1.20.2009

upstaged

On Saturday, the unthinkable happened: I was upstaged by a lemon tart.


I should have seen it coming.

Every now and then I have a hankering for a dessert that's not afraid to make you pucker. One day last week, I decided to fiddle with a couple of lemon tart recipes that, historically, have almost -- but not quite -- satisfied this hankering. I wasn't after one of those lemon cream filling numbers, so hold the crème fraîche. I wanted a tart with tang. Something clean, light, and lemony, with "Pucker up, buttercup," written all over it. A lemon tart, people.

I got close.

I slid a couple of slices onto a paper plate for our downstairs neighbors, Sam and Elisha. They must have liked what they tasted, because a few days later, we received an invitation for Saturday lunch. And when I say, "we," I refer not to myself and Eli, but to the two of us and the tart. Perfect. I had scored the opportunity to have another go at it.

I traded in the buttery shell for a press-in crust that is almost cookie-like. For the filling, I reduced the sugar and upped the amount of both lemon juice and zest. After a light dusting of powdered sugar, the pretty little thing posed innocently enough for her headshot. Though she did seem to wrap that sunlight around her fluted self like a solo spotlight... In retrospect, it was so All About Eve. Forgive me, Bette Davis. I should have known better.

Lunch at Sam and Elisha's was lovely, as usual. Elisha's parents were visiting from New York, and their good company only added to our enjoyment. It's an honor to be invited over for a meal when The Parents are in town and, as we were heading into the dessert course, I said so. "Or was it really just the lemon tart you wanted your parents to meet?" Eli joked. And then it happened: A beat of silence. Nervous laughter. An awkward exchange of glances between our dear hosts. Wait a second... was it TRUE? Was I really just the tag along girl? My dessert's insignificant other?

I didn't have more than a minute or two to contemplate the matter because all of a sudden the tart was sliced and served and sitting there all sunny and yellow before me. I took a bite. We all took bites. This was not almost. This was not close. This was it. So never you mind, Ms. Lemon. I'll happily stand in your shadow. I'll hold the sugar sifter. And the camera. Oh, and a fork. Another guest at the table offered to do the dishes in exchange for leftover tart. Our hosts turned him down. I guess they just couldn't bear the thought of a guest dirtying his hands in their kitchen. Yes, that must be it.

Lemon tart of mine, I'll follow you to the table anywhere, anytime.

Ms. Lemon Tart
Adapted from Epicurious's Verlet's Apricot Tart and Eating Well's Classic Lemon Tart

For the pastry:
8 T. butter, melted [For a non-dairy version of this dessert, try Earth Balance Buttery Sticks.]
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 t. almond extract
1/2 t. vanilla extract
1/2 t. salt
1 1/4 c. + 1 T. flour

For the filling:
2 large eggs
3 large egg whites
3/4 cup to 1 cup sugar (depending on how much sour power you crave)
2-3 medium lemons for the following:
1/2 cup (and then some, should you so desire) fresh lemon juice
2-3 t. freshly grated lemon zest
Powdered sugar for dusting.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9-inch cake pan. (As usual, I favor the fluted, removable bottom kind.)

Make the pastry:
Combine the melted butter and sugar and stir with a wooden spoon. Add the extracts, salt, and flour, and mix well. The consistency will resemble cookie dough. (Incidentally, rolled out and stamped with mini-biscuit cutters, this pastry also produces delicious little tea cookies.) Squeeze the dough together into a lump, and transfer it to the prepared pan. Using your fingertips, press the dough along the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Bake the pastry in the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes until slightly puffy.

Meanwhile, Make the filling:
In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, egg whites, and sugar until smooth. Slowly whisk in the lemon juice and the lemon zest.

Pour the filling into the partially baked crust, and carefully slide the tart into the oven. Increase the oven temperature to 375 degrees. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the crust is golden and the filling is set. Do not over bake; the delicate crust burns easily. Let cool, and dust with powdered sugar. Serve at room temperature.

9 comments:

Elishag said...

I missed so many posts this weekend with all of our out town guests- and was thrilled to see yesterdays post this morning- with MY name in it! I certainly feel like a celebrity. But, let me just make it clear, that we love your company more than any of your baked goods. It's true that the tart was a crowd pleaser- many people at the table were wondering if Jessica would sell her delicious pies (Jessica declined. Boy am I glad we're neighbors and get the goods gratis). To emphasize my point I will share a story that comes to mind from my childhood. When I was 5 my little brother, and only sibling, Benjy came along. A baker in my synagogue offered me a dozen cupcakes in exchange for my new baby brother, and I, a cupcake lover (and not quite old enough to understand that he was joking), flat out said no, I wouldn't trade him for all the cupcakes in the world. Jess, I can surely say the same of you- I wouldn't trade your friendship for all the lemon tarts you could possibly bake in a lifetime.

Nannette said...

It is so nice to see that Elisha wouldn't trade her brother for a dozen cupcakes--- I think Wes would have traded me for the rest of that tart!

kasey said...

Here is my "I made this tart last night" comment.

We'll see tonight how it tastes (though I did sneak a little bit of the filling from the corner and hid the hole under powdered sugar).

Anonymous said...

Kasey's tart was wonderful. I would've licked my plate clean, if I'd been alone. I wanted to eat it slowly while I sipped my tea and savor the wonderful crust and creamy lemon filling but couldn't help myself and ate it in several bites!

jess said...

Oh, Elishag, you are the sweetest. And a super-good sport for so graciously bearing the brunt of my poetic license!

Nannette, I guess you and Wes will just have to come over soon for dinner. I promise that you can take home the leftover dessert without having to leave a single hostage behind.

Kase, so glad the tart was a success. And hello there, Ms. "Anonymous." I hope you had a lovely birthday. Plate licking, by the way, is perfectly acceptable behavior in my book.

Leah said...

This tart looks beautiful! I would like to make it for Saturday- Shabbat- lunch this week. If I make it on Friday, can I put it in the freezer until I serve it?

Jess said...

Hi, Leah. This tart should hold up just fine overnight; no freezing necessary. In fact, I have a feeling that the lemon filling might not do very well in the freezer. If you are concerned about spoilage, you can store the tart in the fridge, though the crust may soften. Since the filling is dairy-free, and the tart is cooked-through, I'm inclined to say that it would be best left overnight, covered in plastic wrap, on the counter. But I am no food safety expert. If you are in doubt, err on the side of refrigeration. Happy baking!

Leah said...

Hi Jess!

I finally got around to making this this weekend, and it was absolutely lovely. Thank you so much for the recipe! I'm really happy to hear that you are well and getting better! Hope you have a complete and speedy recovery!

Leah

Jess said...

Leah - Thank you very much for reporting back. And thanks also for the warm wishes. I am indeed doing quite well, and feeling better and better every day.