French lemon tart - one more try
Bake me a dessert that’s buttery and light
Fill it with custard, yellow and bright
Made with ripe lemons that sit on the sill
Perfuming the air of this cold winter chill
Roll out the dough, be careful don’t rip it
Make a smooth filling, keep whisking and whisking
Use all six lemons, don’t make it too sweet
Serve with whipped cream and red fruits coulis
You’ll need some good skill, it’s not easy task
To bake me a classic, French lemon tart
Every day, when the school bell rang at the end of the last lesson, my friends and I would rush to the gate to the place where the vendor always stood with his cart full of snacks, sweets, freshly cut green mangoes, Tahitian gooseberries (Phyllanthus acidus) and Meyer lemons. We would force our way past the other girls that had been quicker and shout “un limón, señor!” The lemons, as well as the mangoes and gooseberries, would all be packed in plastic bags and come with a small portion of salt. We would sprinkle it on one of the lemon’s halves, suck the juices out, and then repeat the process until all the vesicles on the fruit were empty. Another pinch of salt, and when those were gone too, we would rip the white, sweet, fleshy pith out with our teeth, until all that was left was a thin yellow or green skin.
Ever since I was a kid, sour has been my favorite taste. If anybody ever asked me what is the one ingredient I most probably will always have in my kitchen, the answer would be: lemons.
I had planned a fish and seafood dinner for my friends that evening -a nice seabass ceviche, deep fried cassava sticks with mojito garlic sauce and a risotto with shrimp cream. I was struggling to decide what to serve as a dessert; something with citrus accents seemed like the best way to go. I looked at the pile of ripe, deep-yellow lemons resting on the window sill. ‘Maybe a lemon tart?,’ I thought.
I almost dismissed the idea as soon as it came to me. It was not my first time to try and make one of these. I had gone through a series of unsuccessful attempts during the previous months: doughs that were hard to roll out, undercooked crust, curdled fillings, ugly-looking cracks, barely set custards. Need I say more? Making a tart is a serious endeavor, it isn’t easy or quick, it doesn’t matter what the recipe tells you. Did I want all that stress in the kitchen again?
I opened a few of my cookbooks searching for inspiration for another lemon dessert and found Claudia Roden’s recipe for a tart with a “lemony crème au citron”, just a fresh wobbly, glossy custard that didn’t need to go in the oven. I rolled up my sleeves and set out for the challenge -once again. I combined this recipe with the one that Felicity Cloake gives in her “How to make the Perfect” column in the Guardian, since it has double the amount of custard. I was going to make small individual tartlets and was afraid I would run out of custard. By doing this, I also avoided the frequent drama of trying to lift my rolling pin wrapped with the pâte sucrée and laying it on my tart tin. Smaller tins, smaller problems. They came out from the oven looking pretty and golden.
The lemon filling was simple to prepare. All it needed was to be continuously beaten over the flames until it thickened. When the shells cooled down, I piped the custard into them and placed them in the fridge to chill.
With the time I saved by not having to put the tart with the custard back in the oven, I prepared a raspberry coulis, and when the time came I also quickly whipped a light sweetened cream.