In all my work, I try to say - 'You may be given a load of sour lemons,
why not try to make a dozen lemon meringue pies?'
- Maya Angelou
This has been some week. Rain, rain and more rain is keeping us inside, despite the discovery of the rubber boots (or, as we say, the solving of the Great Mystery of the Missing Rubber Boots). We finally purchased the doors to our wall-to-wall closet/dressing unit in the office; instead of being watched by a jumble of sheets and blankets, mountains of mismatched shoe boxes, tools and photo props shoved willy-nilly into spare spaces and clothes hanging accusingly ("Why don't you ever wear ME?"), we now have the elegance and luxury of sliding glass doors. And I baked. Twice.
After we finished the last of the wonderful Pear Jam Tart topped with Buttery Caramelized Pear Wedges, I had a hankering for lemon. Lemon Tart. Maybe I needed some cool, crisp sunshine in my days to chase away the dismal, dreary gray. Maybe I needed something jazzy, something a bit sexy and something most definitely bright to help pull me out of a funk that has wrapped itself around me like a warm winter cloak.
Lemon trees they don't make a sound.
'Til the branches bend and fruit falls to the ground.
Baby, sweet baby.
– Ruthie Foster
Most of us associate lemon anything with summer. Lemon treats, whether savory or sweet, are bold, vibrant and tangy, what we all need to jazz up a sizzling summer afternoon, to cool down a sultry summer evening. Revivify and refresh. But citrus is most definitely a winter fruit, along with oranges, grapefruit and tangerines. I only think of citrus in the winter; we have a long and beautiful history together going back to my youth in Florida, a childhood a mere stone's throw from the famed Indian River orchards. Winters meant piling in the old station wagon and heading over the bridge to pick up sacks of navels, tangerines, grapefruits pink and white, sweet and bitter. Winters meant dashing out into the chilly garage to grab armloads of fruit, rifling through the brown paper grocery bags bursting with citrus lined up on dad's workbench. Summers were reserved for peaches, plums, nectarines and watermelon; citrus most definitely belonged to winter.
My father planted a lemon tree in the wide, desolate expanse of backyard on one of his strange and inexplicable whims that confounded us all. He needed a lemon tree, was all. That tree stood off to one side, alone and lonely and mostly barren and it may have produced one, maybe two lemons in the many years it stood there. I actually do not remember. But I do remember that tree veritably glowing in the Florida winter sunshine, spectacular rays of light glancing off of the deep jade leaves, highlighting a single yellow fruit.
So I have been craving a Lemon Tart just as my son needed to bake one redolent of pears. I turned to an old family favorite, a tart that both son and I have been making for years. I added ground almonds to my best sweet pastry crust and topped the tart with mascarpone whipped cream to fancy it up a bit, the delicate cream flavor tempering the sharp lemony tang just a tad, to make a marvelously wonderful and very addictive pie.
Simple and tasty as an every day snack or dessert, sensational for a party or special occasion.
LEMON TART with MASCARPONE WHIPPED CREAM
Although this is an incredibly simple tart to make, give it some time as the Pastry Tart Dough needs time to chill in the refrigerator (about 15 minutes) once made and again once rolled out (about 15 minutes) as well as needing to be prebaked (about 20 minutes). This can be done ahead of time.
This is my favorite Sweet Pastry Crust but quite butter-rich. I added finely ground almonds which not only add a subtle hint of almond but helps dry the dough out a bit, making it easier to roll and bake; the addition of a bit of baking powder made a slightly lighter crust that seemed to bake much better, allowing the crust to bake through rather than leaving the center slightly undercooked which sometimes happens. Leaving the crust to completely pre-bake rather than partially bake also means a perfectly baked crust to the center once the lemon tart is set.
The Lemon Tart is best eaten chilled so you can make this the day before serving, just preparing and decorating with the mascarpone whipped cream or plain whipped cream before serving. This sweet, tangy and very lemony tart is also perfect served without the topping, plain and as is or with lightly sweetened whipped cream on the side.
For the Sweet Pastry Almond Tart Crust:
1 1/4 cups (170 g) flour
1/4 cup (50 g) sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
¼ cup finely ground almonds
7 Tbs (100 grams) unsalted butter, cubed
1 egg, lightly beaten
For the Lemon Filling:
2 egg yolks
9.7 oz, about 1 1/2 cups + 2 tsp (275 g) sugar
3/4 cup (190 ml) fromage frais 0% fat-free, quark or thick fresh cream
1 cup, about 6 lemons (250 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
Grated zest of 3 lemons
For the Mascarpone Whipped Cream Topping:
1 cup (250 ml) heavy whipping cream, well chilled
4.4 to 8.8 oz (125 to 250 g) fresh mascarpone cheese, well chilled Powdered/icing sugar to taste
Lightly toasted slivered almonds and fine lemon zest to decorate
Prepare the Sweet Pastry Almond Tart Crust:
Combine flour, ground almonds, baking powder and sugar in a mixing bowl or on a work surface. Using only your thumbs and fingertips, rub the butter into the flour until the consistency of damp sand and there are no more large chunks of butter. With a fork, vigorously stir in the lightly beaten egg until all the dry ingredients are moistened and a dough starts to form.
Gather the dough together into a ball and place on a lightly floured surface. Using the heel of one hand, smear the dough little by little away from you in quick, hard strokes in order to make sure that all of the butter is blended in well.
Scrape up the dough together, re-flour the surface lightly and work/knead very briefly and quickly until you have a smooth, homogenous dough. Refrigerate the dough wrapped in plastic for about 10 or 15 minutes until firm enough to roll out and lift into the pie dish.
Prebake the Sweet Pastry Almond Tart Crust:
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough and line a lightly buttered 10” wide, 1 1/2” deep (or deeper) pie dish, a springform pan or similar. Refrigerate until ready to bake, about 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
Once the dough has chilled, place a large piece of oven-safe parchment paper or aluminum foil into the lined pie dish, fill with uncooked beans or pastry weights and bake for 8 minutes. Carefully remove the tart shell from the oven to a rack and remove the paper or foil with the beans. Prick the tart shell all over with a fork, return to the hot oven and continue baking for another 8 - 10 minutes until set and golden. Remove from the oven to the rack and allow to cool while the filling is prepared.
Lower the oven temperature to 300°F (150°C).
Prepare the Lemon Filling:
Beat the eggs together with the egg yolks and the sugar with a whisk or an electric beater until slightly thickened. Continue beating as you pour in the cream, then the lemon juice and zest, just until well blended.
It’s as simple as that (I should say Easy as Pie, but I won’t).
Carefully pour the filling into the pre-baked pastry crust. It will come up to the top edge of the crust. If you want to avoid sloshing the filling over the top and onto the floor as you carry it to the oven, simply pour about half of the filling into the crust, place the pie dish/plate on the oven rack and then carefully pour the rest of the filling into the dish.
Bake the tart 35 to 40 minutes or until the center is just set. Let cool before serving. (It took closer to an hour in my very slow oven.)
Once the tart has cooled to room temperature, cover it in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to chill and firm.
Prepare the Mascarpone Whipped Cream:
Beat the whipped cream in a bowl until thick; beat in powdered sugar until lightly sweetened, a tablespoon or two. Beat in half the mascarpone and continue adding until desired thickness; taste and add more powdered sugar to taste. Spread or pipe the mascarpone whipped cream evenly over the top of the chilled lemon tart. Decorate with fine lemon zest and lightly toasted slivered almonds.