TWD – The Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart

20 May

This week’s TWD recipe was the Mandeline’s.  Since many people don’t have a mandeline pan, we were given the option of choosing any previous recipe to make this week.  I have a very sweet spot in my heart for citrus-y desserts, so I chose The Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart.

This tart was so yummy!  It was so tart, simply delicious.  Next time, I will let the cream set up longer before I put it in the crust.  This is not a recipe to hurry. 🙂

Check out the TWD Blogroll for all the fun treats this week!

The Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart

1 9-inch tart shell made with Sweet Tart Douch, Sweet Tart Dough with Nuts, or Spiced Tart Dough (see book), fully baked and cooled

1 cup sugar
Finely grated zest of 3 lemons
4 large eggs
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (from 4-5 lemons)
2 sticks plus 5 tablespoons (10-1/2 ounces)
       unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size
       pieces, at room temperature

Getting Ready: Have an instant-read thermometer, a strainer and a blender (first choice) or food processor at hand. Bring a few inches of water to a simmer in a saucepan.

Put the sugar and zest in a large heatproof bowl that can be set over the pan of simmering water. Off the heat, rub the sugar and zest together between your fingers until the sugar is moist, grainy and very aromatic.


Whisk in the eggs, followed by the lemon juice.

Set the bowl over the pan, and start stirring with the whisk as soon as the mixture feels tepid to the touch. Cook the lemon cream until it reaches 180 degrees F. As you whisk—you must whisk constantly to keep the eggs from scrambling—you’ll see that the cream will start out light and foamy, then the bubbles will get bigger, and then, as it gets closer to 180 degrees F, it will start to thicken and the whisk will leave tracks. Heads up at this point—the tracks mean the cream is almost ready. Don’t stop whisking or checking the temperature, and have patience—depending on how much heat you’re giving the cream, getting to temp can take as long as 10 minutes.

As soon as it reaches 180 degrees F, remove the cream from the heat and strain it into the container of the blender (or food processor); discard the zest. Let the cream stand, stirring occasionally, until it cools to 140 degrees F, about 10 minutes. (Hubby helped me do the straining.)

Turn the blender to high (or turn on the processor) and, with the machine going, add the butter about 5 pieces at a time. Scrape down the sides of the container as needed as you incorporate the butter. Once the butter is in, keep the machine going—to get the perfect light, airy texture of lemon-cream dreams, you must continue to blend the cream for another 3 minutes. If your machine protests and gets a bit too hot, work in 1-minute intervals, giving the machine a little rest between beats.

Pour the cream into a container, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface to create an airtight seal and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. (The cream will keep in the fridge for 4 days and, or tightly sealed, in the freezer for up to 2 months; thaw it overnight in the refrigerator.)

When you are ready to assemble the tart, just whisk the cream to loosen it and spoon it into the tart shell. Serve the tart, or refrigerate ‘until needed.

Serving: It’s a particular pleasure to have this tart when the cream is cold and the crust is at room temperature. A raspberry or other fruit coulis is nice, but not necessary; so is a little crème fraîche. I know it sounds odd to offer something as rich as crème fraîche with a tart like this, but it works because the lemon cream is so light and so intensely citric, it doesn’t taste or feel rich.

Storing: While you can make the lemon cream ahead, once the tart is constructed, it’s best to eat it the day it is made.

Sweet Tart Dough

Storing: Well wrapped, the dough can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 2 months. While the fully baked crust can be packed airtight and frozen for up to 2 months, I prefer to freeze the unbaked crust in the pan and bake it directly from the freezer—it has a fresher flavor. Just add about 5 minutes to the baking time.

In French, this dough is called pâte sablée because it is buttery, tender and sandy (that’s what sablée means). It’s much like shortbread, and it’s ideal for filling with fruit, custard or chocolate.

The simplest way to make a tart shell with this dough is to press it into the pan. You can roll out the dough, but the high proportion of butter to flour and the inclusion of confectioners’ sugar makes it finicky to roll. I always press it into the pan, but if you want to roll it, I suggest you do so between sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper or inside a rolling slipcover (see page 491 of the book).

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons)
          very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk

Put the flour, confectioners’ sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine.

Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in—you should have some pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and some the size of peas.

Stir the yolk, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses—about 10 seconds each—until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. Just before you reach this stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change—heads up.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface and, very lightly and sparingly, knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.

To press the dough into the pan: Butter a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan, using all but one little piece of dough, which you should save in the refrigerator to patch any cracks after the crust is baked. Don’t be too heavy-handed—press the crust in so that the edges of the pieces cling to one another, but not so hard that the crust loses its crumbly texture. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.

To partially or fully bake the crust: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and fit the foil, buttered side down, tightly against the crust. (Since you froze the crust, you can bake it without weights.) Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon. For a partially baked crust, patch the crust if necessary, then transfer the crust to a cooling rack (keep it in its pan).

To fully bake the crust: Bake for another 8 minutes or so, or until it is firm and golden brown. (I dislike lightly baked crusts, so I often keep the crust in the oven just a little longer. If you do that, just make sure to keep a close eye on the crust’s progress—it can go from golden to way too dark in a flash.) Transfer the tart pan to a rack and cool the crust to room temperature before filling.

