Hold the presses!
It’s March 14th and despite macabre Shakespearean warnings about tomorrow’s Ides of March, it’s…
So. About that global warming thing. Yikes.
It’s also, in the oh-so-geeky world of numbers, pi day.
Obviously, sun + pi day = sunny pie, and what better fit for such an equation (ack, sorry, couldn’t resist) than a glorious meyer lemon tart from the pages of Lindsey Shere’s Chez Panisse Desserts ?
Lemons peak in late winter (yes, it’s not technically spring for another six days) and nothing is quite as lovely as a meyer lemon in season. They’re just gorgeous. Native to China, meyers are thought to be an ancient cross between a regular or mandarin orange, and the everyday lemon (the most everyday of which, we learned from Lindsey’s introduction, is called the Eureka!) They are sweeter, more aromatic and juicier than their ordinary cousins, making them particularly lovely to cook and eat.
And this tart really makes these beauties sing. (Lindsey’s introduction also notes that it’s – circa 1985, when the cookbook was first published – one of the most popular desserts at the restaurant.) It’s tangy and smooth, just slightly sweet, with a flaky crust and the deeply energizing scent of lemon. Of all the lemon tarts we’ve made in our time, it’s by far the best.
Lindsey offers two moments of alternatives in her recipe. First, omitting cornstarch and second, baking the tart for less time. Together, the result is a silky, shiny tart, rather than a denser, slightly chewier, crustier tart. They’re both delicious, though in this case we went with the alternatives and opted for that happy yellow sheen.
This tart is delicate, especially if baked as we did. A too hot oven, even slightly so, will scorch the crust and boil the custard. Pay attention to the oven, turn the tart shell and tart half way through baking, and cover with aluminum foil if it’s browning (too much or at all, depending on the alternative you choose.) Our oven is hopeless – even with an oven thermometer it’s difficult to maintain something as specific at 375ºF. So, not perfect:
but truly delicious!
En fin. We dusted a generous slice with powdered sugar and treated ourselves to a sunny celebration of pi(e).
a meyer lemon tart.
adapted from Chez Panisse Desserts
For the pastry:
Makes a 9 inch shell
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp grated lemon peel
1/2 cup unsalted butter, not too cold
1 tablespoon water
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1. Mix flour, sugar, salt and lemon peel. (If using salted butter, omit the salt.)
2. Cut butter into 1/2 inch slices and work it into the flour mixture with your hands or a pastry blender until the butter is mostly cornmeal size pieces and the mixture begins to hold together – the softer your butter is, the faster this will happen.
3. Combine the water and vanilla and work it into the flour-butter mixture until the pastry is just blended and will hold together if you press it.
4. Gather into a ball and wrap in plastic. Let rest a room temperature for 30 minutes to allow the flour to absorb the moisture more completely. (At this point you can wrap in foil and freeze for up to a month.)
5. Butter and flour a 9 inch tart pan (don’t use a black one, it will burn your tart!) Press pastry evenly into the pan. Wrap in foil and freeze for 30 minutes or overnight.
6. Bake in a preheated 375ºF oven for about 25 min or until the shell is light golden brown and baked all the way through. (You don’t need to fill the shell with beans before baking; this pastry doesn’t shrink much.)
For the custard:
makes 1 3/4 cup tart filling, enough for a 9 inch tart
2 lemons (any will do, though meyer lemons are spectacular here)
2 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
6 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1/4 tsp cornstarch (optional)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons salted butter
1. Beat the eggs and egg yolks with the sugar in a heavy, non-corroding saucepan until just mixed.
2. Mix the milk into the cornstarch in a small cup, then add to the egg mixture. The cornstarch is necessary if the filling is to brown properly when baking. If you do not want to brown the tart, the cornstarch can be omitted. (*As we did!)
3. Grate the peel from the lemons into a small non-corroding bowl. Juice the lemons and strain the juice into the same bowl. Strain out seeds, but force as much as the pulp through the strainer as you can. Stir juice mixture into the eggs: it will look a bit curdled when the juice is added, but will smooth out later.
4. Cut the butter into pieces and add to the mixture. Cook over low to medium heat, stirring constantly in a figure eight motion, until it just coats the spoon and is the thickness of crème anglaise. Remove from heat. Let stand 5 minutes to thicken, then whisk slightly to smooth out the custard.
5. At this point you can pour the filling into a container and keep it in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. (It’s delicious! Would be fantastic on warm biscuits or with chocolate and fruit!) In any case it is best to chill the filling before making a tart, but you may also pour it into the pre-baked tart shell without chilling it.
To bake the pie:
Preheat your oven to 375ºF. Fill the slightly cooled, pre-baked shell with filling and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the top is speckled with dark brown spots and the filling has puffed slightly. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack in its pan. You can also bake the tart just long enough to set the filling, about 15-20 minutes. This will make a smooth, shiny tart. (As we did!)