I gave one of my lemon tarts to a friend once. As I watched him eat, waiting for some compliments, he said, 'It's sour.' I was quite happy, thinking that he liked it, then I realized he meant the opposite. Duh? I'm proud of my lemon tarts precisely because they're sour . . . or rather tart, which sounds much nicer. There's about half a lemon in each small tart!
Why have lemon anything if you can't taste the lemon? I find the lemon tarts sold in Singapore way too sweet and not at all tart or lemony. In other words, wimps! Now France is where they know how to make a proper tarte au citron. There, in just about every patisserie, you can find silky smooth sunshine yellow tarts that give you a lemon high and make your eyes spring wide open with a 'Ding!' Or maybe 'Ooh la la!'
The best thing about homemade lemon tarts is the homemade lemon curd. Lemon curd eaten on the day it's made has a tartness that's really refreshing. After resting in the fridge for a night, the tartness mellows, and the curd becomes less sharp and more rounded. I like it both ways. Either is miles better and fresher than store bought ones made god knows how many moons ago.
Today's recipe might look rather lengthy but I swear making lemon tarts doesn't take long. 15 minutes to get the tart shells in the oven (no resting needed) and whilst they're baking, another 15 minutes to make the curd. If you can't wait, cool the curd in an ice bath for 5 minutes. Another 5 minutes to assemble, garnish and unmould. 40 minutes, tops. Great use of 40 minutes, I think. One warning though: these tarts are really tart. As my friend said, they're lemon tarts for lemon fiends!
(Recipe for 4 tarts 10 cm wide)
Pastry (this is also sufficient for one 23-cm tart)
90 g unsalted butter
1 tbsp vegetable oil
3 tbsp water
1 tbsp sugar
⅛ tsp salt
150 g plain flour (1 slightly rounded cup)
Lemon curd (scale up by 50% for one 23-cm tart)
50 g unsalted butter*
100 g sugar (½ cup)
105 g lemon juice (7 tbsp) from 2-3 lemons, or less if you're not a lemon fiend
2 eggs, chalazea (white bits attached to egg yolks) removed with chopsticks
½ tsp corn flour
1 tsp grated lemon zest
4 thin slices lemon, 4 pinches lemon zest (curls or grated), or gold flakes (if money is no object)
* I like to use Petit Normand (available at Phoon Huat). It's quite useless for baking and spreading 'cause it's tasteless. But the tastelessness is great for lemon curd. President is too rich (might be ok if the amount used is reduced but I haven't tried); Anchor, Kerrygold and SCS somehow give the curd an acrid taste.
To make tart shells, preheat oven to 210°C (410°F). Put all ingredients except flour in a pot. Over medium heat, stir till colour darkens around the edges, about 5 minutes. Turn off heat. Tip flour into pot. Stir till thoroughly mixed.
When cool enough to handle, divide dough between tart moulds with removable bottoms, using about 60 g per mould. Reserve a small piece for patching up cracks after baking. Pat and press dough to form a thin, even layer. Bake till golden brown, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and patch up cracks if any. Flatten some reserved dough as much as possible between fingers. Press gently over holes for a few seconds once tarts are removed from oven. It would be hot but tolerable.
To make lemon curd, heat butter, sugar and lemon juice in a non-reactive pot till melted. Slowly add mixture to eggs whilst stirring eggs with a spatula. Add cornflour and lemon zest. Stir till evenly mixed. Put mixture in pot. Heat using lowest setting possible, holding pot so that only half is on the stove. Keep scraping sides and bottom whilst stirring. If eggs start curdling, remove pot from stove. Keep stirring/scraping. Heat again after cooling down a bit. Curd is ready when it coats spatula, about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust with a bit of sugar or lemon juice if necessary. Remove from stove. Continue stirring to dissipate residual heat, 2-3 minutes.
To assemble, divide lemon curd between pastry shells. Level and smooth top. Decorate with lemon zest, lemon slices or gold flakes (if life had given you strawberries instead of lemons). Cover (to prevent skin from forming) till curd is fully set, 10-15 minutes. Unmould and serve. Or keep chilled and covered in the fridge till ready.
When unmoulding, bottom of tart must always rest on a flat surface. Do not attempt to hold unmoulded tart in your hands. It would just crumble to bits – like mine.
To store, keep assembled tarts chilled for up to 2 days. Beyond that, curd may weep and soften pastry. Filling and shells may be kept separately and assembled just before serving. However, curd would have set so there wouldn't be a 'mirror effect' unless it's glazed.