Lemon Tart

My father and I have been experimenting with lemon tart recipes for a year, without much success, by the way (until now). First there was the disastrous lemon tart from the New York Times, described so well by Deb of Smitten Kitchen; we had a similar inedible result. Then there were my several attempts to make a Meyer lemon confit over pastry dough crust, still way too tart. We finally chanced upon a Charlie Palmer recipe with a fabulous lemon curd filling, but his cornmeal crust tasted like baked polenta. Just didn’t work with the lemon curd. So, we took the fabulous filling and put it in a tried and true shortbread-ish crust. Dad even made a batch of candied citrus peel (you can easily skip this step) days in advance. And voilá, a truly delectable lemon tart.

Lemon Tart Recipe

Garnish with fresh mint and sneak some bites of the mint in between bites of the tart for even more fun with the flavors.

Ingredients

Candied Zest:

  • 1 cup lemon zest, julienned
  • 1 cup sugar

Crust:

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick, or 1/4 pound) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice

Lemon curd:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup creme fraiche
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

Equipment needed:

  • 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom
  • Pastry blender or two blunt dinner knives
  • Double boiler and several metal mixing bowls

Method

Candied Citrus Zest

1 Place lemon zest in a saucepan and cover with water by 1/2 inch. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat, drain the water. Fill up with water again and repeat. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, then drain. Add water again, this time adding the sugar as well. Simmer for 30 minutes, drain.

2 Spread the zest out on a sheet of parchment paper. Let dry overnight at room temperature (do not put in the refrigerator). The next day toss the zest with a little more sugar.

Make the Crust

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3 Combine flour, salt, butter, and sugar in a bowl. Use a pastry blender, or two blunt dinner knives, to cut the butter into the flour until the dough forms flaky crumbs and lumps. You can also just mix with your fingers. With a wooden spoon, mix in the egg, almond extract, and lemon juice. Continue to mix until the dough clumps; at first it may seem very dry. Shape into a ball, flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic, refrigerate at least an hour.

4 Pre-heat oven to 350°F.

5 Let the dough sit at temperature for at least 10-15 minutes before attempting to work with it. Allow the dough to relax enough to become somewhat pliable before rolling out. Roll out the disk between two sheets of parchment paper (or wax paper), to a circle 2 inches larger in diameter than your tart pan (about a 12-inch round).

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6 Press the dough into the tart pan. Use your rolling pin to level the dough along the edges of the pan. Place aluminum foil over the foil and gently mold it to the dough in the pan. Add pie weights (dried beans work well, though after you use them once for pie weights, keep them as your pie weight beans and don't try to cook with them.) Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

Lemon Curd

7 Melt butter and creme fraiche together over a double boiler, stirring to combine. (If you don't have a double boiler, bring a couple inches of water to simmer in a saucepan, place a stainless steel bowl on top of the saucepan, making sure the bottom of the bowl is not touching the simmering water.) Remove top pan from heat and set aside.

8 In a bowl over a double boiler, whisk the eggs and egg yolks just long enough to warm them. Remove from heat and beat in the butter mixture, then the lemon juice. Strain the mixture through a sieve into a clean bowl and place over the simmering water. Add the sugar and zest and whisk until warm to touch, about 4 minutes.

Assemble the Tart

9 Pour the lemon curd into the crust and bake at 350°F for 25 minutes or until set in the middle. Let cool on a rack. Chill in the refrigerator. When ready to serve, top the tart with candied lemon zest. Garnish with fresh mint.

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Recipe adapted from Charlie Palmer's Practical Guide to the New American Kitchen.

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42 Comments

  1. Alexandra

    This tart sounds delicious and is very similar to one that I make, with a cream cheese layer between the crust and the lemon curd! So tasty!

  2. Farmgirl Susan

    This looks so good, Elise. Thanks to you and your dad for doing all that recipe research. Lemon desserts are Joe’s favorite, and I’ve been promising him a lemon tart for ages (though what he really loves are baby lemon meringue tarts). I’ll definitely have to try this one. I’m sure it’ll be wonderful – assuming I don’t gobble up all the lemon curd with a spoon before it makes it into the crust. I love that stuff! ; )

  3. vanou

    Hi,

    We were also looking for the perfect Lemon pie, we found it in a book called “Classiques du Monde” from MARABOUT. The book is in French, but here the recipe translated.

