Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Lemon and Chilli Tart

Lemon tart is the dessert for people who don’t do desserts.

There is a neat dichotomy in the world. For some the very word ‘gateaux’ is enough to bring on excitement bordering on the erotic.

The prospect of a delicately crafted assiette complete with tuiles, spun sugar sculptures of the Sydney Opera House and eight hundred garnishes can weaken the knees and moisten the brow.

For dessert fans, the starter and main course are but palate readiers for the sweet treats to follow be they frozen, baked, chilled, fried or covered in chocolate. In many cases all of the above.

Pud-heads pay homage to the goddess of sugar, offer sacrifices to the sprits of the saccharine and prostrate themselves at the altar of pastry.

And then there are those like my dad. The dessert menu is briefly perused before being dismissed with a request to move directly to coffee. Do not pass Gü. Do not put on two hundred pounds.

Indeed, the word ‘meh’ could have been coined for this very situation.

But the one exception that proves the rule is the lemon tart. It is the non-pudding lovers’ pudding. The sweet richness of the filling is tempered by the bracing acidity of the citrus fruit and despite the vast quantities of butter, sugar and eggs needed to make most incarnations, it is a surprisingly light end to a meal.

A few weeks ago I wrote an article on the Cambridge Chilli Farm. Amongst their many artisanal products is the intriguing Lemon Drop Sauce made with aji lemon chillies. It was recommended as an addition to seafood or chicken but by that point the cogs of invention were chugging into place.

I’ve long been fascinated with the Thai approach to flavour balance – the careful interplay between the sour, the spicy, the sweet and the salty is a great basis for a culinary philosophy and I wondered if it would work with desserts too.

This presented the ideal opportunity to try.

After consulting innumerable sources (none of which had a recipe for lemon tart flavoured with chilli) I created the following recipe combining elements of Larousse, Stephane Renaud and the Almighty himself, Mr Thomas Keller.

It is by no means a classic lemon tart – the filling cooked over a bain marie, hollandaise style, before being poured into the prebaked tart casing. But the resultant dish is a thing of beauty. The balance between sweet and sour, so essential for a lemon tart, is there but the chilli brings something new. The heat comes late and readies the palate for the next mouthful making each bite as tasty and as satisfying as the first.

But from what I can tell it is a genuine original. Would you look at that? I think I’ve created a signature dish.

Lemon and Aji Lemon Chilli Tart

This uses a basic pâte sablée or sweet short crust for the pastry case. Feel free to pep it up with some grated lemon zest or even a smidgeon of dried chilli flakes.

250g plain flour
125g butter, at room tempterature
70g caster sugar
1 egg

Beat the butter and egg together until light and fluffy then add the sugar. Sift in the flour and use your hands to make a dough. Try to handle it as little as possible, just incorporate the flour then wrap it in cling film and put it in the fridge for at least half an hour.

Once chilled roll out the pastry – I find it helpful to do so between two sheets of greaseproof paper – to a thickness of about half a centimetre and line a loose bottomed tart case with it. Press the pastry into the corners (corners? It’s round - you know what I mean – ridges?) of the tart case and trim off a little of the excess pastry.

Make a cartouche of baking paper and place over the pastry. Fill it with baking beans or coins and bake at 180 degrees for at least fifteen minutes until the base as well as the edges are starting to turn that delicious pale tan colour. Think healthy glow as opposed to Jodie Marsh.

Once cooked remove the baking paper along with the coins and leave to cool whilst you prepare the filling.

For the filling you will need:
Three eggs
100g caster sugar
four lemons, zested and juiced, juice sieved to remove pips and pith
80g butter cubed into neat little dice (about 2cm squared)
2 teaspoons lemon drop sauce

Add an inch or so of water to a saucepan and bring to a boil over a moderate heat. Crack the eggs into a heatproof bowl – make sure you choose one that’s slightly smaller than the pan you are using - and add the lemon zest and sugar and whisk for a couple of minutes until the colour begins to turn pale.

