Finding the Perfect Lemon Tart
My father and I searched high and low for a lemon tart that we would love.
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.
Finally we chanced upon a chef Charlie Palmer recipe with a fabulous lemon filling, but his cornmeal crust tasted like baked polenta. It just didn't work with the lemon filling.
So, we took the fabulous filling and put it in a tried and true tart 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.
- Prep the candied citrus zest a few days in advance. (Or skip it!)
- Make the tart dough up to two days in advance, and keep it well-wrapped in the fridge until ready to roll it out. Or freeze it, wrapped and in a freezer bag, for up to a month and thaw in the fridge before using.
- Make the entire tart up to three days in advance. Keep it covered and refrigerated until ready to serve.
Love Lemon? Try These Recipes
- How to Make Lemon Curd
- Lemon Ricotta Pancakes
- Lemon Meringue Pie
- Soft and Chewy Lemon Cookies
- Lemon Ice Box Cake
Lemon filling adapted from Charlie Palmer's Practical Guide to the New American Kitchen.
- For the candied zest:
- 1 cup lemon zest, julienned
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- For the crust:
- 1 1/2 cups (200 g) flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup (50 g) powdered sugar
- 1/2 cup (1 stick, or 1/4 pound, 112 g) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- For the lemon filling:
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup crème fraîche (can sub sour cream)
- 2 large eggs
- 3 large egg yolks
- 3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 3/4 cup (150 g) granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
Make the candied citrus zest
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.
Dry the candied zest
Spread the zest out on a sheet of parchment paper. Let dry overnight at room temperature (do not put in the refrigerator). (Tip: if you wrap the zest strands around a chopstick and let them dry wrapped, then the next day when you unwrap them, they'll hold a curly form.)
The next day toss the zest with a little more sugar.
Make the tart dough
Whisk together the flour, salt, and powdered sugar in a bowl. Add the butter and either use your (clean) fingers, or use a pastry blender, to mix the butter into the flour until the dough forms flaky crumbs and lumps. Try to make sure that all of the flour is coated with some butter.
With a wooden spoon, mix in the egg, 1/4 teaspoon almond extract, and 1 teaspoon of lemon zest. Continue to mix until the dough clumps.
Chill the tart crust
Shape into a ball, flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic, refrigerate at least an hour or up to 2 days in advance.
Pre-heat oven to 350°F
Roll out the tart crust
If the dough has chilled overnight, let it sit at temperature for at least 10-15 minutes before attempting to work with it. This allows the dough to relax enough to become somewhat pliable before rolling out.
Roll out the dough by either sprinkling the dough and rolling surface with little flour, or you can roll the dough out between two sheets of parchment paper. Roll the dough out to a circle 2 inches wider in diameter than your tart pan (about a 12-inch round).
Press the dough into the tart pan. Use your rolling pin to level the dough along the edges of the pan. Freeze for 30 minutes.
Pre-bake the tart crust
Place aluminum foil over the foil and gently mold it to the dough in the pan. Add pie weights (dried beans, sugar, rice, or ceramic pie weights).
Bake at 350°F for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, lift the sides of the aluminum foil to remove the pie weights, and let the crust cool.
Make the lemon curd filling
Melt butter and crème fraîche 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 or pyrex 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.
In a second bowl over the 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 and bake the tart
Pour the lemon filling into the crust and bake at 350°F for 25 minutes or until set in the middle.
Chill before serving
Let cool on a rack. Chill in the refrigerator. When ready to serve, top the tart with candied lemon zest.