French Lemon Tart or Tartlets


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 (madeleinescrème 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.

Special equipment:

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

4 eggs

120 g confectioner’s sugar

(grated lemon zest)

(brown sugar)

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.


41 Replies to “French Lemon Tart or Tartlets”

  1. This sounds really good. I don’t think I have ever tasted a good lemon tart. Its strange but avoiding cream and using only butter would make it seem light. I’ve heard chefs say when describing recipes ‘add cream or butter to lighten’:)

    1. Thank you, Mr. Three-Cookies. I think making a good lemon tart requires fresh, “real” ingredients and a good balance between savoury and sweet. I think most bakers tend to sweeten too much tarts and also maybe use cheaper substitutes (for example not the fresh juice)… Well, apparently “light” doesn’t always mean “diet” 😉 Frankly if I added here cream cheese instead of butter, the tart would be more “diet” (especially with low-fat cream cheese), but heavier in taste. French tart or quiche pastry cases are also very light and thin.

        1. You are totally right although the French cuisine has got lighter in the last 30 years. Even sweets and desserts are lighter (remember the crème brûlée? I will never forget you have made it; I was so ashamed for having such a short memory!).
          Talking about mayonnaise, actually the French make excellent light mayonnaise (some are so good it’s hard to tell they are low-fat).

  2. I’m so glad you reposted these!! I do like your ingredients so much better than those with condensed milk!! These remind me of Spring time and ladies luncheons!!

    1. Thank you, Linda. I’m happy you like this version. Strangely butter tastes lighter than condensed milk and maybe also doesn’t hide the lemon taste.

  3. What lovely tartlets Sissi! They are so elegant. I think it is the height of cuisine to make something not really light appear light to the senses. When that happens it is no longer cooking, its art.

    1. Thank you so much, Zsuzsa for such kind and flattering words. Luckily, this is not my recipe and I can admit this tart by Alain Ducasse represents the height of French home desserts (the non-home desserts are too scary for me to try).

      1. I revisited to freshen my memory as it seems I DID see this post. Is it difficult to blind bake tartlets with having to line and add dried beans to each individual tartlet? I would think the large version would be easier to manage as you don’t have to do quite so much fiddling. My biggest difficulty however is a recipe that requires weighting ingredients especially since I don’t bake that often and I’m unlikely to invest in scales that are that precise.

        1. Tartlets do take more time, but they are not more difficult (assuming you have cutting circles). They are cuter and I don’t have to bother with ugly slices afterwards. I have round pieces of baking paper I have cut out and have been regularly using to put on the crust and then place the beans (I have noticed beans stick to tarts). I also find tartlets make portion controlling easier for me (and this might be quite difficult with tart slices…).
          If you don’t have scales online converters are everywhere. I have been using them for years, while using cookery books, blogs, websites from US or UK (and it has never crossed my mind to skip a recipe just because it’s in ounces or in cups). I have a link (right column of my blog, just below “recent posts”) to Charles’s converter which is very well made.
          Recently, I have also started using converters even more often to “translate” my ingredients into ounces or/and cups for those who don’t use grams, but I started doing it after posting this recipe. From my experience it takes 5-10 minutes maximum to convert a recipe, so doing this myself all the time I have never thought it’s a big problem, but I’m sorry if you find most of my recipes useless (or maybe actually all of them… I assumed converting to ounces makes things quicker and easier too…).

          1. As you know I HAVE made your recipes so I don’t consider them useless. I’ve also converted Charles’ recipes which are similarly written. However, I am more likely to look for a recipe in units which don’t require taking the extra step of converting since the internet has a lot of recipes to choose from. Mls are not a problem since my glass measuring cup has oz, cups and ml measurements. 🙂

            I don’t run into conversion issues TOO often as they’re usually baked items/desserts and I don’t make them too often. I recently converted Charle’s Bachkoutou (Tunisian almond biscuits) recipe and printed it out so I can give them a try.

  4. This dessert match perfectly for my liking. I really really want to eat this. But the whole process scares me Sissi. It’s a big dilemma. Never made crust from scratch (remember I’m a puff pasty person?)…I didn’t even know why people put beans on top (I was going to ask when you started to say we need beans, but you explained why later – thanks!)…I’m just super beginner and scared to bake. I hate to keep drooling only by looking at this! If I ever visit you, please bake this for me! Or hopefully I could bake this on my own till then… bookmark!!!