Place the bowl over the pan of simmering water. Make sure the base of the bowl is not touching the water so that the eggs are being cooked by the gentle heat of the steam. Continue whisking the mixture until the eggs begin to thicken then add a third of the lemon juice. The mixture will thin. Keep whisking until it begins to thicken again. Add another third of the lemon juice. Whisk until thick and repeat the process with the remaining lemon juice.

Keep the heat low and keep whisking well throughout - you don’t want scrambled eggs stuck to the bottom of the bowl.

The whole process should take 8-10 minutes. You’ll know when it’s ready. Promise.

Remove the bowl from the heat and whisk in the butter a cube at a time then add the aji lemon sauce. Taste all the way through to make sure the balance of sweet/sour/hot is right. The chilli flavour shouldn’t be immediately noticeable but creep up on you gradually.

Once you’re happy, pour the mixture into the tart case. It should set at room temperature within 15-20 minutes. Serve with any ice cream you see fit and maybe a glass of limoncello.


Maria said...

I can't wait to try this tart!

Laura said...

Hi Alex

I have been following your blog for quite a long time now. Besides the recipes I also love the introductions to and the stories behind them.

I adore Lemon Tarts. My favorite recipe so far has been the Lemon Chess Pie by Lisa of Homesick Texan. It's probably because of the salty crust, which plays up the lemon curd beautifully.
Must find an excuse to try your recipe next!

Insurance Telemarketing said...

Haha, you make me want to eat the intro, that's how good you make it sounds.

I am sure it lives up to its fame, and trust me. I know how hard it is to get some people to open their mouths for dessert.

Lucy said...

I love lemon tart, so this twist sounds genius to me! Must definitely try it soon.

Anonymous said...

This combination sounds amazing. I'm really curious to try this!

Alicia Foodycat said...

That sounds so good! I love lemon tart but I've not been lucky with making them. Yours looks almost like cheesecake! Perfect set!

Hollow Legs said...

I am a big fan of lemon tarts. The chilli idea is genius - great photos!

Tamsin said...

Sounds fab - if you don't have access to the lemon drop sauce can you infuse a chilli as you heat the filling?

I am currently living in New Zealand - South Island - and finding the lack of spicy foods and even fresh chillies slightly frustrating! Will be back to Saffron Walden area this time next year, and will definitely be trying out produce from the Cambridge Chilli Farm.

Paunchos said...

Chilli and lemon tart is inspired. Love it. And will try it out. I very much fall into your Dad's category.

Just Cook It said...

Maria - thanks indeed, do let me know how it goes.

Laura - Thank you so much, glad you like the little tales. No excuse needed to try this one - just go for it!

I.T. - Very kind of you to say so, thanks.

Thanks Lucy, hope it works out after I've given it so much praise!

Arugulove - It works brilliantly. Promise

Foodycat - I think I went a little over, to be honest. It didn't quite have that clean texture that a perfect lemon tart has but was close.

Thanks Lizzie. Prob my fave pub, especially when given a little zap with chilli

Tamsin - I see no reason why not although I'm not sure what you'd infuse it into! Perhaps the lemon juice for 24 hours before hand. Cam Chilli Farm stuff is really good.

Paunchos - Me too. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, as they say. Thanks again

Anonymous said...

Wow-what a unique and intriguing combination-I will most definitely be giving this recipe a try!

Tim Clarke said...

Just taken delivery of the lemon drop sauce so this tart will be on next weekend's wish list. If successful it will be on our next dinner party menu - looks wonderful!

Alissa Evelyn said...

i love this flavour combo idea!

chumbles said...

Wow! And thrice wow! This is probably the first time in twenty years I've looked at a pudding recipe and wanted to both eat and cook it. Fantastic.

Nachiketa said...


love your tarts... so pretty to look n must be yummy to eat, sweet/sour n Hot all at the same time....
Loved surprising my friends with these :) Lemon Cake, Lemon Tarts ~ Happy Anniversary Shikha & Sujith n Surprise for Sharad

The Variable, Crazy Over Desserts - Nachiketa
Catch me on facebook @ Crazy Over Desserts

ILF said...

This recipe sounds interesting, but I can find no trace of the sauce you used on the Cambridge website. Is there any substitute you could recommend?