High Altitude Baking: French lemon tart (recipe)
Editor’s note: High altitudes makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.
Aaah, spring … a time for sunny days, budding flowers, nesting birds and, in our household, lemon tarts. I always bake at least one this time of year; the fresh citrus flavor is a perfect counterpart to the season. This little beauty, a variation of a classic French dessert, is one of my favorites. A smooth, lemony filling in a sweet, buttery tart shell … it’s understated perfection. A light taste and texture make it a welcome ending to a heavy meal and its simplicity allows it to pair beautifully with an array of accompaniments: Serve it with whipped cream, creme fraiche, candied lemon peel, a scatter of fresh strawberries, blueberries or raspberries, or a fruit sauce.
I had misgivings when I first encountered the recipe; it seems almost too straightforward. (Can a recipe with so few ingredients really work?) However, after following it successfully numerous times, I became a believer. It’s simple, it’s reliable and it has taught me that French recipes don’t have to be fussy to be good.
French Lemon Tart
(Make in a 9-inch or 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom.)
A pre-baked tart shell, cooled
1/2 cup superfine granulated sugar, preferably Baker’s
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup sweetened whipped cream, optional
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees, with a rack in the lower third of the oven.
Step 2: Combine the sugar and flour in a mixing bowl and whisk to blend thoroughly. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking well after each addition.
Step 3: Give the lemon juice a taste (the strength of the flavor varies from lemon to lemon). If the sour lemon flavor is very pronounced, then use slightly less than the prescribed amount. Add the lemon juice, whisk again, until well combined. Finally, whisk in the cream.
Step 4: Place the pre-baked tart shell on a baking sheet and pour in the filling, stop when it comes to about ½ inch from the top of the tart shell, even if you have some left over. Bake until the filling is set (jiggle the pan; the lemon mixture should barely move), 25-30 minutes.
Step 5: Remove to a rack to cool completely, then refrigerate, covered lightly (don’t wrap airtight or condensation will occur) until well chilled or overnight.
Step 6: If using the optional topping: Up to three hours before serving, use a 1/2-inch closed star pastry tip to pipe rosettes of sweetened whipped cream around the edge of the filling and return the tart to the refrigerator. Right before serving, remove the tart from the pan (set the pan on a coffee can or small overturned bowl and gently slip the pan rim down, leaving the tart on the pan bottom). Cut it into servings with a sharp, thin-bladed knife, pushing straight down (don’t saw back and forth). Serve chilled. Return leftovers to the refrigerator, covered lightly.
I collect recipes for lemon tarts; I must have 30 of them and I haven’t met one yet that I don’t like.
Vera Dawson, author of the new high-altitude cookbook “Cookies in the Clouds” (available at The Next Page Books & Nosh in Frisco), is a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute. Her recipes have been tested in her Summit County kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at email@example.com.
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