    CRUST:
    225g Flour
    1 table spoon icing sugar
    140g cold butter cut up in dices
    1 egg yolk
    2 table spoon cold water

    LEMON CURD:
    75g Maizena (cornstarch)
    220g white sugar
    125g lemon juice
    310 ml water
    2 tea spoon of lemon zest
    3 egg yolks
    60g butter

    MERINGUE
    3 egg whites
    110g white sugar

    Baking the crust pretty much the same way you did.

    As for the Lemon curd, the good thing about this recipe, is that you don’t need a double boiler.
    Just mix in the Maizena and the sugar in a pot than progressively mix in the lemon juice and the water, mix and medium heat until the Lemon curd becomes thick. Lower the heat, mix 30 seconds more, mix in the lemon zest, egg yolks and butter, cover and let cool.

    You don’t have to put the MERINGUE, I’m not a fan, but my family sure is.

  4. pratfall

    I’ve been trying to come up with a way to make this kind of thing without eggs, since my girlfriend is allergic. When I’m baking, I usually substitute yogurt for eggs, but somehow I doubt mixing lemon juice and yogurt is a good idea. I’ve used the dried soy-based egg replacer from health food stores, too, that was nasty. Any suggestions?

  5. Susan at StickyGooeyCreamyChewy

    That does indeed look delectable! I’m a sucker for lemon desserts. My favorite lemon filling recipe is Pierre Hermes’ lemon cream, but I’m an equal opportunity lemon lover. I’d definitely give this one a try!

  6. Ann

    My hubby is a big-time lemon fan – so this is moving to the top of my must-bake list. It looks gorgeous and sounds delicious! Thanks.

  7. amy mom of 5

    This looks so yummy. I can’t wait to give this a try!

  8. Xanthippe

    Crikey! I plan to get Myer lemons at the farmers’ market this week and will make sure to purchase enough for the recipe. Love the addition of almond extract in the shortbread crust; lemon and almond make for a stellar flavor combo. Perhaps I’ll sub a bit of almond meal in place of an equal amount of flour for an additional texture component. SIGH . . .

  9. Marc @ NoRecipes

    Mmm this looks sooo good!

  10. joey

    I have also been working on this recipe for ages and after reading this post, think you have finally captured the essence of what taste buds crave. It’s such a delight to see your father by your side, one of the reasons I so love to visit your site. You are the ‘richest’ woman to have him near. My life exists duplicating haunting recipes (my parents died years ago but still peek over my shoulder, guiding me in the kitchen). A big wink for you and hug for your dear father!

  11. Stephanie

    A lemon tart must surely be one of the finest food inventions ever. But I’ve got a thing for citrus generally… have just made my contribution for A Taste of Yellow: mandarin curd (as opposed to lemon curd). Tastes amazing, but I’m wondering if it’s going to thicken as it cools, cos right now it’s as runny as anything. In the next few hours I might be looking for something to do with liquid mandarin curd!
    And you’ve reminded me: I have a fabulous lemon tart recipe that I must do a post on.
    S

  12. Jennifer

    Hi. Sounds great. I’ve been making Ina Garten’s off the Food Network site, all week! I need more Lemons, neighbors! Can I post the link? Here:
    http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recipes/recipe/0,1977,FOOD_9936_109049,00.html
    I just loosely make a ball from the dough, and mostly press it into my tart pan. Makes it seem easier for me. Hey. Wouldn’t a graham cracker crust be delicious too? Anyone ever try Biscoff cookies? That would be a step up from Graham Cracker crust I think. Thanks for the delicious and easy recipes and ideas, Elise.
    J

  13. Espahan

    Elise,

    This looks like an other winner. I’ve been searching for a good lemon tart recipe. This one fits the bill. Thanks for all the research you and your Dad do, so I don’t have to.

