The past few weeks have been busy! There were late night meals in Atlanta on our way to a wedding in the Caribbean, some amazing fresh seafood dishes in St. Lucia (and some not so amazing ones), and unfortunately, a small case of the stomach plague. Whomp, whomp.
Eventually, we all got back on our feet and back to our normal routine, which now includes daycare for the little one. Not long after we started daycare, they had Teacher Appreciation Week. On Day 1, we were supposed to bring a flower picked from our yard. The teachers (because at this age, babies aren’t very helpful) put all of the flowers together into bouquets. On Day 1, I forgot a flower. Boy did I feel like a tool.
Day 2 was “Bring Something Sweet”. Well, I hoped to make it up to them by bringing something special. Well good news. I happened to have pre-cut tart dough left over from when I made these Chocolate Tarts. I also have a lemon tree with so many lemons that whenever I pick one, I get hit in the face with two more.
Well, it sounds like lemon tart time to me.
The next step was to find the perfect lemon tart filling. I have a fallback recipe from when I worked in a pastry kitchen. However, I wanted to give some other recipes a fighting chance. I set out to find a silky smooth, slightly tart, but not overly sweet lemon tart recipe. Ultimately, I settled on one from Cooks Illustrated.
In a nutshell, the perfect balance of tart yet sweet was 2/3 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice to 1 cup of sugar along with 1/4 cup of freshly grated lemon zest. The silky smooth texture comes from a high proportion of lemon yolks, properly cooking the lemon curd over low heat with continuous stirring, and adding a healthy pad of butter at the end. What I didn’t expect was the use of heavy cream, but I found that it was a perfect addition to the lemon curd to lighten it up to a more palatable texture and well rounded flavor.
I knew my tart dough was a keeper for being slightly crumbly but still capable of holding up a heavy filling like ganache. But when I peeked in the oven, I definitely didn’t expect to see a sheet tray full of lemon tarts collapsed under the heat, moisture, and weight of the lemon curd.
(You know that mom that shows up at daycare to drop her kid off? She’s well-dressed and ready for the day AND surprises everyone with a whole platter full of freshly baked pastries she made THAT morning? Well that went flying out the window.)
In the past when I made lemon tarts, I cooked the lemon curd in just the tart shell. However, the tart shells I used back then were pre-made and obviously built to survive earthquakes. So, lessons learned. Even if your tart shells are already cooked, you definitely want to cook the lemon curd in the tart shell while the tart shell is still in the tart shell mold.
In the end, I managed to salvage 4 measly lemon tarts and 1 sheepish apology. The rest got sadly scraped into a container then globs of it were portioned out onto dessert plates later that night. Once we sat down to eat it with a
healthy happy helping of freshly made vanilla bean whipped cream, it didn’t seem so much of a lost cause.
(Psst! Get the tart dough (pâte sucrée) recipe on the mini Chocolate Raspberry Tart recipe page.)
- 2 large eggs
- 7 egg yolks
- 7 oz sugar
- ¼ cup freshly grated lemon zest
- ⅔ cup fresh lemon juice
- ⅛ tsp Kosher salt
- 4 T unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
- 3 T + 1 cup COLD heavy cream (keep in the refrigerator until you're ready)
- 1 T powdered sugar, sifted
- ½ vanilla bean (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)
- 15 circles of pâte sucrée dough, cut to fit 3" tart shell molds
- Preheat the oven to 375 F.
- Place tart shells on a half sheet pan lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking sheet.
- In a medium sauce pan, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, and sugar together until combined.
- Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt.
- Prepare an ice bath using a bowl large enough to fit the sauce pan with room to spare.
- Using a spatula, cook the lemon curd over medium low heat while constantly slowly stirring until it reaches a temperature of 170 degrees. At this point it should be the consistency of a thin pudding. (If you use a whisk, you'll add too much air, which will expand during the cooking process and cause the lemon tart to overflow.)
- Immediately transfer the sauce pan to the ice bath. Add the cold butter and 3 T of whipped cream and stir until the butter is completely mixed in and the lemon curd has stopped steaming.
- Press the lemon curd through a fine mesh strainer to strain out the lemon zest. (You may think you'd like the texture, but you won't. Trust me!)
- Transfer to a piping bag with a (roughly) dime sized opening and pipe the lemon curd into the tart shells until almost level to the top. (The lemon curd will only rise a little bit.)
- Bake the tarts until the middle of the tart shell jiggles slightly like jello instead of like a liquid, about 12 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and set the sheet pan on a wire rack away from the stove to cool to room temperature, then transfer to the refrigerator. Cover the lemon tarts with plastic wrap if you're storing for more than a few hours.
- To make the whipped cream, whip 1 cup of cold whipped cream on medium high speed to stiff peak. (Once the whipped cream has roughly doubled in size and is light and fluffy, you can start checking the peak. Remove the whisk attachment from your mixer, dip it in the whipped cream, then hold the whisk upright. If the whipped cream peak softly folds over, you've reached soft peak. If the whipped cream peak stays up right, you've reached stiff peak. It should be smooth and you shouldn't be able to see any air pockets. If it's rough and jagged, you've whipped it too much. Add ~1/4 cup more heavy cream and slowly mix until it's evenly mixed and it reaches stiff peak again.)
- Add the sifted powdered sugar and vanilla then slowly mix until combined. Whisk on medium speed until the powdered sugar and vanilla are evenly mixed and no lumps remain.
- Remove the lemon tarts from the tart mold and serve with a generous portion of whipped whipped cream.