Monday, June 12, 2006

Lemon Tart, To Conclude The Last Sunday Night Dinner

And here it is, the much anticipated (by me) conclusion to the last Sunday Night Dinner that I was priveledged to host: lemon tart. It took me a while to decide what I would like to make for dessert. Three years ago the answer would have been simple - something involving vast quantities of chocolate. Archna should take a deep breath in now - I don't think I like chocolate any more!! I know. I'm awful. I never crave it, never want it. I really hope she will still speak to me after reading this...

I was flipping through my wonderful gift from Jonathan,
The Silver Spoon cookbook, for fruit-based dessert ideas. As an aside, this book is giant, comprehensive, educational, refined by many generations of Italian cooks, and is just fun to read. Is there a special category of dork for people who read cookbooks for pleasure? There should be if there isn't. Back to the dessert: I came across a recipe for a lemon tart. The tartness of the lemon would be perfect to offset the richness of the risotto I was preparing for the main course. Little did I know that the tart had plenty of richness of its own. The tart should be renamed "butter tart" since that really is the main ingredient.

Despite the many stumbling blocks described in painful detail below, the tart turned out well. The crust tasted like a lemon shortbread cookie. It was crumbly and light - miraculous really, considering all that butter... Melissa and I both felt that the lemon flavor of the custard could have been more pronounced. Next time I make it, I will try doubling the amount of lemon juice. I would guess that one could adjust the recipe to the degree of tartness or sweetness desired.

Lemon Tart, from The Silver Spoon

Tart Shell Dough
1 ¾ cups all purpose flour
½ cup superfine sugar (regular sugar worked just fine)
½ cup unsalted butter, softened and cut into pieces
2 egg yolks
2 tsp lemon zest, grated

1) Sift the flour and sugar into a mound.
2) Make a well in the center and add the butter, egg yolks, lemon zest, and a pinch of salt.
3) Mix thoroughly and knead briefly.
4) Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
5) Roll out the dough on a lightly floured counter and use to line a greased tart pan.*

* Rolling pins and I do not get along. I have never had luck with any recipe requiring a rolling pin. The dough either tears, falls apart… or falls on the floor. This recipe was, unfortunately, no exception. The dough, even after a thorough chilling, was too crumbly and dry to roll out. I took the easy (cheating) way out and pressed the dough into the bottom of the tart pan and up the walls. It worked, as it usually does. So if your relationship with your rolling pin is as tense as mine, you can rest easy in the knowledge that you can get by without it. If, on the other hand, you are perfectly comfortable (and maybe even in a happy relationship) with your rolling pin, please tell me the secret!

Lemon Tart
2/3 cup unsalted butter
3 eggs
¾ cup superfine sugar (again, regular sugar worked)
zest of 2 lemons, grated
juice of ½ lemon, strained
confectioner’s sugar, for dusting

1) Preheat oven to 350oF.
2) Beat the eggs with the sugar in a large bowl.
3) Stir in the lemon juice and zest, then stir in the butter.**
4) Pour the mixture into prepared tart pan lined with tart dough.
5) Bake 30 minutes, remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.
6) Sprinkle top with confectioner’s sugar.

** I became very nervous as I got to this step in the recipe. The butter didn’t incorporate into the mixture at all. It remained in big butter clumps, suspended in the egg/lemon mixture. That is how I placed it in the oven (with the tart pan on a baking sheet to catch all the leaking… butter, of course) and immediately began scrambling for alternative dessert ideas, convinced that this tart would be a failure. To my surprise and joy, it wasn’t a failure at all! The butter melted in the heat of the oven and spread throughout the egg/lemon mixture. The custard (or lemon curd, really) set as it cooled, just as it should have. So don’t be scared of it. It will look very funny but will turn out ok, even if you think all is lost.

This brings us to the end of my turn at last Sunday Night Dinner. The complete plate: Endive and arugula salad, broiled hake with parsley, capers, and lemon (my own creation), and cauliflower and leek risotto. I thought the fish self-explanatory and left it out - I will be happy to field all recipe requests.



anthony griffiths said...

and the rolling pin symbolizes what exactly?

Jonathan said...

something quite schlongorific I would reckon

Norah said...

The EXACT same thing happened to me - thanks for giving me the confidence to trust the process!