    Hi Espahan, you are very welcome! The good news is that my dad loves any excuse to bake a dessert, especially if I’m the one making the crust. He takes his role of EVP of Research and Development quite seriously. ;-) ~Elise

  14. karina

    You’re killin’ me! Translated: This tart looks so lemony yummalicious that I might cry. ;)

  15. vanou

    For the person who’s looking to substitute eggs:

    3 cups of water
    5 table spoon of flax seed (linseed)

    Bring to a boil for 20 to 30 minutes, until the mixture starts making spikes.
    Filter the mixture and freeze it in an ice cube tray for later usage.

    1 cube = 30 ml (2 table spoon) = 1 egg

    Thanks Vanou, for the great idea. I know that if you soak flax seeds in water, the water becomes thick and gooey, so it doesn’t surprise me that cooking the seeds would yield a mixture that you could use, like eggs, to thicken and set something. ~Elise

  16. sixty-five

    My favorite lemon tart is from Patricia Wells’ At Home in Provence. The crust is no-roll – just pat in the pan, and the filling, a lemon curd consisting of eggs, yolks, sugar, butter, lemon zest and juice, is cooked in a double boiler and poured into the prebaked, cooled shell and left to set – no baking needed.

  17. Kim

    This looks delicious and I can’t wait to try it!

    BTW, does anyone know of an online distributor where I could buy Meyer lemon extract? I have found pure lemon extract but no specific Meyer lemon extract. I am dying to make these awesome shortbread cookies with Meyer lemon oil or extract and need some help!
    Thanks!

  18. phong

    My go-to lemon tart is Thomas Keller’s from The French Laundry. Try it once, you won’t regret it.

    Lemon sabayon in a pine-nut tart with a honeyed mascarpone cream.

    http://www.bluridium.com/photoblog/index.php?showimage=54

  19. Mary Kate

    This sounds delicious! We have Meyer lemons in the backyard and are always looking to put them to good use!

  20. melissa

    This looks amazing. I’ve been dreaming about something lemony lately. I’ll have to try this out. Thanks for the great entry.

  21. Inna

    It looks so tasty! Thanks for the recipe

  22. Anonymous

    Try Suzanne Goin’s Meyer Lemon Tart from Sunday Suppers at Lucques. It’s online if you don’t want to buy the book and it’s outstanding.

  23. [eatingclub vancouver ] js

    I’m a sucker for lemon tart but haven’t even tried attempting one myself. Just too scared. I’ll try this recipe one of these days.

  24. mitchell karas

    i am so angry this tart is a soupy mess i should have known before starting it would fail too much wet liquid too much butter that seperated from eggs bad bad bad

  25. Patricia Morris

    Does anyone know whether you can freeze mini lemon tarts? I am making them for a cookie table at a wedding and need to make in advance.

    Thank you

  26. Roberta Morris

    I wondered if Patricia Morris (no relation!) did freeze her lemon tarts and with what result? I saw on another site that you can freeze a lemon tart but that it makes the crust soft. I suppose it does, depending on how long you let it defrost! I am concerned that the lemon filling’s texture changes. Has anyone done the experiment?

    By the way, the lemon tart I make is from Julia Child’s original Mastering the Art of French Cooking. At a glance, Child’s recipe looks similar to Charlie Palmer’s but not identical: no creme fraiche in the lemon curd, for one. Child’s is a very annoying recipe, with cross-references to different pages at various points, and with too much specificity at some points (size of pot or bowl, for example) and none at others (is that pot covered or not?) but I’ve written out a consolidated version for myself with advice from past attempts, and the result IS wonderful.

  27. cynthia sun

    My husband researced lemon tarts, & was excited to try yours. Our lemon (meyer) bush is very prolific now, & he was eager to use them.
    So – he has never baked before, & with a little help (I rolled & filled the crust, baked the crust), he did the rest.
    Fabulous! Very delicious & everyone had seconds. This is a keeper.

    We didn’t make the candied zest, but did use julienned pieces of orange & put that in sugar. When the tart was done, I tossed them over the top. Very pretty & good, and nice color contrast too. He sprinkled some xxxsugar on top, & I thought that was unnecessary.

    Cynthia

  28. Jon

    Just tried it. The curd filling worked well and is pleasantly tart, but the crust was a bust. By the time it softened enough (after chilling) to roll out, it was ridiculously sticky, impossible to separate from the parchment paper in one piece. After mushing the torn fragments back together and completing the recipe, the baked crust is unpleasantly tough, not at all crumbly or shortbread-like. Needs significant tweaking.

