Lemon tart might be one of French’s favorite desert. This is an extremely quick recipe that enhance lemon flavor without being too acidic and without meringue’s sugary taste.
It’s kind of the French Key Lime Pie.
No one really knows the origins of this desert. If we do know the long journey of lemon before arriving in France and settling in South France (in particular in the pretty town of Menton where there is an incredible lemon festival each year in February), several assumptions persist about the origin of lemon tart.
Lemon had a growing success, especially in the 17th / 18th centuries on the ships of the great expeditions, as it was a medicine to prevent from scurvy (a disease caused by vitamin C deficiency, lemon was then the ideal remedy). It’s on these boats that lemon juice based deserts might have been made for the first time. The first version would be, according to historians, kind of a cheesecake with a biscuit base and a mix of eggs, sugar and lemon juice.
Another possible origin of the lemon tart could be a French adaptation of the American key lime pie – a pie originally made from biscuits chips and a filling with lime and condensed milk covered with meringue – created in the 1850s from a fishermen of the Key region in Florida recipe. The key lime pie was promoted official pie of the US State in 2006.
Note to my American readers, I hope I have this right.
There are also French lemon pies (from Menton and Toulouse French towns) that could also be the ancestors of our present lemon tart.
So, a French specialty or the French interpretation of a legendary American desert? Who knows.
Recipes vary from one to the other (ingredients and baking methods). Lemon tarts in France are often served with a meringue topping (tarte au citron meringuée) to bring softness to lemon acidity. I think it adds too much sugar to this desert so I prefer to add some orange juice (only a little, it doesn’t change the taste).
It’s a very quick and simple to make desert that always have a great success here in Paris.
There are 2 ways to prepare even faster your lemon tart: buy already made pie pastry (choosing of course “pure butter”), the French uses them a lot, and do not pre-bake the pastry. It works well. The only thing is that, in order to obtain a well baked crust, you have to use a metal or aluminum pan rather than a ceramic pan. Depending on your oven, choose a program that will use the below heater. You might also have to bake it a little longer.
French Lemon Tart
- 125 gr cold butter diced
- 250 gr all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 40 gr caster sugar
- 125 ml cold water
- 5 eggs
- 100 gr sugar
- 125 gr butter
- 3 lemons about 150 ml
- 1 orange about 75 ml
Prepare the pie crust.
- You can follow the step by step pie crust recipe by just adding sugar to flour in the first step.
- Mix flour, sugar, salt and diced butter (using your food processor or gently with your fingertips, always covering butter with flour so that your hands won’t melt butter) until you get a granulated texture . Add water. Mix again until until you have a smooth uniform mixture.
- Knead twice the dough (put the ball of dough on a floured surface, overwrite it with the palm of the hand and then retire a ball twice in a row. This will aerate the dough so that it is not shrink during cooking). Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in refrigerator for at least 1 to 2 hours.
- Pre-heat the ovent to 180°C (350°F).
- Roll out the crust on a clean floured surface and pre-bake it (using parchment paper and pie weights) for 10 minutes.
Prepare the lemon cream filling
- Melt butter and measure the quantity of sugar.
- Zests the orange and one lemon. Be careful not to take the white part under the peel as it would bring bitterness to your tart. Make very fine zests with a grater or a zester. If you use a knife or a peeler, re-cut the peels into thin strips.
- Then juice the 3 lemons and the orange.
- Tip: to remove the maximum of juice you can from a lemon, before cutting it in two, squeeze it on your table with the palm of your hand with back and forth movements, 3-4 times. The inside pulp will be softer and you’ll get more juice when you squeeze it.
- Now that all the ingredients are ready, all you have to do is mixing them together in the following order. It’s better to use a blender as it’ll mix well and crush even more zests.
- Mix the eggs and sugar. Add zests, orange and lemon juice. Mix again. Finally, insert the butter while stirring. As butter is still a little hot we do not want it to start cooking the eggs at first contact.
- Fill in your tart crust with this lemon cream and bake at 180°C (350°F) for 35 minutes.
- Let the tart cool before serving.
- Note that the pre-baking and baking time given here are approximate as it depends on the thickness of your pie crust. If it is thin, it will be fine. If however it is a bit thick, increase a little pre-baking and baking time.
Bon appétit !
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