This past weekend there was a birthday in our family and lemon tart was the requested dessert. I don’t usually make a meringue topping on my lemon tarts, as the family prefers just the pure lemon curd flavor. But I thought I’d change it up this time, so this one has the addition of Italian meringue. There is an added step in preparing Italian meringue, but the results are really worth it; pillowy soft and marshmallow-like in texture, it’s a great counter-point to my especially tart lemon curd filling. Here are the recipes:
Lemon Meringue Tart
For the pastry:
7 ounces all-purpose flour (200 gm)
3.5 ounces unsalted butter, cold (100 gm)
1 large egg
2 teaspoons cold water
pinch of salt
Rub the cold butter into the flour with your fingertips or a pastry cutter. When the texture is fine and sandy, add a pinch of fine sea salt, then make a well in the center of the bowl. Add the egg and the cold water to the well and mix everything together quickly with a fork. When the dough gathers together, shape it into a round, flattened disc and wrap it securely with plastic wrap. Let the dough chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour.
For the lemon curd:
finely grated zest of 1 large lemon
1/2 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice
2 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
6-8 tablespoons granulated sugar (adjust this to your taste)
2 tablespoons milk
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in small pieces
pinch of salt
Beat the eggs and egg yolks with the sugar in a heavy, non-reactive saucepan. Mix in the milk and blend well. Stir in the lemon juice, a pinch of salt, and the butter pieces. Cook the mixture over low to medium heat, stirring constantly, until it coats the spoon and is the thickness of creme anglaise. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a medium bowl. Stir in the grated zest and cover the surface directly with plastic wrap. Store in the refrigerator until needed.
For the Italian meringue
4 large egg whites (120 gm)
8.5 ounces granulated sugar (240 gm)
3 ounces water (80 gm)
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Mix the water and sugar together in a heavy saucepan. Heat to boiling, stirring only until the sugar is dissolved. Boil, without stirring, until the mixture reaches 248F on an instant read or candy thermometer. In the meantime, whip the egg whites and cream of tartar with the whisk attachment of an electric mixer to soft peaks. When the syrup is ready, stream it into the egg whites while beating at medium high speed. ( Take care not to let the syrup run onto the whisk or it will spin onto the sides of the bowl). Continue to beat until the whites are firm and glossy and the mixture has cooled.
To assemble the tart:
Preheat the oven to 375F. Roll out the chilled dough to fit an 8 or 9 inch loose-bottom tart tin. Fit the dough into the tin and trim the edges. Prick the dough with a fork and cover with a parchment round. Fill the tart tin with pie weights or dried beans and bake the tart for about 15-20 minutes. Remove the weights and parchment paper and return the tart to the oven for an additional 10 minutes or until fully cooked and slightly browned. Set aside to cool slightly. Fill the tart with the lemon curd ( you will have a little leftover curd if you are using an 8 inch tart pan). Return the tart to the oven for about 15 minutes or until the surface is smooth and shiny and the lemon curd is set. You can let the tart cool and serve it as is, or top it with a generous amount of Italian meringue. If you choose to top with the meringue, pipe it on with a decorative tip or swirl designs into the surface with a small spatula. Make sure the meringue touches the edges of the pastry crust, so that it does not shrink away from the sides of the tart. Color the surface with a kitchen torch or place in a hot oven (450F) for a few minutes to brown the meringue.
(Lemon curd recipe adapted from “Chez Panisse Desserts” by Lindsey Remolif Shere)