Had I been born a lemon, I would aspire to be made into a luscious tart adorned with a crown of fluffy, toasted meringue. (And I'd advise my lemon boyfriend to avert his eyes when one of those saucy limes rolls by.)
Alas, I'm not a lemon and, more than likely, I'll never be made into a luscious lemon tart...which is actually a good thing, because it would be strange to take so much pleasure in eating oneself. Things could start to get awkward with my fellow lemons.
I know that this recipe may look long and a bit labor intensive. It is. But the
The tarts can be baked and frozen for a few days, and the curd can chill in the refrigerator until you're ready to use it, (if you can keep yourself from going at it with a wandering spoon).
So why a tartlet instead of a big, traditional pie? Because it's a tart-let. It's cute and it defies tradition ever so politely. And when you sit down to enjoy one, you can imagine that you are sitting at a Parisian café; watching people while trying to appear blasé and existential (as you fight a desire to eat the tart with your hands, and eat it as though eating is going out of style).
Lemon Meringue Tartlets
Makes four 4 1/2-inch tartlets
for the crusts
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners'
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (4 1/2 ounces) very cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (I cut mine up the night before using and froze the bits overnight)
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
for the lemon curd
4 lemons (if you're using Meyer lemons, you may need 5)
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup (that's 1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
4 room temperature eggs
pinch of salt
for the meringue
4 egg whites
pinch cream of tartar (a pinch,literally)
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
Prepare the tartlets:Butter or spray four 4 - 4 1/2-inch tartlet pans. [Note: This recipe will also make a perfect 9-inch crust.]
Combine the flour, confectioners' sugar and salt in a food processor. Pulse a few times to combine. Scatter the cold pieces of butter over the dry ingredients, and pulse until the butter is cut in coarsely (you're aiming for pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and pea-size pieces). Slowly add the egg yolk, pulsing after each addition. Once the entire yolk is in, process in long pulses (about 10 seconds each), until the dough forms clumps and curds. As soon as the dough just begins to come together, turn off the food processor. (It's better to under-work the dough.) Turn the dough out onto a work surface, and gently knead...just enough to incorporate any dry ingredients that may have escaped the blade. Gather it into a ball, and divide the ball into 4 equal pieces.
Press each piece of dough into the prepared tartlet pans (be sure to cover the sides and bottoms). Freeze the crusts for 40 minutes.
Center a rack in the oven, and preheat the oven to 375 F.Butter the shiny sides of four pieces of aluminum foil, and press each piece of foil tightly against the crusts. Place the crusts on a large cookie sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes, or just until the crusts are beginning to turn golden along the edges. (It's okay to peek inside the foil to check.) Remove the partially-baked crusts from the oven and carefully remove the foil pieces. Put them back in the oven and baker for another 5-7 minutes, or until deep golden brown. Remove, and cool completely before adding the lemon curd filling. Well covered, the baked crusts can be frozen for about 2 days.
Prepare the luscious lemon curd! Zest the lemons and put the zest into the bowl of a food processor. Juice all the lemons, you should have about 1/2 cup, and set it aside for now. Add the sugar to the zest that's been waiting in the food processor and pulse for a good 2-3 minutes (you want that zest to be yellowfied, minced and fragrant). In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment (a hand-held will work too), combine the sugar/lemon mixture with the butter. Beat on medium speed until creamy (about 2-3 minutes). Add the eggs, 1 by 1, beating for about one minute after each addition. Finally, add the lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Beat to combine.
Pour the gorgeous lemony mixture into a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stirring constantly, cook over low heat until thickened (about 10-12 minutes). Never allow the lemon curd to get above a slow simmer. You can test to see if it's ready by stirring it with a wooden spoon; Pull the spoon out and run your finger down the back...if there is a clear mark left from your finger, it's ready. (If you want to get technical and boring, it should thicken right around the 175 F. mark.)
Remove the saucepan from the heat and pour the thickened curd into a large heat-proof bowl. Once it's reached room temperature, place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top (to prevent "skin" from forming), and refrigerate for about 2-3 hours. Once it has cooled off and thickened even more, distribute the curd evenly among the tartlet shells. [Note: You may have some left-over curd, if that's the case, grab the closest spoon and take a mini-mecation.] Place the lemon curd filled tartlet shells into the refrigerator while you prepare the meringue.
Meringue time! Place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. [Note: Make sure that the bowl is super-clean and dry!] Start beating the egg whites on medium-high speed, just until soft peaks form. Add the cream of tartar, and gradually begin to add the sugar. continue beating until stiff peaks form (about 1 to 2 minutes). Try not to over-beat the meringue, or it will start to separate and break apart.
You can either spoon the meringue directly onto the tarts, or, if you want to be fancy and fussy, you can put it into a large piping bag and get creative. There really is no wrong way to apply meringue.
If you have a mini blow-torch, I'm jealous. You can use it to singe the meringue. Those of us without a blow torch can simply place the tartlet shells onto a large cookie sheet and hold it under the oven's broiler. Be sure to keep moving the cookie sheet around because the meringue burns easily, very easily.
Serve the tartlets as soon as possible. If your guests are late, or your just not that hungry, store the tartlets in the refrigerator. But try to serve them on the same day they're made.
Crust recipe adapted from Dorie Greenspan
Lemon curd recipe adapted from Ina Garten