Baking challenge: tarte au citron

<trite insertion about being busy, not spending time baking or writing or following up on the challenge. True, but trite nonetheless> And happy new year! I think I made this tart sometime in October or November, so as you can tell I really am quite behind.

Lemon desserts are delicious, and tarte au citron must be the most delicious of all, irresistibly combining sharp citrus and cream (as well as – ideally – crisp, buttery pastry). I find most tartes au citron irresistible yet, in their coffee-shop incarnation, often disappointing: sweet, with glazed pastry baked to the colour of mahogany and the texture of terracotta. Sad times. Yet I had never made a tarte au citron, despite this – mainly because my boyfriend doesn’t enjoy them, meaning I would end up eating it all. I made this technical challenge bake (Mary Berry’s choice for series two, episode two…gosh, I have a way to go yet) when some friends came round, but still ended up eating most of it: it was just so irresistibly zesty and fresh, with that melting texture I just wanted to experience over and over again.

However wonderful the finished product, it can’t be denied that Mary Berry’s instructions were fussy and impractical, at least for me. I tried to follow her meticulously laid-out instructions for rolling out the pastry on the base of the tin, but I found this method fussy and tedious, and it just didn’t work for me – the pastry kept cracking on the hard edge of the tin base and breaking off. In the end I balled up the pastry in frustration, rolled it out again and patted it smooth, and lined the tin in the normal way (i.e. roll out and drape in the tin). The instructions below are therefore modified to reflect this. This glitch aside, this lemon tart is absolutely stunning: very simple, very sensible (no need to chuck or set aside five egg whites) and extremely delicious.

Mary Berry’s tarte au citron
Instructions modified from the BBC website (see above), but otherwise unchanged
You will need: 23cm fluted tart/flan dish with a removable bottom; baking paper, cling film and foil; and baking beans. If you want to dust the icing sugar, you may want to use a little sieve

For the pastry

  • 175g plain flour
  • 100g cold butter, cut into cubes
  • 25g icing sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 TBS cold water (I think I had to use a little more)

For the filling

  • 5 eggs
  • 125ml double cream
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 4 lemons, juice and zest
    icing sugar, to dust
  1. Place the flour, butter and icing sugar into a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs; add the egg yolk and water and pulse again until the mixture sticks together in clumps.
  2. Tip mixture onto a work surface and gather it together into a ball; knead it two or three times, just long enough to make it smooth. If the pastry is too soft, wrap it in parchment paper (I prefer cling film actually – the pastry is less likely to dry out) and chill for 15 minutes.
  3. Grease your 23cm tart tin and dust lightly with flour. Roll the pastry out to a little larger than 23cm, then lift the rolled pastry (onto your rolling pin is the easiest method) and drape it into the greased tart tin. Gently press the pastry into the flutes of the tin and patch up any cracks (just press them together). If your fingers or nails keep going through the pastry, a good tip is to remove a little bit of excess pastry, form it into a small ball and use the ball to press the pastry into the flutes of the tin.
  4. Prick the pastry base with a fork, making sure to not go all the way through. Cover the pastry-lined tin loosely with cling film and chill for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200C once ready to bake.
  5. Remove cling film and line with foil so that it supports the sides, then fill the foil-lined pastry with baking beans. Bake blind for 12-15 minutes, until the pastry is set, then (carefully!) remove the foil and beans. Trim away any excess pastry from the sides using a sharp knife, holding the knife at an angle and slicing away from you; remove the trimmings from the sheet. Return the emptied pastry case to the oven for 10-12 minutes, until it is pale golden in colour and completely dry. Set aside to cool while you make the filling and reduce the oven temperature to 170C.
  6. To make the filling, whisk the eggs together in a ;large bowl. Add the rest of the filling ingredients (bar the icing sugar) and whisk until well combined. Pour the filling into a jug (for ease) and then pour into the cooled, blind-baked pastry case. To prevent spillages, pour most of the filling in so that it almost fills the tart, then transfer the tart to the oven and top up with the rest of the filling to completely fill it. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until just set, with a slight wobble in the centre.
  7. Leave to cool slightly to allow the pastry to firm up. When it seems firm, remove the tart from the tin  by placing the base onto a can or jam jar and gently pushing down the outer ring so that it falls to the work surface. Transfer the tart to a serving plate and serve warm or cold, dusted with the sifted icing sugar.
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