As a baker, there are often a few recipes that if you can conquer, you feel like you’re done. You’ve achieved everything. You can put your metaphorical feet up and bask in the glory that is such an achievement, and you will never need to bake again, at least not to prove yourself, because you’ve made it, and as far as you’re concerned, you can make smiley face biscuits for the rest of your life. That’s how much you’ve made it.
These recipes are the ones created by 3 Michelin-star chefs and have at least 20 ingredients, five of which you can’t pronounce, and about 30 steps. Either that, or they’re recipes that are so old that they’ve been perfected for about 500 years to the point that there is really no point in trying to make them, because the end result would have to be so perfect that it’s basically impossible to please the task-masters who have been doing the perfecting for 500 years (yes, they’re still alive). Oh and on top of that, you have to prove to yourself that the end result is good enough, and when it comes to baking, that’s difficult to do (it also doesn’t help when you’re a perfectionist)!
But recently, I had one of these moments. I was finished. I was done. I’d made the perfect lemon tart and there was nothing left for me to accomplish in life. Why do I need a mortgage on a house and a perfect family when I’ve already conquered lemon tart? (Let’s not forget that lemon tart is a French recipe, thereby increasing the intensity of both the expectations and the sense of accomplishment, shall we say, twentyfold?)
So long story short, I found and made the perfect lemon tart, and no, it wasn’t Mary Berry’s recipe (it’s a shock, I know, and I’m also hoping that, even though it’s terribly unlikely, that she’ll never see this post ever, because insulting Mary Berry would undo any good feelings produced by conquering the lemon tart)!
You may not think that lemon tart is a particularly difficult recipe. And, granted, there are no tricky ingredients in here. But, it’s the other sort of recipe I mentioned before – it’s an old recipe that has been perfected over time. And not just perfected in terms of flavour, but also in terms of technique. And technique is terrifying for an untrained baker…plus, technically, lemon tart is pastry, and if I’m an untrained baker, I’m certainly and very, very untrained pastry chef! (Plus, add into the mix that it’s technically called tart au citron…and that in itself just adds another element of stress).
But anyway, the best lemon tarts have a strong, tangy lemon flavour and a very smooth texture. The pastry should be firm but flaky and buttery. And the pastry should be properly cooked through with no signs of sogginess. The top of the tart cannot be cracked, and similarly the pastry should be the same thickness all the way around the tart, and should not be at all damaged. That may not sound like much, but all of these things can happen easily out of your control. But give it a shot, and if it does crack, just chuck some edible flowers on top and make it look amazing. It’s well worth it!
Lemon Tart (Tart au Citron)
Adapted from The Cook’s Book
Pastry Ingredients (to fit a 26cm tin)
200g plain white flour
120g soft butter
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
75g icing sugar
25g almond meal
1 small egg
- Place the flour, salt and butter in a food processor. Blitz until it combines.
- Add the vanilla, icing sugar and almond meal and keep blitzing until it’s all mixed in. Then finally add the egg slowly – only add as much as is required to bring the pastry together. Don’t over mix it! Just blitz until it comes together then wrap it in plastic wrap and leave in the fridge for about 2-4 hours.
- When ready, roll out the pastry on a floured surface to fit the tin. It should be a few millimetres thick. Try to shape the pastry into a ball before you roll it, which will help shape it into a round when you roll it. Also, don’t roll the pastry back and forth, instead roll it out from the middle and keep turning the pastry as you go to make a circular shape.
- Spray your chosen tin with canola oil and line it with the pastry. Trim any excess pastry off. Make sure you press the pastry firmly into the bottom corner of the tin, as this will ensure it has a good shape.
- Place a sheet of baking paper over the pastry in the tin and fill with baking weights or rice (this is blind baking). Then bake it at 180C fan-forced for about 15-20 minutes, then remove the weights and baking paper and bake for another 5-10 minutes until the pastry is completely dry on the bottom and slightly golden.
Filling Ingredients (to fit a 26cm tin)
zest of 5 lemons
240g caster sugar
160ml lemon juice
300g soft butter
- Combine lemon zest and sugar in a heatproof bowl and rub together until fragrant.
- Add the eggs and whisk together. Then add the lemon juice and whisk to combine. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, making sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water, and cook whisking all the time until the mixture reaches 82-83C (use a thermometer for this!). It should look thick like custard but make sure it doesn’t heat up too much as it may curdle!
- Take the mixture off the heat and stir until it cools to 60C. Then add the butter, bit by bit, and blitz with a stick blender until it’s all combined. Then keep blitzing for 10 minutes until very smooth. I know it’s a long time, but it ensures a lovely texture in the finished product!
- Pour the mixture into the blind baked pastry case and smooth the top. Then allow to cool – it will set as it cools. Serve cool or slightly warm.