Passing a recipe from one person to another is a practice that deserves some attention. Like getting a letter, a recipe reminds you of something – a memory, a friend, a moment – and today I made a little dessert that my darling souris taught me to make. Though I’ve made it since our last encounter, I think that handwritten recipe page complete with images of dancing lemons will always make me smile. What’s more – I’ve not yet failed this recipe, which at first glance seems a wee bit complicated.
When in France (oh so many moons ago…), I NEVER ate lemon tarts (tarte au citron for those who have visited ze land of wine and cheese). I didn’t like the taste or the texture, finding it to be far too bitter a choice when situated next to the oh so sweet and visually appealing tarte aux fraises…creme patissière…miam….but I digress.
When Pauline decided, in a spur of the moment frenzy of Sunday afternoon decisions, to prepare this delicious creation, I was skeptical…lemons….meringue….together ?! It was, however, warm and creamy, just sweet enough to tingle the tastebuds without leaving them thick and mute. I think it’s safe to say I fell in love with the shortbread crust, lemon curd, and delicate floufs (yes, floufs – what would YOU call them ?) of meringue topping.
And so it happened that I purchased lemons. Eggs. Butter. A 10 pound bag of sugar (it was on sale…). Oh. And I brought a champion whisk from home with me to school – all in preparation for the serious whisking needed to make this treat.
Without further ado, I present to you Pauline’s “tarte au citron meringuée” or lemon meringue tart.
For the crust :
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
7 tbsp butter (almost a stick !)
Preheat oven to 375F. Combine the flour and butter and sugar in a bowl. Mix together either with a fork or with your hands (I start with a fork and move to hand kneading…) until crumbly.
Add the egg and continue to mix until very malleable – it ought to look like dough, very easy to pinch.
Press into the bottom of a tart pan (or a cake pan – I used a 9” round cake pan lined in tin foil) until evenly distributed. Score with a fork to prevent air bubbles while cooking.
Place pan in oven and cook until golden brown – about 15 minutes. You will probably smell the crust and know then that it is done cooking. Let cool in pan.
For the curd :
Juice of 4 lemons (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
7 tbsp butter (almost a stick !)
2 egg yolks + 1 whole egg
2 tbsp flour
Juice ALL OF THOSE LEMONS.
(I had a difficult time…but ended up with just enough juice.) In a pot, combine the lemon juice and half the sugar (1/4 cup) and whisk over medium heat.
Let this come to a rolling boil for a few minutes (this is to make sure the sugar is well-dissolved into the lemon juice). In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, egg yolks, flour and sugar. Make sure this is nice and light – don’t be afraid to put some elbow grease into the situation !
Once the lemon juice is ready (and so is the egg yolk mixture) temper the yolks by pouring half the boiling sugar combination into the egg yolks and whisking fiercely. Then, pour the NEW egg mix into the leftover lemon/sugar pan. Whisk AGAIN and place back on the heat (reduce the heat though – down to low ought to be fine).
I know this is a lot of work, but whisk whisk whisk so that clumps of cooked egg yolk don’t form – it’s just not elegant – and you end up with a NICE, SMOOTH, VELVETY custard. 🙂 Once the curd has thickened (this will happen quickly), remove from heat and stir in the butter 1 tablespoon at a time.
Pour the finished product into the pie crust and use the back of a spoon to flatten. Let glaze while you prepare the meringue topping.
For the meringue :
2 egg whites (leftover from the curd)
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of salt or cream of tartar
Place the whites, salt, and/or cream of tartar in a clean bowl. With a CLEAN whisk (any impurities will make it very difficult to whip the egg whites), beat those egg whites until they hold peaks all on their own – probably the “soft peaks” stage – I think they look like clouds.
Add the sugar and continue to whisk until the egg white mixture thickens – your arm will probably be quite exhausted by the end of this experience if you don’t use an electric mixer (like me) but I promise, it’s worth it in the end…
Set the oven to broil. When it is the consistency of marshmallow fluff, pour it onto the lemon curd and smooth it out with the back of a spoon.
I like to make little peaks on top – these will broil nicely – and I just stick the back of the spoon on top of the meringue and lift up gently – you’ll get a lovely little flouf.
Place the tart into the oven and broil for about 3 minutes – be sure to watch the tart because it has a tendency to burn (!) and that wouldn’t be fun…or delicious. Use your nose – it will smell like toasted marshmallow in the house when the tart is done.
Let cool and serve !
Bon appétit ! 🙂