    When a dough gets too sticky to separate after rolling it out, the thing to do is to put the whole thing back into the refrigerator to chill enough to separate it. ~Elise

  29. Jon

    Yeah, I know to re-refrigerate the dough to make it less sticky, and I tried that tactic. It usually works, but this time it was only marginally helpful. The dough had thoroughly glued itself to the parchment, and chilling didn’t un-glue it. I suspect the egg (an unusual ingredient in a shortbread crust) might be the issue there.

    I also wonder whether the crust might’ve been better if it were pre-baked a little longer; my oven temp is accurate, but I’d guess that different pie weights, at different starting temperatures, could result in different cooking times, so ’20 minutes’ may not give consistent results.

  30. Hannah

    My 4th year cooking class made lemon tarts for the teachers at the school as a thank you for coming to the “restaurant” we created that year. It was a lot like yours, just a simple lemon curd filling in a yummy pie crust =) we put sliced strawberries on the top of ours. It was a really easy and quick option, since we had to make like some 40 tarts. We cooked our lemon curd on the stove. The trick is to stir it a lot, otherwise it stays runny. Maybe that’s where Patricia erred?
    Thanks for all your wonderful recipes Elise! I love them!

  31. Nicole

    The lemon curd tart from the Williams-Sonoma pie and tart cookbook is the only one I’ve ever made, and it turned out great! It’s been over five years and friends are still asking if/when I’m going to make it again.

    The recipe is online: http://www.williams-sonoma.com/recipe/recipedetail.cfm?objectid=A69EB452%2D0921%2D4D79%2D8C7D445862237DA0

  32. sam

    Elise, this is my first time commenting on your site though I have visited it often and this along with smittenkitchen is my go to site for all new recipes! Just a quick question – can I use the pre-packaged lemon zest (e.g. dr. oetker) to make the candied peels? and if yes, do you think it would be like to like substitution?

    Hello Sam, thanks for your comment! I honestly have no idea about the pre-packaged lemon zest, as we have our own lemon trees and are never short of lemons. If you do experiment with them, please let us know how it turns out. ~Elise

  33. OneSmartCookie

    I have always had issues my lemon curd, it winds up tasting metallicy. I have tried a little heavy cream, or other cream based products. I didn’t have or make creme fraiche, so I used sour cream, it took care of the issue, using the amount in the recipe did it! This is a great tart.
    My husband loves lemon tarts, and liked this one best.
    The crust was flaky, the filling was rich and lemony. Thank you.

  34. ridojiri

    I made this tonight. All my family loved it. The issues I did come across, was I didn’t have creme fraiche so I just used a mixture of sour cream and cream, and also, my crust was still very sticky after refrigaration, [1hour 30 minnutes] hard to come off my cooking paper. So what I did, was I just knifed the mixture onto my pie dish, and as time was starting to run out, cooked it for 35 minutes at 170 degrees celcius. The crust and the curd was perfect. It was so nice. Though I have to say, the mixtures before cooking were even nicer, though undoubtedly horrible for you.
    Instead of candied zest, as the zest was dirty and disgusting, I candied some chopped apples. With brown sugar btw. It was awesome.
    The tart did start leaking half way through cooking. I let it, and it turned out great. Lucky I put cooking paper between it and my over tray however.
    Regards for a great dessert.

  35. Teresa Ruggiero

    Help! I started a lovely cardomom ginger crust for this recipe and realized I have no creme fraiche. I have whipping cream, do I need the fraiche for this recipe? Thank you!

    You can substitute sour cream for creme fraiche. If you don’t have sour cream, I would look online for another recipe for lemon curd. ~Elise

  36. karamou10

    Waouh, as we sometimes say in France. This one is wonderful. I’ve just made it, it taste wonderful,the color and texture of the lemon mixture is just perfect, well-balanced between sugar and acidity). I have to admit that I was short on time to make it, so I just made the crust,put it in my buttered and floured tart pan and pre-baked it 20min. I guess I could have had a more refined crust if I had followed your different steps, but mine wasn’t bad. Thanks a lot for this great recipe !!

