Thursday, April 14, 2011

Smoky Lemon Tart

I have long wanted to make a lemon tart and have consistently put it off.  Why?  Because once I made one, I knew it wouldn't be long before I made another, and another...  and that would get to be a problem.

Well, I had a few Meyer lemons hanging about that were just pleading to be made into a tart.  How could I refuse?  Then... inspiration.  What if I roasted these lemons?  A tart was born.  And it was good.

Roasting the lemons creates a lovely round flavor.  There's a hint of smokiness, but not enough to give the secret away.  Most people would never guess what you were up to in the kitchen.  I will advise that some may find it a little odd.  If you took a bit expecting the usual lemon curd, you might notice a difference and find it slightly off putting.  I do encourage you to take a chance on it, though.  I found the risk most definitely worth it.

Before we get to the new and exciting stuff, we must make the crust.  I used my favorite tart dough recipe, yet again.

Ingredients for the Tart Shell:
- 6 tbsp butter, but into pieces
- 1 tbsp canola oil
- 3 tbsp water
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 cup flour

- Combine all ingredients except the flour into an oven safe bowl.
- Put in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes.
- Carefully remove the bowl, add the flour, and stir with a wooden spoon until a dough is formed.
- Let the dough cool until it is safe enough to handle.
- Transfer the dough to your tart pan and gently press it out and up the sides.  Reserve a small piece of dough to patch any cracks after blind baking.
- Prick all over with a fork, especially the corners.
- Return the tart shell to the oven for 15 minutes until it is lightly golden.
- Upon removal patch any noticeable cracks with the reserved dough.  If you work quickly and have little feeling in your fingertips, you can add it instantly and it will cook right on.
- Let the tart shell cool.

Now, on to the fun part!

As with roasting a marshmallow, a bit of char is desired. 

Ingredients for the Lemon Curd:
- 1/2 c. lemon juice (about four small), preferable Meyer lemons: their flavor is lovely, if less tart.  Regular lemons may be used, but the sugar should be increased a bit.
- 1/3 c. sugar
- 2 eggs
- 2 egg yolks (set the whites aside for the meringue below)
- a pinch of salt
- 6 tbsp butter, cut into 1/2" cubes

Note the slight opacity the roasting lent to the lemon juice.

- Start by roasting your lemons!  I cut mine in half, but next time I'll cut them in quarters for more surface area to char.  Put them in a pan under the broiler.  It should take around 10 minutes, but keep your eye on them.
- When the lemons are cool enough to handle, juice them.  It should be exceptionally easy.
- Combine the juice, sugar, eggs, yolks, and salt in a medium saucepan.
- Add the butter cubes and cook over low heat, whisking constantly.
- Raise the heat just a bit and continue whisking.  No need to go at a breakneck pace, but keep the mixture moving.  For a while it will seem like nothing is happening.  Then, suddenly, it will start to thicken.
- I advise lowering the heat again to prevent scorching while you in those last moments deciding if it's done.  When it holds its shape in a spoon it is done.
- Remove from the heat and press the curd through a mesh strainer to make sure there are no curdled bits.
- Set aside to cool to room temperature.

You can make a typical meringue, but I decided to make an Italian meringue (I know, I know:  as if this tart didn't have enough steps and dirty dishes).  The advantage of Italian meringue is mostly that it is very stable, great if your dessert won't be eaten right away.  It also doesn't need to be baked after it's made.

Ingredients for Meringue: (This makes enough to cover the whole tart.  I think you could half it without a problem if you just want a border like I did.)
- 2 egg whites
- 5 tbsp sugar
- a pinch of salt
- 1/4 tsp vanilla

- Comine egg whites, sugar, and salt in a large glass bowl.
- Place over a pot of gently simmer water.
- Whisk gently until the mixture reaches 140 degrees (an instant read thermometer is ideal, a candy thermometer will do).
- Remove the bowl from heat and blend with an electric mixer on high speed.
- Add the vanilla when it begins to firm up and continue blending until it forms stiff peaks.

Now, to put it all together!
- First, coat the tart shell with about a tbsp of honey, slightly warmed so it's easier to brush on.  This is to help prevent the crust from getting soggy should you not eat the tart all at once.  Though the flavor is not really noticeable, I like to think the honey complements the smoky lemons.
- Spoon the lemon curd into the tart shell and smooth it with a spatula.
- Transfer the meringue to a pastry bag (or ziplock with a corner cut off) and pipe the meringue onto the tart.
- If you piped your meringue fairly flat and are familiar with your broiler, you can put the tart under the broiler to brown.  If your meringue has any height, (as mine did, ahem), or your broiler is unwieldy, I recommend putting it in a 400 degree oven for a few minutes.  Either way, watch it carefully or you will find yourself plucking off burnt meringue and repiping.
- Let the tart cool completely before serving.

This tart is ideal the first day but will last up to three.  It should probably be refrigerated, but I left mine on the counter of my cool kitchen and I seem to have lived.  This was definitely one of the more time consuming things I've made, exacerbated by the pile of dishes it leaves in its wake, but when I took a bite of the slice I didn't care one bit.


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