Recipe: Lemon Tart. A Classic. Easy.

A perfect lemon tart has to be one of the most delectable desserts out there.

Tonight in the South of France I enjoyed one of the most perfect slices of lemon tart I have ever had. Clean, bright, and lemony, without a hint of edginess to it, it was divine. This recipe is adapted from superstar British-Italian chef Angela Hartnett.  

The pastry likes to be worked cold.  While some like to use modern equipment, I prefer doing this type of work with my hands and manual instruments…there is more control this way.

Some people find that lemon tarts can have an egg flavour.  That is more likely than not a result of the sulphurous compounds in egg whites, and indeed, many such recipes require a custard using whole eggs.  We eschew that for a yolks-only custard, so no egginess and a luscious golden hue.

Making this crust with a slightly reduced quantity of butter and a little water will give it a crisper feeling, which is a nice contrast to the velvety filling.

Italian Sweet Pastry

  • 250 g plain flour, sifted
  • 80 g caster sugar
  • 100 g cold butter, diced
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1-2 tablespoons of ice water, as needed

Mix the flour and sugar together in a bowl.  Add the butter and work in with a pastry fork until it is “sandy” like coarse grit.  Pour in the beaten egg and mix well without overworking.  Form into a ball and let rest for at least an hour in the refrigerator before using.

Lemon Custard Filling

  • 50 g caster sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of cornflour
  • 275 ml cold water
  • grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 40 g cold butter, diced

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.  

Roll out the pastry line a 25 cm loose-bottomed flan tin.  Bake blind filled with baking beans for 15 minutes, remove the beans and return to the oven to bake a further 5 minutes until the crust is dry to the touch. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Reduce the oven temperature to 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2.

Make the lemon filling.  Mix together the sugar and cornflour in a bowl.  Add enough water to make a smooth paste, just.  Let it stand until the sugar crystals have dissolved.  Put the remaining water in a medium pan with the lemon zest and juice and bring to the boil.  Remove from the heat and add in the cornflour mixture, whisking well to prevent clumps.  Return to the heat, whisking all the while, and simmer for 2 minutes or so until slightly thickened.  Remove the heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes.  Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in the butter.  The mixture should be uniform, thick, and glossy.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or so, turning the tart half-way along to make sure it cooks evenly.  Let cool on a rack in the pan for two hours before unmoulding.  

Cook’s Tips

Best eaten the day it is made.  If you leave it in the pan the crust will become soggy.

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