Wednesday, 17 February 2010
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
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:
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.
Posted by Just Cook It at 15:42:00