Dorie Greenspan defines the difference between a pie and a tart: a tart gives equal billing to all three components: the crust, the filling and the topping, if there is one. Every bite contains equal amounts of each. Pies, on the other hand, have more filling, a little less topping and even less crust.
So here's the thing: the crust of a tart has got to be really good. Once that's made, everything else is a breeze. Nothing is simpler than a lemon tart. I'm going to give you the crust recipe first; you'll find this makes a flaky, perfect crust. The trick is to use a solid shortening like Crisco along with butter. It's simple enough to make in a food processor. Now if you're anything like me, you'll mess it up rolling it out. But tarts are very forgiving; if you screw up, fix it by repairing it with your fingers. Just try not to over-handle the dough, that's a great big No No.
Here's a question for you: when someone puts a piece of pie or tart in front of you, where do you cut your first forkful? At the foremost point facing you? Well, I go to the back and cut a corner of the crust first. As far as I'm concerned if the crust is no good, I'm not wasting the calories.
This recipe makes enough for 2 crusts. Use one now and freeze the other.
2-1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1-1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
5 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening,cold
One 9 inch tart pan, with fluted edges and a removable bottom
Place the flour, sugar and salt in your food processor. Pulse a couple times.
Add the butter and shortening all at once and pulse 5-10 times or until the mixture forms moist crumbs. Sprinkle four tablespoons of ice water over the crumbs and pulse just until the dough comes together. It should barely be together- not a ball.
Bring the dough together on a floured surface to form a disc and cut it in half. Wrap the discs in in plastic wrap. You can freeze one disc now for use later. Refrigerate the other half for at least 30 minutes.
For this tart, we need a par-baked crust. Roll out the dough on a floured surface to 3/8 inch thick. Fit the dough into your tart pan. I use a rolling pin across the top of the tart pan to cut the extra dough off.
Prick holes in the bottom of the tart with a fork, line it with tin foil and fill with weights or beans. Bake in a 400° oven for 10 minutes. Carefully remove from the oven and take out the foil and weights. Return to the oven for another 5 minutes. Cool on a rack.
Now for the filling. Only four ingredients. Eggs, sugar, lemon and cream. How easy is that? I've had tarts filled with a lemon curd and others with a creamier filling. I like a mixture; not too much filling and not as tart as lemon curd. And I'm a purist. No whipped cream on top, no piped meringue; at most, a dusting of confectioners sugar.
I was fortunate enough to find some Meyer lemons for my tart too.
Has anyone ever told you why Meyer lemons are so good? The Meyer lemon is a hybrid, a cross between a regular lemon and either an orange or a mandarin, slightly sweeter than a regular lemon. Frank Meyer, a plant explorer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, found them growing near Peking and introduced them to the U.S. in 1908. They're grown mainly in California, but Texas and Florida grow them too. The season starts around November and lasts through January, although often a month or so longer. I was lucky to find some this late in the season.
Baked Lemon Tart
From Once Upon a Tart by Frank Mentesana and Jerome Audureau
1 par-baked crust
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
zest of 1 lemon
3/4 cup lemon juice (from about 4 lemons)
3/4 cup heavy cream
Preheat oven to 350°.
Whisk the eggs and yolks together. While still whisking, add the sugar, then the lemon juice, rind and then the cream.
Pour this mixture into your par-baked shell. Fill it to within 1/8 inch from the top edge.
CAREFULLY place the tart on the center rack of your oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the filling is firm to the touch and doesn't jiggle when you shake the pan.
Set on a rack to cool. Remove tart from pan very carefully.