Easter time. An occasion. A moment to stop, to come together and celebrate whether you’re religious or not. I’m not. However I love Easter, its connotations, its mythology bound up in food, in feasts, in breaking bread.
A leg of Spring lamb is traditional, is my preferred choice for Sunday dinner, but unfortunately there are only three of us in the house, my wife doesn’t eat red meat and my daughter is a vegetarian so kind of pointless. Having said that we all love a good pudding so I’ve been going through my bookmarks, my cookbooks looking for a recipe, a dessert I have yet to bake, a classic that will teach me something on my way to becoming the baker I wish to be.
And I have found it. Lemon tart. But not just any lemon tart, Marco Pierre White’s tarte au citron. A classic that has had every chef in his wake look to it for inspiration. So here goes. Simplicity means there’s nowhere to hide.
250g plain flour
90g icing sugar
125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1/2 vanilla pod, split open
1 egg, beaten
400g caster sugar
grated zest of 2 lemons
juice of 5 lemons
250ml double cream
50g icing sugar
sprigs of mint
Make your pastry as you wish. The instructions here are for doing it by hand but I use the food processer which works perfect;y so long as you use the pulse function and be vigilant as heat is the enemy of pastry. If you want to go down the traditional way sift the flour and icing sugar onto your work surface and work in the butter. Make a well in the centre and add the lemon zest and seeds scraped from the vanilla pod. Add the eggs. Knead the mixture with your fingers and work work work. If your hands are warming up put them under a cold tap. Stay cold, be aware. Keep kneading until everything is combined to a smooth dough. Wrap in plastic film and leave to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C. Grease your springform tin (20cm diameter and 4cm deep). Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface to a disc large enough to line the tin and allowing an overhang of not less than 1cm. Lay the pastry gently into the tin.
Line the pastry case with greaseproof paper, parchment paper or tinfoil and fill with enough dry baking beans or any sort of pulse to insure the sides as well as the bottom are weighed down. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove the beans and greaseproof paper and trim off the overhanging pastry, then return the tart case to the oven to bake for a further 10 minutes.
While all that’s happening start making the lemon filling. Whisk the eggs with the caster sugar and lemon zest in a large bowl until smooth. Stir in the lemon juice, then add the cream. Continue to whisk until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined. Skim any froth from the top.
Reduce the oven temperature 120°C. Pour the cold filling into the hot pastry case (this will insure that the case is sealed). Bake for 30 minutes or until set with a good wobble. Don’t obsess over the time in the recipe. Check for a good wobble. All ovens are different.
When your tart is ready remove from the oven and leave to cool and set for about an hour.
When you’re ready to serve, preheat the grill to very hot. Sift the icing sugar over the top of the tart and place it under the grill to caramelise the sugar to a light golden brown. Alternatively, you can just sprinkle the tart with icing sugar without caramelising it. Cut the tart into slices and decorate each with a sprig of mint.
If you have any leftover filling just make up a small tart with it. Better to have too much than not enough.
MPW says that the secret of a really good lemon tart is that the filling should be firm and clear and the pastry light and crisp. It should never be cut immediately after it is cooked as it needs time to cool and set for at least an hour, or the filling will be too runny.
So there you go. Yum. Have a great Easter weekend.