sunshine for your winter solstice

In my experience, when it comes to dessert, people fall into two categories: the chocolate people and the fruit people. With few exceptions, I feel that dessert is not worth eating unless it involves chocolate. My wife, on the other hand, is a fruit person, and, in particular, she loves desserts involving the resilient lemon.

Lemon Tart

Winter is a difficult time for the admirers of fruit desserts. The apples are only good for so long, after all. And, on top of that, how many apple pies can one really eat over a three month period? Fortunately, winter is also the season of excellent (if not local) citrus. This lemon tart makes use of both the fragrant, tart lemon and the milder, sweeter orange.

I first learned this recipe almost ten years ago from an episode of Cooking Live. Cooking Live was this great show on the Food Network, in the days before yumm-o and shows about the origins of the Pop Tart. Hosted by Sara Moulton, the hour-long, live show took the viewers step-by-step through dinner preparation with Ms. Moulton answering viewer’s telephone and email questions along the way. My first roommate and I watched it religiously. Sadly, it went off the air a few years ago (I think it was a lot of work for Ms. Moulton), and was replaced by the less-exciting, half-hour Sara’s Secrets.

This lemon tart comes from an old Cooking Live episode, and I have made it dozens of times in the many years since I first saw it prepared on TV. Light and tart with a rich crust, it is a total crowd pleaser. Seriously, I have never met anyone who doesn’t like this tart, and I have made it for company, for family, for dinner at my boss’s house, for dinner with at least two sets of Anne’s co-workers. It is always a big hit, and people frequently ask for the recipe. Plus, it’s probably Anne’s favorite of all the desserts I make.

With the sun setting around 4 o’clock here on the East Coast, I think we could all use a little extra sunshine in our day. This tart promises to deliver. Serve it with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream, and you will make people very happy.

Lemon Tart Slice

Lemon Tart

(The original recipe called for a crust that involved sugar and an egg yolk. I’ve abandoned that in favor of an un-sweetened, traditional pie crust recipe — in part, because that is what I often have in my freezer. If you have another tart shell that you like, feel free to substitute it, adding the egg-white wash at the end.)

For the Crust:
1 ¼ cups flour
¼ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter
2 tablespoons cold shortening
3 – 4 tablespoons icy cold water
1 egg white, beaten

Combine the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Scatter butter and shortening over the flour mixture and pulse (about 8 one-second pulses) until the mixture looks like a coarse meal. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of water on top of flour mixture and run processor until the dough begins to come together in 2-3 solid masses. If needed, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of water to get the pastry to come together. (If you don’t have a food processor, this can be done in a bowl, by hand, working the butter and shortening into the flour with a fork, pastry blender or two knives.)

Turn the dough out onto a piece of cling wrap and, working quickly, form the dough into a 6” disk. Wrap the dough up and chill overnight (if possible) or for at least 3 hours.

Roll the chilled pastry dough out on a floured surface to about 12” in diameter. (If the pastry dough is really cold, you may need to let it sit at room temperature for 10 minutes or so. It may also help to whack – à la Julia Child – the disk of dough a few times with your rolling pin.) Gently lay the rolled out dough into a 10” tart pan with a removable bottom. Being careful not to stretch the pastry, carefully lift it up and set it down into the corners of the tart pan. With a sharp knife, trim around the circumference of the dough so you have about a 1” overhang. Carefully fold this extra dough back and tuck it against the inside of the tart pan. Gently press the dough up against the edge of the pan and chill the shell in the freezer for about 20 minutes until it is firm. (Save any scraps of dough, wrapped in cling wrap in the refrigerator. You can use this to patch the shell if it tears or breaks during the blind bake.)

Folding Back DoughDough With Pie Weights

Pre-heat the oven to 350º. Set the tart pan on a rimmed baking sheet, line it with parchment paper, fill with pie weights (or dry beans) and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the shell from the oven, remove the parchment and weights. (At this point, if the shell has puffed at all, carefully prick the bubbles with the point of a sharp knife to release the steam.) Return the shell to the oven for 10 – 15 minutes until lightly golden. Upon removing the shell from the oven, immediately brush the bottom of the hot shell with the egg white.

For the Filling:
4 eggs
1 ½ cups sugar
grated zest of 1 orange
grated zest of 1 lemon
½ cup fresh orange juice
½ cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup heavy cream

While the shell is in the oven for the second baking, whisk the ingredients for the filling to combine. Transfer the mixture to a 1 quart measuring cup or other large pitcher. After brushing the hot tart shell with egg white, return it to the oven.

The easiest way to fill the tart shell is to fill it while it’s on the oven rack, with the rack pulled out a bit so you can pour the filling directly into the shell without burning your hand. Depending upon the size of your eggs and how much your shell may have shrunken during the blind bake, you may not use all of the filling. Pour in as much filling as you can to reach the top of the shell and then slowly slide the rack back into the oven.

Bake the tart for 20 – 25 minutes, until the filling is just set. It’s important not to over-bake the tart, so start checking it after 20 minutes. Cool the tart to room temperature (or chill) before serving. Serve with barely sweetened, lightly whipped cream.

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One response to “sunshine for your winter solstice

  1. I made this tart and it was absolutely delicious. My family devoured it in record time. Plus it was one of the easiest desserts I’ve made. I can understand why its your wife’s favorite. I’ll certainly make it again.

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