I hate the short period that immediately follows the start of the New Year–fad dieting and half-hearted nods towards health-consciousness take over. It bothers me not so much out of pretentiousness, but more in that its what dominates the magazines, gym, and food scene for a month. The annual chant: “New year, new you!”…ugh
This lemon cream tart is what I ate for dessert on New Year’s Eve and is my polite middle finger to these forced habits that don’t survive past January, all of which are responsible for some of the least exciting food of the year. This tart contains a respectable ~2.5 sticks of butter and, in my case, followed a New Year’s Eve dinner of macaroni and cheese with lobster and truffle oil. Take that, health-centric resolutions.
So with that wholly unexciting rant (if it could even be called as much) out of the way, back to the food! From the ingredient list, this tart looks deceptively simple but you absolutely must try it. This is one of those recipes where it is simply the art of manipulating a few choice ingredients that you get something truly incredible because that’s really all there is to say about the lemon cream: it is amazing. It is light, silky smooth, clean, pale straw yellow, velvety in its creaminess, and unambiguously bright with a refreshing lemon flavor. The cream is also very versatile–you could use it as a spread, filling, or just scooped in a spoon whether its as a topping with toast, a filling for pastries/cakes, a really decadent pudding, a pie…you’ve got options.
I wish I could take credit for this, but I cannot–this recipe comes from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan (and she cites the lemon cream recipe as originating with Pierre Herme).
- 1 graham cracker crust
- 1 cup sugar
- 4-5 lemons (zest and 3/4 cup fresh lemon juice)
- 4 eggs
- 2 sticks + 5 Tbsp butter (10.5 oz) at room temperature
Before you do anything, prepare a pie crust. Dorie recommends a particular recipe, however, I had a spare graham cracker crust handy, so I used that (and thought it paired fantastically well). Whatever crust you go with, bake it blind and set it aside while you work on the lemon cream.
In a bowl, pour in the sugar and zest the lemons. With your fingers, rub the zest and sugar until fragrant. Add in the juice from the lemons as well as the eggs.
Whisk the mixture until homogenous. Then, set this up over a double boiler on low-medium/medium heat. Whisk constantly until the mixture reaches 180°F (the mixture will go through various stages of foamy/bubbly-ness until it finally thickens up a good bit and your whisk will begin to leave tracks). This will probably take somewhere around 10 minutes, but go by temperature and not time. Also, don’t cook it higher than 180°F or stop whisking–you risk scrambling the eggs which would not be terribly enjoyable.
Once at temperature, promptly pour the mixture through a strainer (as thick as it seems, it will go through. This is important in case you accidentally scrambled bits of egg) into either a blender or a food processor. Let this sit for 10 minutes, stirring periodically.
While cooling, cut the butter up into ~5 Tbsp chunks. Add these into the blender/food processor one at a time, blending this mixture for a solid three minutes. If your machine overheats, pause, give it a moment to cool down, and then continue. This is necessary to emulsify the butter into the mixture rather than melting it like you would in a lemon curd–its what gives this lemon cream its incredible velvety texture.
At this point, you can set the cream aside in a bowl (with plastic wrap pressed against it) to chill in the fridge for a few hours, preferably overnight. It will firm up and be less pourable.
Shortly before serving time, lightly whisk the cream to loosen it up a slightly and pour it into your pie crust and spread it out a bit. If you’d like to get decorative, you’ll probably want to set the tart in the fridge for a few hours so that you can add tufts and whatever random texture you want to the surface of your tart. Or maybe you want it flat–whatever, its your tart.
Either way, depending on how much you whisked the cream just moments ago, you might need to set this back in the fridge for a bit as you might have a tough time cutting a clean slice that doesn’t just ooze away all of its shape.
Whenever you do get around to cutting a slice, enjoy!