It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which your life might depend on making a pie crust from scratch. If I ever found myself in baking straits that dire, I’d be screwed.
I just can’t make pie crust — no matter how many times I’ve tried.
Now, I like to think that I’m otherwise pretty competent in the kitchen. Sure, I goof up here and there, but generally the things I cook turn out all right. I have a decent grasp of the basic principles of chemistry as they relate to cooking, so I feel comfortable improvising and experimenting in the kitchen.
This is a long way of saying that baking — and its precision — terrifies me.
Sure, I can bake a few things reasonably well, but pie dough is beyond me. The consistency is never right, the dough somehow simultaneously sticks AND cracks as I roll it out. If, by some miracle, I do manhandle it into a semi-flat shape, the whole thing falls apart spectacularly as I transfer it to a pie dish.
Which leads me to an awful irony. My favorite dessert in the whole world? Tarte au citron. Lemon tart.
And not just any lemon tart, mind you. The tart in question is the rarest of rare dessert birds. I must have eaten one at some point in my life, otherwise how would I even know it existed? But for years and years I’ve searched high and low to find the kind of lemon tart I like, and no one makes it.
I’m looking for a very specific lemon tart: thin, tangy and deeply yellow like the ACTUAL color of a lemon. My problem with most lemon tarts is that somehow they’ve come to be these tall, barely yellow, wobbly things that hint at lemon, but don’t taste of lemon. Instead, they taste like eggs. Now, I like eggs and all, but when I lift a forkful of lemon tart to my nose, I don’t want omelets coming to mind. I want my mouth to brace at the impending acidity.
So a few years ago, knowing that I can’t make pie crust to save my life and worried that this quest for my lemony whale would ultimately consume me, I set out to create my own.
In doing so, I must have tried most of the recipes for lemon tart published in English and half the ones published in French. (Okay, maybe not that many. But definitely more than 15.)
My recipe is a mashup of two others. The first is a sanity-saving and incredibly delicious tart crust from Chocolate & Zucchini: Daily Adventures in a Parisian Kitchen by Clotilde Dusoulier. I’ve not had the pleasure of meeting Mme. Dusoulier, but if I ever do, I will hug her for an uncomfortably long amount of time because of her wonderful recipe. Seriously — it’s that easy and that good.
Rather than rolling out a dough, her recipe has you simply dumping the ingredients into your pie dish or tart tin, pressing the dough into the pan and getting on with your life. It comes out perfect every time — crisp, buttery and sugar cookie-ish. It’s definitely on the rustic side of the appearance spectrum, but who cares?
Then there’s cookbook author and blogger David Lebovitz’s recipe for lemon curd. Imagine my delight when, after paging through cookbook after cookbook for a lemon curd recipe that didn’t start with, oh, six eggs—or eight eggs, or six eggs and heavy cream—I found his recipe that calls for a very reasonable 2 whole eggs plus 2 egg yolks. Cue the choir of angels! (Me being me, I like to add the zest of one of the lemons, too. Extra zing!)
So now, after much ado about a sweet nothing, I give you a recipe for what I think a lemon tart should be. It’s probably not for everyone. But I hope you like it!
What does your ideal lemon tart taste like? Is there a dish out there that only you can make to your liking?