Monday 28 January 2008
[Lemon trees nests]
A few years ago, when my mum went to the pâtisserie on Sundays to get us dessert, I would invariably ask for lemon meringue tart with the exciting promise of a smooth and tangy treat in mind. Apparently, the flavour of those Sunday tarts always seemed to be nowhere close to my dream.
There is no such thing as bad lemon meringue tarts. Damp crust. Eggy filling, nonetheless flavourless. Tooth-aching meringue.
I’ve been pretending to hate lemon meringue tart ever since. But well, a couple of months ago, as my sister begged me to make her favourite dessert, I couldn’t help but change my mind. The lemon meringue tart I had made was simply perfect. And to be honest, I had the inner feeling that it was matchless.
So when I found out that this month’s daring bakers challenge involved making a lemon meringue tart, I got slightly disappointed. My first thought was something like: why would I make this tart knowing it can’t measure up to my go-to recipe? Quickly followed by: what the hell! It could be interesting to make it anyway.
The lemon meringue tarts are made of three components:
– a simple pâte brisée
– a fragrant lemon cream
– a sweet fluffy meringue
The pâte brisée is easy to make and produces a lovely flaky crust. The dough is made of butter, flour, sugar, salt and water. When it comes to shortcrust pastry, the key is to have the ingredients ready and more importantly cold. The butter should be hard and the water ice-cold. This is what ensures a great crust that won’t shrink or soften in the oven.
Once the ingredients have come together roughly, I placed the dough into a plastic bag and refrigerated for 20 minutes. It was then rolled and cut into 13cm-wide disks (either for muffin-size tarts or 8cm wide ones). I slightly dusted the disks with flour and wrapped them, before setting them to chill overnight.
The next day, I re-cut the disks using a 12cm-wide round pastry cutter, as the dough shrank due to the butter contraction and the water evaporation. I then lined the holes of a muffin tin with the dough and baked it blind for 30 minutes.
The resulting crust was golden and flaky, and didn’t skrink in the oven although I kind of mess up with the lining process and was scared that my fingers might have warmed the dough a little too much.
The lemon cream was very interesting to make. Mostly because it’s so far from every recipe I’ve seen for lemon cream.
It relies on cornstarch, egg yolks and butter as solidifying agents, which you flavour adding lemon juice and zest, and sugar.
I didn’t have any cornstarch on hand so ended up using potato starch instead, which didn’t have any major impact.
I started with a cold liquid base: water to which I added the starch and sugar. This liquid was then brought to the boil until very thick. I then added the egg yolks, making sure to temper them with the starchy mixture first. I set the pan over moderate heat and mixed with a wooden spoon until the thermometer read 84°C – the temperature at which the egg yolks solidify.
The last step consists in folding in the butter, lemon juice and zest and dividing the cream into the baked (and cooled down) crusts.
Finally, I topped the tarts with a montagne of fluffy French meringue. The egg whites are whisked until they form soft peaks and caster sugar is added. In order to get a marshmallow-like meringue, I had to double the quantity of sugar (thus using 60g of sugar for each egg white). Indeed, I found that using only 30g of sugar per white yielded to a grainy and not-so dense meringue.
Those lemon meringue tartlets were good. They certainly won’t replace my favourite recipe, but I’m happy with how they turned out. The crust had a pleasant crunch, and the filling was flavourful, although slightly starchy and didn’t had that smooth glossy feel Pierre Hermé’s has.