Caramelized Lemon Tart
If you ask me you can put just about anything in pâte sucrée (french for sweet pastry) and it will taste amazing. It’s an extremely versatile base for a tart shell and with the addition of a couple simple ingredients you can make all kinds of variations on it (citrus, poppy seeds, chocolate, cornmeal, etc). The best part about it, is that one recipe makes enough for two 8″-9″ tarts (or 2 dozen mini tarts) and that it can be frozen for up to 3 months. This tart is filled with an incredibly flavorful lemon mixture that is then dusted with sugar and torched to caramelize for a delicious crackling topping. This one is nice because all you have to bake is the tart’s shell… the filling sets up in the refrigerator making it pretty low maintenance.
Start off by making your pâte sucrée. In the bowl of a food processor add 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1/4 tsp salt. Pulse to combine. Add 2 sticks cold unsalted butter that’s been cut into small pieces into the bowl. (** it’s really important that it be cold… you want the butter to get broken down but not melt, you want it to melt only when it’s baked because that will create these buttery pockets in your tart shell). Pulse just until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Add 2 large egg yolks (use the leftover whites from this and the filling to make citrus meringues or Le Gâteau au Chocolat!) and 2 tbsp ice water and pulse just until the dough starts to come together, no more than 30 seconds. If the dough is too dry then add more water in 1 tbsp at a time.
Carefully remove the blade from your food processor and turn the dough out onto your lightly floured counter. Knead just until a smooth ball forms. Divide the dough evenly in half, wrap in plastic as flat discs and refrigerate for at least an hour (or up to 2 days). Remove one disc of dough (use the other to make mini cranberry meringue pies!) and roll it out to 1/8″ thick. Press into and up the sides of an 8″ or 9″ tart pan with a removable bottom. Trim the over hang with a knife and “dock” the bottom with a fork. Refrigerate or freeze until firm, about 30 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and cut a round of parchment paper large enough to fit into the shell. Lay down the parchment, fill it completely with pie weights or dried beans (I keep a jar of dried beans in my baking cupboards and have been reusing them for years). Bake the shell like this until the edges turn just golden, about 15 minutes. Carefully remove the shell from the oven, remove the parchment and the beans from the shell and return to oven until golden brown (about 10-12 minutes more). Remove from the oven and let cool completely in the tart pan on a wire rack.
While the shell is cooling, you can make the filling. In a medium saucepan, whisk together 6 large egg yolks, finely grated zest from two lemons, 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (typically from 2-3 fresh lemons), and 1 cup of sugar. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly. Cook until the mixture is thickened and bubbles appear around the edges, about 8-10 minutes after it’s started to simmer. It’s really important not to rush this part… you need to bring it to a simmer over medium because you don’t want to cook the egg whites (also why you have to whisk constantly) and you have to make sure it thickens quite a bit because otherwise it won’t set up in the refrigerator and it’ll just leak out once you cut a slice. Once it’s thickened, strain through a fine mesh sieve. This will take some pushing from a rubber spatula… you’re trying to remove the zest and any pieces of egg that may have been cooked. Once it’s been strained, whisk in 1 stick cold unsalted butter that’s been cut into small pieces a few pieces at a time.
Once the filling is totally smooth, pour it into the tart shell and refrigerate uncovered until set (about 2 hours).
Just before serving, give the whole thing a light dusting of sugar. Caramelize with a brulée torch or use your oven broiler.