whole lemon tart

by Bridget

A year ago we moved into our first home of our own. With its sun-drenched kitchen, north facing balcony, spare room (read: extra wardrobe) and only the boy I adore to share it with, I love being at here. We are lucky enough to live in an area that affords us the lifestyle we love; a brief tram ride to town, wonderful and varied restaurants, bars and cafes at our doorstep and little time wasted travelling to and from work. The one thing we did sacrifice for this lifestyle was a garden.

To curb my craving for lush green I determined that we should plant in pots on the balcony. Having never really been a green thumb myself, I’m a little ashamed to say that Tim did most of the initial hard work and has tended the garden ever since. My favourite purchase was a small but sturdy meyer lemon tree, bought in an attempt to be self sufficient in my love of the hard to find fruit. Tim has tended this plant in particular with great love and care.
Our move timed perfectly with the start of spring and our first year growing went better than any previous attempt. Lemon thyme and Vietnamese mint grew like weeds, I never ran short of parsley and our eggplant rewarded us with four plump, shiny, hollow-sounding fruit. Our successes were countered by an equal number disappointments; heads of lettuce sprouted but were quickly devoured by the greedy critters I had hoped a first floor balcony would deter, Melbourne’s temperamental weather sent us cold snaps that defeated all efforts to grow basil and I was too impatient for the bay tree, picking each earthy leaf as it sprouted eventually leaving only a sad little stick that never did recover.

Tim has had to fight me at every stage to properly care for my precious lemon tree. To me, any trimming or pruning was a tragedy, in particular the removal of flowers which had last year produced the most delightful lemon babies – barely bigger than a pin head. As I write this however, I can see the fruits (excuse the pun) of his labour.  Though I know the tree will bear none of its surprisingly sweet and thin-skinned fruit this year, it now stands proudly with new life sprouting from each carefully trimmed limb, ready to do so – I hope – in another twelve months time.
In the meantime I have six plump fruit purchased from two sweet girls at a country farmers market on the weekend. Both girls looked equally confused by my delight when I spotted the distinctive orange tinged skins at just three for a dollar!

This tart is a beautiful take on a much loved classic. My preference is nearly always for a tarter dessert, but I would encourage the use of a meyer lemon for this recipe due to its inclusion of the whole fruit. I find this tart a more decadent alternative to the creamier custard style versions that I think better compliment the use of a regular lemon; it’s buttery and dense with the consistency of a thick gel. Serve it with a good dollop of unsweetened and softly whipped cream for a perfectly rounded dessert.

Whole Lemon Tart

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Yields one 9 inch round tart
10 minutes making + 40 minutes baking + cooling

I made this as eight 3.5 inch tarts because I’m mad for all things mini! If you choose to do this, either make half the amount of filling or double the pastry recipe below to make 16 mini tarts.

1 par-baked sweet tart shell (recipe below)
130 grams of whole lemon, rinsed and dried
(weigh one lemon then add/subtract slices to get close to the right weight)
300 grams (1½ cups) castor sugar
115 grams (1 stick) unsalted butter – cubed and at room temperature
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons cornflour
¼ teaspoon table salt

Preheat oven to 160°C (350°F) with rack in the centre. Place par-baked tart shell on a parchment or foil lined baking tray to save spillage disasters.

Slice lemon into thin disks and remove any seeds. Puree the lemon slices (peel and all) with the sugar in a food processor until as smooth as possible. Add the butter and blend until completely incorporated, scraping down sides as required. All at once, add eggs, cornflour and salt and pulse until smooth and amalgamated – it is important that you do pulse at this stage to avoid incorporating excess air.

Pour into prepared tart shell, filling a couple of millimetres from the top. Do not be tempted to overfill the shell if you find you have additional filling as this will lead to a caramelised overflow and great difficulty unmolding the final product.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the filling is set. You can test this by gently nudging the pan; if it gives a slight jiggle the tart is ready. (This took just 15 minutes for my 3.5 inch tarts which have a much shallower capacity, so keep a very close eye on them).

Cool tart completely on a rack before unmolding, slicing and serving.

In advance: This tart is just as delicious, if not more so, served chilled from the fridge and made up to one day in advance. Any longer in the fridge and I suspect that the pastry would soften, but I have also frozen this tart whole with great success.

Sweet Tart Shell
Also adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Yields one 9 inch (or eight 3.5 inch) round tart shells
20 minutes making + 2.5 hours resting + 30 minutes baking

Deb at Smitten Kitchen hails this as The Great Unshrinkable Tart Shell. I have personally had varying results in terms of shrinkage (only slight, on occasion) – due to this and my OCD nature I choose to add the use of pie weights. That said, it is certainly one of the most reliable, easy and consistent tart shells to make and yields a delicious casing for any sweet filling.

1½ cups (210 grams) plain flour
1/2 cup icing sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
125 grams (4.5 ounces) very cold unsalted butter, in small cubes
1 large egg

In food processor, pulse flour, sugar and salt to mix. Scatter cubed butter over the dry ingredients and pulse again to cut in coarsely, until most pieces are the size of oatmeal. Lightly whisk the egg with a fork and add little at a time, pulsing after each addition. Once the whole egg has been added, pulse for longer periods – around 10 seconds – until the dough turns from a granular breadcrumb consistency to larger, more cohesive clumps. You’ll hear the machine struggle once it gets to this stage. Turn the clumps out onto a work surface and, quickly and gently, knead together until just combined. Flatten into a disk, wrap tightly in cling film and chill in the fridge for at least two hours.

*If in a hurry, you can instead press the dough directly into a buttered 9 inch tart pan with removable bottom at this stage. Press it evenly into the base and sides, ensuring that it holds together but is not so compacted that the pastry will toughen once baked. Prick all over with a fork, freeze for at least 30 minutes, skip the next paragraph and bake!

Butter a 9 inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Roll out your chilled dough on a floured work surface or parchment paper, to a 12 inch circle. (If using 3.5 inch pans, cut dough into 8 pieces and roll each to a 4.5 inch circle). Transfer the dough to your prepared tart pan – don’t worry too much about cracks, as you can push together and seal these once the dough is in the pan. Fold the overhanging dough in to create even sides, double the thickness of the base. Prick crust all over with a fork and freeze for at least 30 minutes before baking.

Preheat oven to 180°C (375°F) and place rack in centre.

Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminium foil (or individual pieces for smaller tarts) and press buttered side tightly against the frozen pastry, covering all pastry including the top edge.

*Optional: Pour pastry weights, baking beans or rice in on top of the foil – I prefer to use beans or rice as the foil can then be lifted out, beans/rice and all, without risk of tearing.

Place the tart shell on a lined baking tray to catch any butter that may leak, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes (15 for smaller tarts). Carefully remove foil (and weights if using) and press down any puffed areas with the back of a metal spoon. Return the uncovered shell to the oven for around 10 minutes (5 for smaller shells) or until golden – halve this time if your recipe requires a par-baked shell.

Cool the tart shell to room temperature before continuing with your recipe.

In advance: The unrolled, tightly wrapped dough can be kept in the fridge for up to five days and frozen for up to two months. You could do the same with a rolled, uncooked crust, however it is harder to tightly cover, takes up more space and I personally miss the use of my tart pan! A cooked tart shell will also keep, packed airtight in the freezer for two months but freshly baked is preferable for flavour.