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Lemon Meringue Tartlets

The abundance of citrus in the markets continues so tis the season to enjoy them at every opportunity.  Just the other night I sautéed a couple of pieces of halibut and served it with a citrus sauce and slices of grapefruit supremes alongside.  What I love about the bright and crisp flavors of citrus is that it reminds me of the more pleasant days of summer during the cold Minnesota winters.

Something else to do during winter is watch episodes of Julia Child: Cooking with Master Chefs.  One particular episode I enjoyed watching was a chef making a citrus fruit galette.  She thinly sliced some lemons, fanned the slices on a round of pastry dough, sprinkle them with sugar, then folded the dough around the fruit forming the galette.  After it was baked and cooled, lime curd was spooned atop the lemon slices and topped with meringue.   It looked beautiful and sounded delicious!

After watching the show I was inspired to take some of the components and make something of my own.  I started with Simca Beck’s paté sucrée while adding the zest of an organic orange.  I also formed the dough in individual tart rings instead of making a galette.   Thinking the dough would cook faster than the lemons, I baked the sugared lemons separately on a Silpat; they burned before they got soft…dangit.  Next I tried cooking the lemon slices in the tart shell.  The lemon slices remained chewy though the tart shell was beautifully cooked.  Nertz…what to try next?

I had candied some grapefruit peel the previous week so that gave me the idea of blanching the lemon slices first to soften the rind and then cook them in simple syrup — for an hour no less.  They did get softer, but not soft enough for my taste to line the bottom of a Lemon Curd – Meringue Tart.  So try my recipe below for a lovely lemon tart, sans lemon slices, while I keep experimenting in the kitchen.

Simca’s Pâte Sublime (Delicate Sweet Pastry Dough with Cream)
Yield about 1 ½ pounds pastry dough, enough for two 8 to 9 inch tart shells or 8 individual 3-inch tart rings

9 ounces (2 cups) all-purpose flour
1 ounce (1/4 cup) cake flour, not self-rising
1/8 ounce (1 teaspoon) baking powder
3/4 ounce (2 tablespoons) super fine granulated sugar
5 ounces (10 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
zest of one medium orange, preferably organic (optional)
4 – 6 tablespoons heavy cream, beaten with 1 large egg yolk*
2 tablespoons orange juice, freshly squeezed (optional)

Place dry ingredients in bowl of a food processor and process 2 seconds to combine.  Evenly distribute the butter around the bowl of the processor and pulse on/off for 8 to 10 seconds (about 20 pulses) or until mixture resembles coarse oatmeal.

*If using 2 tablespoons orange juice cut back on the amount of cream by the same amount.   More or less liquid may be needed depending on the amount of moisture already in the flour.

With the processor running, add the egg mixture through the pour-tube and process just until the mixture starts to hold together.  Turn out onto a floured surface and quickly smear together with the heel of your hand to blend, gathering it back onto itself with a bench knife.  If making two tarts, divide it evenly into two disks, otherwise it’s fine leaving it in one disk for the individual tartlets.  Wrap tightly in plastic wrap.  Chill for at least 1 hour prior to rolling or up to one day in the refrigerator.  It can also be frozen for up to one month.

If making one large tart, roll out the dough in a circle about 1½ inches larger than the tart pan.  If making individual tartlets, roll out to about 3/16-inch.  Set a tart ring on the dough and cut around it about 1-inch larger than the ring.  Gently form the dough in the ring.  After it is formed, cut off any dough sticking above the ring.

Set on a parchment or Silpat lined sheet pan.  When the tart(s) have been formed place them in the freezer for at least an hour.  Once frozen they can be tightly wrapped and kept for up to a month as well.  Preheat the oven to 350°F.   Line the tart(s) with parchment paper and pie weights and cook for about 15 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove from oven and let cool completely.

Lemon Curd
3 large egg yolks
3 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
¾ cup fresh lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon
pinch of kosher salt
8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks and eggs until evenly blended and set aside.  In a medium saucepan, heat the sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice and salt until the sugar has melted.

Slowly whisk in the the hot liquid into the eggs to temper them.  Return the egg mixture back into the saucepan and whisk on very low heat until the curd thickens.  Be patient as it can take up to an hour.

It is possible to cook it faster, but you will run the risk of scrambling the eggs.  When the curd has thickened (it should coat the back of a spoon) remove the saucepan from the heat and whisk in the butter.

Spoon into a clean bowl and set the bowl in an ice bath, stirring until the curd has cooled.  Then cover the top with food film, pressing it down directly on the curd.  Place in the refrigerator to set up completely

Italian Meringue*
½ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
3 tablespoons water
2 egg whites (from large eggs), at room temperature
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

In a small pot over low heat, combine sugar and water.  Swirl the pot over the burner to dissolve the sugar completely.  Once the sugar has dissolved, stop stirring.   Increase the heat and boil to 240°F using a candy thermometer to get it right.  Wash down the inside wall of the pot with a wet pastry brush, which helps prevent sugar crystals from forming around the sides and falling in, causing a chain reaction.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, whip the eggs whites on low speed until foamy.  Add the cream of tartar, increase the speed to medium, and beat until soft peaks form.  With the mixer running, pour the hot sugar syrup in a thin stream over fluffed egg whites.  Beat until the egg whites are stiff and glossy.  *Meringue can easily be doubled (use 5 egg whites though) if you like a lot on top of your tart.

If making individual tarts, divide curd between them.   Meringue can be spooned on or use a pastry bag with a 1/2-inch plain tip and pipe in a design that you like.  Using a blowtorch (the same kind as is used for crème brûlée), brown the meringue and serve immediately.