Recipe: Lemon Cream Tart

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Anybody who knows me knows how obsessed I am with lemons. They are my favorite citrus fruit because they lend an aromatic & fresh zippiness to cocktails, desserts, and savory dishes. I love lemons so much that Colleen made me a white chocolate & lemon layer cake for my wedding last year. They are also unbelievably easy to grow here in our Mediterranean climate; I have two Meyer lemon trees in my back yard that produce year-round.

When my good friend Kendra asked me to make a dessert for her wedding this last weekend, I naturally wanted to use lemons. They aren’t exactly in season, but our Indian summer had been warm around here and the thought of something heavy and seasonal like pumpkin or ginger made me sad. Lemons are perfect for warm weather because they are refreshing and light, so I decided to make Dorie Greenspan’s Lemon Cream Tart for Kendra & Dan’s wedding. Plus, I am not much of a baker, and this recipe is easy to make. I’d hate to try a new recipe and have it turn out poorly for such an important event.

This lemon cream tart recipe is one that Colleen turned me on to a few years ago. The recipe comes from Pierre Hermé (a famous French pastry chef) via Dorie Greenspan – he is her ‘pastry hero’. It’s different from regular lemon curd because of the technique used to make it. Instead of cooking all of the ingredients together at once (lemon juice/rind, butter, sugar, eggs), you just cook the lemon juice/rind, sugar and eggs until they reach 180 degrees, then let the mixture cool slightly before whipping in room temperature butter in your blender or food processor. The end result is so much lighter, creamier, and luxurious than typical lemon curd. You will never use another lemon curd recipe again after making this one.

I’ve seen a few variations of this recipe online, so I will post the one that I’ve been using from another (now defunct) blog called Eat Me Delicious. The reason I chose this version is because the sweet tart dough recipe she has does not include almond flour, which all the others do.  I try to always be aware of allergens in the foods I cook for crowds, and it seems like tree nuts are a big one. All I can say is that I am thankful that nobody there was allergic to butter. I doubled up the recipe and ended up using a total of 2 lbs of butter, nearly a dozen eggs, and an unholy amount of sugar. DELICIOUS.

Side Note: It was very warm on my friend’s wedding day, and I was concerned about the tart getting warm. This lemon cream tastes best when cold, and with the tart shell at room temperature. Here’s what I did: I made the lemon cream the night before and put it into mason jars which I placed in the refrigerator. I baked the tart shells in the morning, let them cool, carefully wrapped them for transport, and put the jars of lemon curd in a cooler with ice packs. Once I arrived at the wedding, I spooned the cold lemon curd into the pre-cooked tart shells and then decorated them with raspberries in the shape of a heart. It worked perfectly.

Lemon Cream
adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours

1 cup sugar
Grated zest of 3 lemons
4 large eggs
3/4 c fresh lemon juice (from 4-5 lemons)
2 sticks plus 5 tbsp butter (10 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon size pieces, at room temperature
1 9-inch tart shell made with sweet tart dough, fully baked (see below)

Getting ready:
Have a instant-read thermometer, a strainer and a blender or food processor ready. Bring a few inches of water to a simmer in a saucepan.

Put the sugar and zest in a large metal 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 fees tepid to the touch. Cook the lemon cream until it reaches 180 degrees F. As you whisk- you 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 180F, 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 may take as long as 10 minutes.

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

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 bend 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, cover tightly and refrigerate at least 4 hours, or overnight. (The cream will keep in the fridge for 4 days 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.

Sweet Tart Dough
Adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner’s 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, confectioner’s 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 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.

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.

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375F.

Press a sheet of buttered foil down over the surface of the frozen tart shell. 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. 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 of 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, baking for another 2 minutes or so, just to take the rawness off the patch.

Pastry How-To: Palmiers

photo 20A few weeks ago, the ladies of Winelandia got together to make some cookies. It’s true they’re cookies, but they’re also our favorite cookies, and an easy way to create something that will make someone in your life feel special. Palmiers are also called Elephant Ear cookies, among other names, and they’re made with puff pastry. While I did make my own puff pastry from scratch, you don’t have to in order to produce a successful palmier – just buy a batch of the good stuff from your local market. DuFour is the best brand I’ve tried from stores, but some local bakeries in the San Francisco area will also sell their own. I know Downtown Bakery in Healdsburg does, for example.

Puff pastry, whether you buy it or make it, will come in some kind of a rectangle shape, like this. I needed to measure mine to make sure what I was starting with was the right size.photo 9

Check out all these layers! This batch was made according to the great Rose Levy Beranbaum‘s specifications, and it has 7 turns, which results in 2187 total layers. It took about 5 hours to make.

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So anyway, you need to roll your sheet of puff pastry out to a very large, relatively thin piece of dough. Many recipes have specifications for how big, but honestly I think the thinner the better, by and large. I’d say somewhere around 1/8″ thick is perfect, which is how thick your pie crust should be if you’ve ever made pie. Before you begin rolling, spring your work surface with white sugar – maybe 1/4 cup. Then, lay your rectangle of dough down, and sprinkle the surface with another 1/4 cup of sugar. Once both sides are coated, you’ll roll the sugar into the dough, which will help it be incorporated into the cookie and caramelize with the butter in the dough. Try to keep the edges even.

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Once you’ve made a nice thin rectangle with sugar rolled into both sides, you’ll roll or fold the whole thing up from each side. I measured my dough and made a rough mark in the center so I knew where to stop. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and like I said, you can roll or fold it. Rolling will give you a rounder cookie, but you can start with maybe a 1/2″ flap and fold it inward toward the center, which will give you more of a heart-shape.

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When you finish rolling it together, wrap the log in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for an hour or so. You want it to firm up before baking.

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Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

After an hour in the fridge, take your log out, unwrap it, and slice it into 1/4″-1/2″ slices. Puff pastry expands a great deal, so even if they look small and thin, you will be rewarded in the end.

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Lay the cookies out on a cookie sheet covered with parchment or with a silicone liner, leaving plenty of space between them for expansion. Slide the trays into the oven for about 10-15 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown and delicious looking. Cool them on a wire rack and enjoy!