  37. Becky

    Well this is the ‘pie’ that dd Elise chose for the Great Pie Bake-Off this year. Unfortunately, she didn’t place, though it turned out quite tasty. My husband and I, and several others, really enjoyed it. In fact, the lady who took the last quarter of it home said she’d eat it all herself, one slice a day for the next 5 days! (I’ll mention that I placed third with the pumpkin chiffon, which my hubby was raving about.)

    We even made 1/4 c. of the candied zest, which WAS like candy – it was sooo good. The only trouble we had was with the crust. It was way too sticky, so we kept adding flour, though we stopped too soon (because I was concerned we were adding too much) and it was still sticky – we had to pop it in the freezer, and when we baked the shell, the edges melted down a bit.

    I did another pie, from a mag. recipe, and it had the flour listed in ounces and cups, so I measured it via the cup, and then put it on the scale and had to scoop out some. I found that helpful, because the density of the flour affects its volume – these were baked one after the other, so nothing changed about the flour between, yet somehow we were short on the first, and had too much on the second – go figure.

    Anyhow, this was really really tasty, and we’re sure to make it again!
    Thanks!

  38. Becky

    I forgot to mention that I was skeptical about the almond extract in the crust, as it reminds me only of maraschino cherries, but left it up to dd, since it was her pie. She opted for it, and I like the result!

  39. Betty

    I made this recipe today for a potluck dinner at a friend’s house – as little tartlets. I substituted a half cup of flour with a half cup of pulverized crunchy oatmeal cookies.

    My mistake was when I pre-baked them I didn’t add beans to the little cups, so they filled in solid. I scooped them out with a melon baller and finished cooking the custard in the double boiler instead of baking (because the shells were already brown).

    I topped them with the remaining creme fraiche, crumbles of the shell I’d scooped out, and bits of candied lemon peel I already had around.

    They ate every single one.

  40. Cynthia Sun

    The tart dough was wet and too sticky soft to handle. This is the 2nd time I tried the recipe, same results. It did turn out delicious though, a cookie like crust. May try less egg & juice next time. Put sliced strawberries on top, plus a sprinkle of blueberries, and offered some softly whipped cream – it looked great, and was much appreciated.

  41. Michelle

    Question- why do you need to use metal mixing bowls? I think I only have plastic and glass.

    Do you mean in step 7? If you don’t have a double boiler, you need a metal bowl over a pot of steaming water because metal will transfer the heat without melting. Otherwise for the rest of the recipe you can use whatever mixing bowl suits you. ~Elise

  42. Michelle

    I just made this yesterday for my bf’s bday (he loves lemon stuff) and it was phenomenal! I’m very very happy with the results, especially since I was a bit apprehensive since people seemed to have trouble with the crust. This is the best crust (lemony and almondy!) I’ve ever had. Here’s what I did:

    Crust: I was running low on time, so I chilled it for 1 hr 5min. I let it sit out for 8min. I also didn’t mix it a lot beforehand- as soon as it looked remotely dough-y I popped it in the fridge. I used a large egg and my butter was not very soft- it sat out for maybe 15 min. at 75F, so it was soft on the outside, but the inside was a bit hard still. I neglected pie weights and just poked a lot of holes. It still puffed up, but I poked more and it came down. Still, there was barely room for the curd, but the crust came out flaky and fluffy.

    For the curd I was 2 tbsp short of lemon juice, so I substituted some orange juice. I also might have started cooking the curd a bit (left it too long on the double boiler), so there were cooked bits, but it all got cooked in the oven anyway! Definitely put the tart pan on another pan, once the curd is in, it’s easy to spill!

    My candied zest was also last minute, but dried out enough after a couple hours to put on the tart and taste good.

    This tart was a tad sweet, but very professional tasting and looking (although I couldn’t get it out of the pan, despite greasing it generously). I would buy this in a store! The whole process took me two hours, fifteen minutes (I started with the crust and worked on the curd and candied zest while it was in the fridge). I didn’t notice the orange juice, by the way, and my bf said it was very lemony! thanks, Elise, for another fabulous recipe that is very accessible to an ordinary person! Oh yeah, and I didn’t have time to chill this, but it was still good. I set it out at room temp for two hours (while we went to dinner).

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