It’s a lovely Easter evening and I’ve just spent the day with my in-laws, including two of my nieces (I’m lucky enough to have two little English ones and two older American ones), my SIL and her mister, and my MIL.  And the Wondermutt, of course.  It was a perfect afternoon, filled with sunshine, giggling girls and nice chats with family … and food, loads of good food.

Since my MIL made our lunch, I offered to bring dessert.  To go with the lazy sunshine, warm breezes and heavily scented lilacs, I made a lemon cream tart.  And, let’s be frank, there is nothing else on the planet that is as rich, luscious and velvety smooth as Dorie Greenspan’s lemon cream tart that she featured in her Baking from My Home to Yours cookbook.  She makes it with a sweet tart dough but I think this would be equally yummy with a graham cracker crust – particularly if you mix in some ginger snaps.

Lemon Cream Tart

  • 1 cup sugar
  • zest of 4 lemons
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 cup lemon juice
  • 10 1/2 oz butter, cut into cubes

Sweet Tart Dough

  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 4.5 oz very cold butter, cubed
  • 1 egg yolk

One of the best baking tips I’ve ever read was Dorie’s suggestion that, anytime you’re making something that involves zest, that you measure out your sugar then rub in the zest using your fingertips so that the graininess of the sugar helps release the oils and the flavor.  So, use a large bowl that will fit over a pot, then pour in the sugar and rub in the lemon zest before whisking in your eggs until the mixture is light and creamy.  Place the bowl over a large pot of simmering water (the water shouldn’t touch the bowl) and continue whisking as the eggs start to cook.  Add the lemon juice and continue to cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture starts to thicken.  Dorie recommends that you cook it until it reaches 180 degrees – since I can’t find my thermometer, I cooked it until it left a trail by the whisk and would cling to the whisk when I lifted it up.  Remove the bowl from the simmering water and let it cool slightly (again, Dorie recommends that it drop to 140 – I say that it goes from too hot to touch to hot, but not unbearable).  If you have a blender, pour the mixture in – or, if you’re like I am and use an immersion blender, you can leave the mixture in the bowl – then, begin dropping in the butter about 4 or 5 cubes at a time, blending well until all the butter is incorporated and the mixture is smooth.  This emulsifies the butter in the mixture – sort of like a bernaise sauce.  Pour into a tupperware, place a layer of plastic wrap on the surface and pop it in the fridge to chill. 

In the meantime, while the lemon cream is chilling, make the tart dough in a food processor.  If you don’t have a processor (I don’t), you can make it carefully in a standing mixer, as long as you don’t overwork the flour and make it tough.  First, sift together the flour, sugar and salt to remove any lumps.  Either blend in the butter or use the paddle attachment to mix it in – I do it in pulses.  This keeps the flour from poofing up over the edges as well as prevent overworking.  When the flour is in pea-sizes, add the yolk and pulse again.  If it doesn’t come together (mine usually doesn’t), add really cold water a tablespoon at a time just until the dough starts to form. 

Preheat your oven to 375 F and line your tart shell with some parchment paper, then start to make your crust.  Taking a piece of tart dough at a time, press it into the tart shell until it’s fully lined – I use a juice glass to smooth out the bottom.  Line the dough with foil or parchment paper and weigh it down with dried beans, smoothing all over the tart, making sure the entire dough is covered and weighted.  Blind bake for 25-27 minutes, then take out of the oven and remove the parchment paper and beans.  If the bottom still feels a little underdone, pop the dough back in the oven for another 5 minutes or so.

Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove the tart from the tin (keeping it on the base) and let it cool for another 15 minutes.  By that time, you should be able to gently slide the crust off the paper and onto your serving dish.  When the crust is completely cool, pour in the chilled filling and use a spatula to smooth the top.  Feel free to add thinly slices stawberries or raspberries to decorate – me, I like it plain.