To patch a partially or fully baked crust, if necessary: If there are any cracks in the baked crust, patch them with some of the reserved raw dough as soon as you remove the foil. Slice off a thin piece of the dough, place it over the crack, moisten the edges and very gently smooth the edges into the baked crust. If the tart will not be baked again with its filling, bake for another 2 minutes or so, just to take the rawness off the patch.

 Sweet Tart Dough with Nuts: This dough has a slightly more assertive flavor than Sweet Tart Dough above, but you can use the two interchangeably. For the nut dough, reduce the amount of flour to 1-1/4 cups and add 1/4 cup finely ground almonds (or walnuts, pecans or pistachios).

Of Lemon Cream and Pierre Hermé

I am thankful to Pierre Hermé, France’s king of pastry, for many things, chief among them his friendship—we have written two books together—and his lemon cream. When we were just beginning work on our first book, Pierre explained the cream to me. In his typical fashion, he spoke softly, explained thoroughly and added just the meekest editorial comment: “It is nice,” he said, with a sly little gone-in-a-flash smile. I immediately put two stars next to the recipe, a note to myself to try it right away.

At first glance, you would think that the lemon cream is just another version of lemon curd—the ingredients are almost identical. What’s different is how they are treated, and it makes an enormous difference in the taste and texture.

In a curd, the eggs, lemon juice, sugar and butter are cooked together until they thicken. The result is silky, lemony and, above all, unmistakably rich and buttery. In Pierre’s lemon cream, the eggs, lemon juice and sugar—but not the butter—are cooked together until they thicken, just like curd. The mixture is then poured into a blender and allowed to cool for a few minutes. Then the butter is added, in pieces, and the cream is whipped around for a few minutes. Here’s the genius—instead of melting as it does in curd, the butter emulsifies (just as oil does in mayonnaise), so that the resulting texture is velvety and deceptively light. It is a stroke of culinary magic.

Like curd, lemon cream is a utility player. It can be spread on toast, used as a filling for cakes and pies, spooned over fruit desserts or just eaten off the spoon when no one is peeking. And, it can also be played around with, which is what I’ve done to create Creamiest Lime Cream and Meringue Pie (see the book) as well as Fresh Orange Cream Tart (see book).


20 Responses to “TWD – The Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart”

  1. Caitlin May 20, 2008 at 8:48 AM #

    I love the pic of the sugar with strands of zest – beautiful!

  2. RoRo May 20, 2008 at 9:36 AM #

    All your cooking completely boggles my mind. Think I will stick to quilting, crocheting and embrodiery. Love you Precious Angel!!!!

  3. RoRo May 20, 2008 at 9:42 AM #

    The Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart sounds most wonderfully delectable – will you make me one? I love citricsy desserts also.

  4. Garrett May 20, 2008 at 10:07 AM #

    I still have yet to make a tart…I might have to try this recipe out, and soon.

  5. lemontartlet May 20, 2008 at 12:16 PM #

    Yours is very gracefull.

  6. Melissa May 20, 2008 at 12:58 PM #

    I think that was my favorite!

  7. Christine May 20, 2008 at 1:44 PM #

    I love your step by step pics. Your tart looks delicious!

  8. Rebecca May 20, 2008 at 2:30 PM #

    Nice work! This tart was soooo lemony. Yum.

  9. CB May 20, 2008 at 2:35 PM #

    I agree with Melissa. This is one of my favorites! So glad you liked it too! Great pick!
    Clara @ I♥food4thought

  10. kdgreen May 20, 2008 at 2:57 PM #

    This was the first recipe I made from the book. I thought it was fantastic but agree about the time. Not one to be rushed.

  11. mimi May 20, 2008 at 3:09 PM #

    i really loved that tart, even if it didn’t set for me perfectly, the taste was so good! yours came out looking great!

  12. Dianne May 20, 2008 at 3:22 PM #

    Your tart looks great! I really loved this recipe.

  13. Gretchen Noelle May 20, 2008 at 5:46 PM #

    So glad you enjoyed this lemon cream tart.

  14. Tracey May 20, 2008 at 6:47 PM #

    I love your step by step pictures and the finished product looks wonderful!

  15. Cheryl May 20, 2008 at 6:51 PM #

    That recipe rocked my world, and it just got better and better with each day that passed. I think it’s my favorite TWD recipe to date. Or maybe tied with the carrot cake. Anyway, it’s awesome.

    Nice job!

  16. Susan May 20, 2008 at 10:33 PM #

    looks great! i’m gonna have to try that one – i am new as of last week and haven’t gotten to try lots of these recipes – but your pics make me want this one to be my next! come by my blog sometime – I’m going to join in your VTV group as my hubby says I need to join a group that makes actual dinner! (i thought lemon tarts WERE dinner.) hmmph. 🙂

  17. Jaime May 21, 2008 at 10:46 PM #

    i really enjoyed this tart as well! great job!

  18. Jayne May 22, 2008 at 9:03 AM #

    I loved this tart, too. Yum. Just looking at your pictures makes me want to make it again. Great job!

  19. LyB May 23, 2008 at 8:24 AM #

    This tart really is extraordinary, it was one of my favorite TWD recipes!

  20. JacqueOH May 24, 2008 at 9:46 PM #

    I almost made that too! Yours looks delish! Thanks for the how-to photos.

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