The bag of lemons stared at me. Days turned to weeks. They greeted me every morning with an admonishing, jaundiced glare. 'Use us!' Weeks turned to months. Gradually the glare turned to a grey and furry myopia. 'Save us!' cried the survivors, still resembling a primary colour, though showing not-so-premature signs of ageing.
Permit me a moment of immodesty: I'm a dab hand at lemon tart. And this seemed a suitable tribute to the bag of surviving citrus. I dithered over the best sacrificial form: creamy, well rounded, mellow and tangy lemon tart (as in so many Australian cafés), or eggy, curdy lemon tart (Ã la tarte au citron), with its characteristic intensity and flavour explosion?
My recipe search led me to an untried candidate: the tartelettes au citron in Camille Le Foll's Modern French Classics (a brick of a book, nicely presented and not bad recipes). Happy to try a new variant on the theme, I unpacked the ingredients and prepared to weigh and measure.
Juice of 3 lemons
I hate that. Really. Big lemons? Small lemons? Modest lemons? Gnarly lemons? Mine were small and past their prime. It seemed prudent to increase the arbitrary lemonicity to four. And I wasn't scared of pushing the boundary of tang. A real zinger of a tart would be fun.
I made the curd, mixing happily, watching the syrup take on that yolky, glossy, slightly translucent character. I let it cool and tasted it. The curd was simultaneously sweet and strikingly sour. Not excessive, but by no means shy.
The pastry was rolled and shaped and rested. The tarts filled, baked and then removed from the oven, gently bubbling.
Tasting time approached. I decided to try Tart One au nature. Ka-bam! Not-shy had become oh-my-god-my-eyes-are-watering. I'm brave. A tart can't slay me. It wasn't unpleasant. It was bold. But after consuming about two thirds of it, I noticed a certain apprehension before each new mouthful. A mild burning could be felt in my throat. What monster had I created?
Frightened, but also a little proud, I shared my searingly sour tarts around. The victims were at times tougher than I, though most agreed that some whipped cream would be nice as an accompaniment. The recipe below should yield a distinctly tart tart, but as lemons vary, so will the acidity. If you are one of these sour-mouthed dessert lovers, you could experiment — but I'd strongly recommend following the quantities in this recipe for the first attempt.
Searingly Sour Citrus Tarts
|Source: adapted from Camille Le Fol: Modern French Classics (Hachette Illustrated, 2004)
|›||220 g||sweet shortcrust pastry||‹|
|›||200 ml||lemon juice||‹|
(1 tbsp (AU))
|lemon zest - chopped finely||‹|
|›||100 g||unsalted butter - softened||‹|
|›||icing sugar- for dusting||‹|
|›||equipment:||six 12cm tartlet pans - preferably non-stick with loose bases||‹|
- If you are making the pastry yourself, let it rest in the fridge before rolling it out. Divide the pastry into six equal pieces. Gently shape each piece into a rough ball and then roll out to a thin circle, large enough to fit inside the tartlet pan.
- Line each tartlet pan. Trim the edges so that the pastry is level with the top of the pan rim. Rest the pans in the fridge.
- Combine the lemon zest, eggs and sugar in a saucepan and stir over low heat until the mixture thickens. This can take up to 15 minutes.
- Strain the resulting mixture (lemon curd) in order to remove the zest. (Not essential, but improves the texture.)
- Stir in the butter in small batches, then add the lemon juice and combine well. Leave to cool.
- Preheat the oven to 160°C (lower for convection oven).
- Place the tartlet pans on a metal baking tray. Fill each tartlet with curd to about 5 mm below the rim.
- Place the tray in the oven and bake for 20-30 mins, until a pale golden colour (the curd will be bubbling around the edges). Remove from the oven briefly. Dust with icing sugar and then return to the oven for another 5 mins.
- SERVING NOTE: The sourness will vary depending on the lemons; such is nature. If you have achieved searing sourness, I found the best accompaniments were: whipped cream, sweetened whipped cream with roasted hazelnuts, a light dusting of alkalised (Dutch process) cocoa with cream, or perhaps a coffee syrup.