Tarte Citron, the Champagne of Desserts

When I was in middle school, my mother, my sister, and I went on a road trip. I don’t remember where we were going or where we were coming from, but I remember a sign on an empty country highway that announced a roadside book sale coming up in one mile.

“Mom, can we stop? Plllleeeaaasse?”

“Oh, all right.”

On this day I had my very first cookbook buying spree. I bought six cookbooks, and one of them was De Gustibus Presents: French Cooking for the Home. Twelve different French chefs create 12 different menus for 12 different occasions.

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I have cooked many of the recipes over the years. I made Jacques Pepin’s Scallopine of Turkey Breast with Morel and Cognac Sauce for Thanksgiving of 2001, the one year anniversary of my parents’ divorce. My father, the fryer/roaster/briner/experimenter of the turkey, was gone. I took advantage of the food power vacuum and subjected my family to a three course meal taken from the pages of French Cooking for the Home. Looking over my notes from 13 years ago, I remember my horror at the cost of the ingredients. It would still be quite a few years before I began the process of learning how to appreciate simplicity in cooking and life over elaborate fanfare.

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I made the Wild Mushroom Crepes for my mom’s birthday the following year. My future stepfahter and stepsisters were there for that meal, one of the last I cooked in the house I grew up in. I made a modified version of the Thin Apple Tart for paying customers at the bagel shop. And I made the Christian Delouvrier’s Tarte Citron for extra credit in my French 102 class in college. I remember sitting around the table in my apartment with my partner and squeezing lemon after lemon after lemon. My life smelled like lemons for at least a month after making this tart. I made it again last week as part of a friend’s successful green card quest celebration. And this time around, I used a juicer.

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My tart.

 

Here’s what the books author has to say about this recipe:

This is a perfectly sublime ending to a rich, complex dinner. Once assembled, the tart requires only a minute under the broiler and then an hour to set, making it a breeze to prepare.

With a juicer, it really is a breeze to prepare. Without one, the one cup of fresh lemon juice becomes a bit like one of Psyche’s more boring challenges. Like separating different legumes into piles.

The first time around, I remember Madame Roland eating the tart and saying, “Oh la la, just like in la France!” and I gave a little bow for the class. For my more recent tart, one of the revelers declared it the champagne of desserts. A slightly bigger bow. Incidentally, a brut sparkler would be the perfect thing to drink with the tarte citron.

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Tom Eckerle’s sexy lemon tart photograph from the book.

 

Lemon Tart

You will need:

½ pound frozen puff pastry, thawed

1 cup fresh lemon juice (about six lemons)

6 large eggs

5 large egg yolks

1 cup granulated sugar

15 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces

9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. On a light floured surface, roll out the pastry about 1/8 inch thick into a circle approximately 12 inches around. Transfer the pastry to the tart pan. Gently fit the pastry into the pan, and cut away any excess with a sharp knife. Prick the bottom of the pastry with a fork. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven. Preheat the broiler.

In the top half of a double boiler, combine the lemon juice, eggs, egg yolks, and sugar. Set over simmering water. Beat for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the mixture is very thick and clings to the beater. *

Remove from the heat. Using a whisk, whisk in the butter a little at a time.** Pour the custard into the partially baked pastry shell. Place under the double broiler for 1 minute. LITERALLY 60 SECONDS. DON’T MESS AROUND WITH THE DOUBLE BROILER. YOU WILL GET BURNED. Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour before serving.

Garnish with raspberries before serving, if you so wish. Or strawberries, or blackberries. Or fresh basil or mint.

*I made the custard ahead of time and kept it in the fridge for overnight for convenience purposes. It worked out wonderfully, so this is an option.

**Since I forgot this step and accidentally included the butter in the double boiler with the rest of the ingredients, I’m skeptical about how necessary this is.

Adapted from French Cooking for the Home.