprinkle with brown sugar and burn it, or simply serve it as it is.