its like i always say, if life gives you lemons (and a 12 cup muffin tray), make lemon tarts. personally i am partial to a single big tart as opposed to the poncy tartlets you see here..i think they encourage a sense of community. if you like that kind of thing. but then there are some eaters who believe little tartlets to be preferable because apparently they provide a false sense of security in moderation. you can eat four and still feel ok because, after all, they were only little. and so it was – little tarts. this also meant i could experiment with some highly unorthodox techniques and make one of my biggest messes to date. But at least it can be said by the secret eater of these midnight snacks, “that’s what i’m talkin’ about”, by way of announcing that here, finally, is the lemon tart the sides of my jaw have dreamed gnashingly about. Quoth the eater, “evermore” – a literary twist of lemon, as it were, for those with a penchant for gothic fiction.
350g plain flour
pinch of salt
125g cold unsalted butter
100g icing sugar
preheat oven to 180 degrees. in a food processor, if you have one, pulse flour, salt and butter until it looks like coarse breadcrumbs. add the sugar, then the egg yolks and pulse again. the mix will combine and leave the sides of the bowl. if it doesnt, ive been known to add an extra yolk. then wrap the ball of dough in glad wrap and chill for at least an hour.
then, using a cheese grater, coarsely grate the pastry into your tartlet tins (or muffin tray) and press it evenly into the sides and base. prick the base with a fork and chill for a further 15 minutes.
blind bake for 10 minutes and then remove the weights and bake for a further ten minutes until very lightly brown. set these aside to cool
3/4 cup lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon
1 vanilla bean split and scraped
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup cream
turn the oven down to 140 degrees. in a heat proof bowl over simmering water stir lemon juice and sugar until sugar has dissolved. add cream and then the lightly beaten eggs. stir continuously for 5 minutes and then strain. pour this into your pre-bake tart cases and bake for 20-25 minutes. when they come out they should be a bit wobbly but sort of just set. they should look exquisite…save for a few troubled ones which are for immediate consumption.
you can, if youre ambitious, take this one step further and brulee the top, making what we could call a lemon creme brulee tart. if you have a blow torch then all will be well…if you are limited to and by a griller then just be on your toes (or more accurately sit down facing the oven and watch every step of the way because burning will happen and will happen quickly. i wouldnt advise this however for people with melancholic, plath-like tendencies or for that matter tired people who have been baking for too long and are looking for a dark warm womb-like place into which to crawl.)
so first, take your most muntered tartlet. sprinkle over a good teaspoon of sugar (you do need a lot – and dont panic, when you later bite into it, that pain which will shoot through your teeth, up into your gums, and finally settle between your eyes for the next twenty four hours is a perfectly normal reaction). stick it under a burning hot grill and let it do its thing. remove when they are bubbling and blistering on top. this will most certainly burn the edges. personally i like that look. i also, amongst other things, have a penchant for the charred taste of grissle and its carcinogenic properties. but you can, and probably should, hack away at the black top crust and you should be left with quite a sexy looking lemon brulee tart.