A Fancy Lemon Tart

Tony’s aunt and uncle have been staying with us, having stopped for a couple nights on their way up from Newport Beach (fancy) here (fancy, fancy). So I felt compelled to make them a little something special for dessert their first night. Normally, I would have researched a bit (ok, a lot) pulling four or five cookbooks off the shelf, comparing recipes, reading up on the techniques I’m unfamiliar with. But we’d only just gotten home from our (fabulous, wonderful) beach vacation, I was jetlagged and stressed out, and so I just went with the first recipe I found in The Baker’s Dozen Cookbook.

Honestly, I like the idea of this cookbook — written by a group of baker friends like Marion Cunningham, Flo Braker and Lindsey Shere — as much as the book itself. I like thinking of these men and women gathering occasionally to hold egg white workshops and ganache seminars. And I’m glad I don’t have to attend, just benefit from what they’ve discovered. And, when I’m in a rush to make a fancy dessert, in fact ignore that they’ve discovered room temperature egg whites make a fuller meringue. I’m not going for perfection here, just impressive. There’s a difference, and I succeeded. It looked beautiful, tasted great, and we had leftovers — what more do you want in a dessert, really?

I’ll give you the recipe as written, and note where I deviated…

Raspberry Lemon Meringue Tart

First make the pastry:
6 tbsp unsalted butter, cool but not cold, cut into small cubes (mine was straight from the fridge, so I nuked it for 20 seconds)
2 1/2 tbsp sugar

1 large egg, at room temperature (or not)

1/4 tsp vanilla extract

pinch of salt

1 c all purpose flour

In a medium bowl, use a hand mixer to cream the butter and sugar until light in color and texture, about 2 minutes. Break the egg into a small cup, beat it thoroughly with a fork, measure out 2 1/2 tbsp and discard the rest (I did do this, though the measurement was totally imprecise). Beat it into the butter with the vanilla and salt until just blended. Scrape down the bowl and add the flour all at once, beating in on low speed until the ingrediants are just moistened. Do not overmix.

Turn the dough out on to an unfloured work surface. Finish combining ingrediants by smearing small amounts away from you with a rubber scraper (this is a French technique called fraisage. I used a technique called less messy, by doing the smearing in the mixing bowl.)

Gather the dough up into a flat disk, about 1/2″ thick, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate until firm, at least one hour. (You can prepare the dough a day ahead).

Now make the filling:

5 large egg yolks

1/3 c lemon juice (from 1 big lemon)

grated zest of 1 lemon

1/2 c sugar

4 tbsp butter, chilled, cut into small cubes

1 c raspberries or blueberries

To make the filling, whisk together the yolks, lemon juice, zest, and sugar in the top of a double boiler or a small metal mixing bowl. Add the butter and place over simmering water to cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the spoon lightly, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap pressed directly on the surface (poke a couple holes in the plastic to let the steam escape) and refrigerate until chilled, about an hour. This, too, can be prepared in advance.

Now back to the crust.

Lightly flour a work surface and roll the dough out into an 11″ circle, about 1/8″ thick. Lift the dough and center it in a 9″ fluted tart pan with removable bottom. Ease the dough into the corners and press it gently into the pan. Trim the dough flush with the top of the pan. Prick the bottom well with a fork. Freeze until firm, about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375.

Bake the tart shell about 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 and continue baking until the pastry is golden brown, about 10 more minutes. If the dough bubbles up at any time, pierce the bubble with the tip of a fork. Transfer the tart to a cooling rack and cool completely (or not).

Spread the lemon curd evenly in the tart shell. Sprinkle the berries on top and press them gently into the filling. Bake until the filling seems set when you gently shake the pan, 20 minutes or so.

While the filled tart is baking, make the meringue topping:

1/4c water

1 tbsp corn starch

1/2 c granulated or superfine sugar

1/2 tsp cream of tartar (didn’t use it, and didn’t notice a difference)

1/2 c egg whites (4-5) at room temperature

In a small saucepan, whisk together the water and corn starch and heat, whisking, until it forms a thick, opaque paste. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix the sugar and cream of tartar (if using). In a medium bowl, whip the egg whites until foamy with a hand mixer on low speed. Increase the speed to medium-high and start adding the sugar one tablespoon at a time until soft peaks form. Add the cooled cornstarch mixture and whip to form stiff, shiny peaks.

Heap the meringue onto the baked tart and return to the oven until meringue is lightly browned, 5-10 minutes.

Cool and serve.

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