Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Lemon Meringue Tart

Lessons Learned From Baking Today's Lemon Meringue Tart (a.k.a. A Comedy Of Errors):

1. There comes a time in every baker's life when the thought of using TWO sticks of butter in one recipe for tart dough won't send you into a dark corner to cry in a fetal position. Sometimes, you need to recognize that such a time has not yet arrived and stop fighting mental battles with yourself that make you seem like the crazy lady on the corner because you mutter butter measurements under your breath half the day.

2. Never, ever say snottily that your pate sucree never shrinks. First off, half the people won't understand what the heck "pate sucree" is, and secondly, you will have offended some sort of baking gods because the very next time you try to make a tart, your pate sucree will indeed slide down the sides of your tart pan and smirk at you from those lows, just to spite you.

3. Lemons are tart. Very tart. Also, they tend to squirt straight at you if you aren't paying attention while hand-squeezing the juice.

4. While whipped egg-whites aren't tart, they too tend to squirt all over the place if you carelessly spoon them into a pastry bag and squeeze without making sure all the air has gone out of the bag first.

5. Don't overload your tart with the lemon curd and then give it a good shove into the oven so that the lemon curd spills and drips into the most hard to clean places (are we seeing a pattern here?)

6. Clean up is a b***h, especially when it involves lemon juice, lemon curd and sticky meringue in big dollops all over your kitchen.

7. If you can't make your egg whites stand up hard and tall, it's the fault of your technique and not of the egg whites (*snicker*).

8. Even after everything goes incredibly wrong almost every step of the way, it is still possible that in the end, it will turn out oh, so right (at least this time).

I'm not going to tell you how delicious this tart was (and I say was because I have a feeling its life-span is going to be shorter than a fruit fly's). No, I'm not even going to mention what the subtle crunch of the almonds in the crust and the silky smooth tartness of the lemon curd did for our taste buds. I won't describe the clouds and clouds of light, sweet meringue. You simply have to make it and see for yourself because some things in life just defy description.

Lemon Meringue Tart*

For the pate sucree:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup finely ground almonds
4 1/2 tsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick (8 tbsp) cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk
2 tbsp ice water

For the lemon curd:
3/4 cup granulated sugar (less if you like more tartness)
2 tbs all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
3 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
3 tbsp heavy cream

For the meringue:
4 egg whites, at room temperature
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup granulated sugar

First make the crust. It's important here that all ingredients are kept as cold as possible so that the crust is nice and flaky, so if you aren't using something, put it in the refrigerator until you need it. Whisk flour, sugar and salt until combined. Cut the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry cutter until mixture resembles coarse meal.

Lightly beat the yolk with ice water, and add this in a steady stream to the dough, incorporating with a fork until dough just holds together. If the dough is too dry, add one teaspoon at a time more of iced water, sprinkling it in until the dough just holds together. Turn out onto a work surface, shape into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour (or up to 2 days). After an hour, take the dough out and roll it on a floured surface to the desired shape, making it a little larger than your tart pan(s). This recipe yields 1 standard sized crust or 4 smaller crusts.

Butter the tart pan(s) and gently press the crust into them, sealing the cracks. If you are afraid of shrinkage (*snicker*), make sure the dough ends a little higher than your tart pan's edge. Bake at 350F for 20-22 min or until the crust is golden. Cool completely.

Make the lemon curd. In a bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour and salt. Add the eggs, lemon juice and cream and whisk until just blended. Carefully pour the mixture over the baked crust.

Make the meringue. In a very dry and clean bowl, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar, salt and vanilla extract until soft peaks form. Add the sugar a little at a time, beating until it forms stiff, glossy peaks. Put big dollops over the tart making sure it covers the edge of the crust (so the crust doesn't burn, and also so you can cover up any shrinking that has gone on despite you very best efforts to prevent it, gah). Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until meringue is golden. The filling won't be completely set at this point - you will need to bring the tart to room temperature and then let it chill in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.

*For this tart, I adapted several different recipes from all over the place (Martha Stewart, Williams-Sonoma, my own imagination, etc.). The only thing I would do differently next time is to completely pre-bake the crust (I only partially baked it) and also to make the meringue a wee bit less sweet. The lemon curd here is tart and sweet (if you like you can reduce the amount of sugar in the lemon curd also), so I would have wanted the meringue to be more about softness and texture than sweetness. I wrote the instructions according to how I would do it next time, but if you like, you can add an extra 1/4 cup of sugar to the meringue to make it sweeter.


Anonymous said...

Irene!! Yum! The meringue looks like it could float away. :)

Anonymous said...

Irene, I must try it! I have to admit, I am not a fan of adding lemon to any dessert, however this looks and sounds so delicious that I must try it.

Heather B said...

Oh my. That looks sooo delicious!

Irene said...

Lauren - Thanks! I loved photographing it. My husband had to drag me away so that he can eat it.

SD - do not fear the lemons!

Heather - thanks :) I heard A.'s moans of ecstasy from downstairs, lol.

Linnea Eileen said...

Heavens! That looks good enough to tempt me to go to all that effort to make it.