    1. Thank you so much, Nami. I think this tart and tartlets go very well with Asian cuisine, also Japanese.
      This crust is really easy. The only difficult part is rolling out but you can spread it with your fingers (children can be helpful here!). The beans may sound scary but only for the first time. Then you get used.
      You are welcome whenever you wish! I would be more than happy to share these with you 🙂

  5. Oooohhh … my cheeks are puckering with the thought of biting into one of these!!
    I love anything lemony and esp a good lemon custard WITHOUT condensed milk. I have never liked adding condensed milk in a dessert. I feel that it has a distinct flavor on its own and waaaay too sweet and cloying.

    1. Thank you so much, Ping. The only thing I love with condensed milk is making dulce de leche… Otherwise it’s too sweet and somehow always has a very strong taste of powdered milk.

    1. Thank you so much, Charlie. I feel that lemon desserts give me more energy and wake me up in the Winter, but they cool me down and are very refreshing in the Summer. In short, I never get tired of them.

    1. Thank you so much, Barb. (Luckily you haven’t seen the old photo!). I hope your try this French delicate version one day and I hope you will love it as much as I do.

  6. The only tarts I have ever made are egg tarts – maybe you have heard of these, they look very similar to your lemon tartlets. I can imagine that adding a zest of lemon would make the tarts taste even more wonderful!

    1. Hi CG, I have never heard of egg tartlets. They sound very intriguing. Lemon zest (and/or juice) makes all the basic recipes special.

  7. Oh Sissi, I absolutely adore lemon tarts and this recipe sounds right up my alley. The idea of a thin almond crust is very appealing to me and I love the more restrained use of sugar in the filling allowing the lemon to actually taste… well, tart! (the way it was meant to in my humble opinion ;)). It’s interesting what you say about the condensed milk/cream in the filling – I’ve never made a tart with these elements but I bet I’ve tasted many from stores; restos… I’m loving your version!

    1. Thank you so much, Kelly. I must say the thing I love about Alain Ducasse’s recipes (do you read in French? If you do you should absolutely have this book) is that without any foreward or warning his recipes are slightly lightened or updated typical French bisto recipes, but never taste “diet”. His crème brûlée (half milk half cream) is so good I no longer order the old-fashioned all-cream one in restaurants and these tartlets are surprisingly… tart! (Thank you! I must remember the pun next time I talk about it 😉 )

  8. Sissi, I`m so sorry for my late response on this post! Congratulations on your reposted lemon tart! I still remember how I enjoyed the delicious and tangy lemon curd with the buttery crust. From that day, I guess my mind goes to you whenever I see lemon tarts 😀 Thanks for sharing this and have a nice weekend, Sissi!

    1. Thank you so much, Arudhi, for another kind comment. I am really grateful for your digging out this recipe! You have motivated me to remake the photo which was also an excuse to make some lemon tartlets 😉 I am very happy you have enjoyed the tart!

  9. Hi Sissi,

    I love French lemon tarts – the wonderful acidity from the lemon when you take a big bite is a wonderful contrast to the sweet, slightly fatty pastry. I never tried making my own – usually too lazy and go to the patisserie 😀 They look really good – a beautiful colour too!

    The book you have sounds really interesting. I have a copy of The Les Halles Cookbook by Anthony Bourdain which has some really lovely sounding recipes in it, which I keep meaning to try as well!

    By the way, I bought some of that Savora this weekend, on your recommendation. Immediately on opening the jar I was reminded of something very specific which I love, so hopefully I will post a recipe for that very soon too!

    1. Thank you so much, Charles. I really recommend this book, but have a look first in a book shop because he has written also other books which might be more interesting for you. If everything goes well, I will post very soon another of his recipes I love…
      I have never read Les Halles, but only his biography. Very interesting. I have also greatly enjoyed his tv program about food discoveries all around the world.
      I hope you don’t regret my recommendation. Savora is not something I would use every day, but since it’s cheap and different from the basic mustard, I thought you might enjoy the discovery… I’m looking forward to reading about the recipe you mention!

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