Hands up who’d prefer a tangy citrus dessert any day over a chocolate one? If your hand’s up, join the club. Okay, chocolate has its place (who can argue that?!), but honestly, I’d much rather refresh my palate with citrus flavours after a meal (especially a rather hefty roast), wouldn’t you?
And, when it comes to citrus desserts, you can never overlook the classic pillar of French patisserie, the Tarte Au Citron. Weirdly, I’ve never made one before now. I’ve always found myself lured by the overt flamboyance of Lemon Meringue Pie with its billowing cloud of fluffy meringue. Lemon Tart always seemed a bit… well… plain in comparison. But, as it turns out, I’ve been completely wrong. It’s not plain, it’s elegant. It’s Grace Kelly, as opposed to Marilyn Monroe.
I found this recipe in one of my (far too many) cookbooks at home – Sweetie Pie from Hannah Miles, 2015. And, for the most part, it was a good’un. The filling portion of the recipe was sublime – gloriously tart with its added lime juice, and seductively soft without losing its shape. The crust in the recipe, however, wasn’t to my liking. It was a plain unsweetened shortcrust, sans eggs and sugar and I just felt it wasn’t the right partner to the tart filling. To that end, I’ve paired it (in the recipe below) with a much preferred sweet short-crust recipe from Larousse Cuisine.
And just a note. This recipe makes a generous amount of both pastry and filling. I found that there’s even enough to stretch out to two shallow 9 inch tart tins. So you can make two and freeze one (click here for freezing tips) or take two along to a larger gathering. Bonus!
This simple citrus tart may be stripped bare of the fripperies that its cousin Lemon Meringue Pie offers, but its simplicity is what ensures its citrus flavours truly shine. With a dusting of icing sugar over top, and a dollop of cream alongside, this Tarte au Citron is about as sophisticated a dessert as you’ll ever serve. Enjoy!
TARTE AU CITRON
For the sweet shortcrust:
- 1 vanilla pod (seeds only)
- 8.8 oz plain flour
- 3.1 oz icing sugar
- 4.4 oz butter, diced
- 1 large egg
- Flour for dusting
For the filling:
- 8 eggs
- 10.5 oz caster sugar (superfine sugar)
- Grated zest and freshly squeezed juice of 4 lemons (I made 2/3rds cup juice)
- Freshly squeezed juice of 2 limes
- 10.1 fl oz heavy cream
- Icing sugar (confectioner's sugar) to dust over top
- Whipped cream (to serve)
For the shortcrust:
- Slice the vanilla pod in half length-ways. Then scrape out all the seeds and discard the pod (or better still, pop it into your sugar container for scented sugar).
- Place the flour in a food processor and add the icing sugar and the diced butter. Then add the vanilla seeds. Combine the ingredients together using pulse mode until the mixture resembles fine bread crumbs (this should only take about 10 seconds). Now crack one whole egg into the mixture and process using pulse mode until the mixture is combined and starts to clump (around 10 seconds). Don’t wait for it to become a ball of dough though – it should be processed only to the point where, if you hold some of the mixture between your fingers, it holds together.
- Dust the work surface lightly with flour. Dump the crumbly dough on the work surface and begin bringing the mixture together. Do so only until it is a smooth ball, and be careful not to over-mix or the dough will become too hard. Now wrap the dough in cling film and place in the fridge to rest and cool for at least one hour.
- Take the pastry from the fridge and remove the cling film. Lightly dust the work surface with flour and knead the pastry for about 30 seconds to make it smooth again. Begin to roll out the pastry until it’s 3-4mm thick, making sure you turn it and flour it occasionally.
- Now roll the pastry over your rolling pin and unroll it over a 9 or 10 inch fluted tart tin*. Make sure you press the pastry into the corners of the tin using your fingers. Trim away excess pastry using a sharp knife, but leave some pastry hanging over the edge – this will be trimmed neatly after the tart is baked. Prick the base all over with a fork and place the tart shell in the fridge for about at least 30 minutes to an hour to allow the pastry to relax (and avoid shrinking).
- Remove the tart shell from the fridge. Place baking paper and baking beans in the tart shell and cook in a pre-heated oven at 180°C (350°F) for 15-20 mins. Remove the tart shell from the oven, remove the paper and beans, then put it back in the oven for 5 more minutes. Remove the tart shell and put it on a rack to cool. In the meantime, reduce the oven heat to 150°C (300°F).
For the filling:
- Whisk the eggs, sugar, lemon zest and juice, and lime juice, in a medium sized bowl. Slowly pour in the cream and whisk together to combine.
- Pour the custard into the pie crust (it helps if you put the empty pie crust part-way into the oven before pouring in the custard to avoid spills).
- Cook the tart for 25-30 minutes, or until it is just set (there should be a slight wobble in the middle as it will continue to firm up as it cools).
- Remove the tray from the oven and place on a wire rack. Use a sharp paring knife to trim away the excess pastry around the top, then leave the tart to cool completely on a rack. If not eating right away, store the tart in the fridge, lightly covered with foil. NB: I make my tart the day before and store it in the fridge.
- When ready to serve, dust with icing sugar. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream. The tart will keep for up to 3 days stored in the fridge.