After the lemon cream tart, I was pretty sure I was done with lemon cream. With thirty tablespoons of butter in the whole tart, there is no reasonably sized serving. And then there’s my favorite lemon tart, which uses the whole lemon, peel and all. But I was making this for my mom, and I had a feeling she wouldn’t enjoy the pucker of that one quite as much as I do. There’s a third option for lemon tarts, probably the most classic version, and that is filled with lemon curd.
The ingredients in all three are the similar – there are eggs, lemons, sugar, and butter, but the ratios and the method for combining the ingredients differ. Only the tartest lemon tart includes heavy cream, but the most important difference between the recipes aside from that is the amount of butter – 21 tablespoons in the filling for the lemon cream and 8 tablespoons in the tartest make the four tablespoons here (plus what’s in the crust of course) seem downright skimpy.
The lemon cream manages to hold 21 tablespoons of butter in only 4 eggs and ½ cup of lemon juice because it’s emulsified when the butter is slowly added to the other ingredients. The tartest tart is the simplest, in that the ingredients are just thrown together and blended, then baked, like lemon squares. For the curd, the ingredients are mixed in a double boiler. (I seem to have added all the ingredients at once instead of slowly stirring the butter in after the other ingredients heated. It apparently worked.)
This curd reminds me of why lemon cream, to me, isn’t worth it. Yes, it’s smooth and balanced and so, so good, but this lemon curd tart is so, so good too. It’s different from the cream, yes, but not worse. My favorite lemon tart is still the tartest though – I love that bitter hint from the lemon peel. This, however, is a crowd pleaser.
Serves 6 – 8
tart crust for a 9-inch pan, completely baked and cooled (I used Dorie Greenspan’s)
3 large eggs
⅓ cup fresh lemon juice (2-3 lemons)
¾ cup (5.25 ounces) granulated white sugar
4 tablespoons (½ ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1. In a stainless steel bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and lemon juice until blended. Cook, whisking constantly (to prevent it from curdling), until the mixture becomes pale in color and quite thick (like a hollandaise sauce or sour cream) (160 degrees F or 71 degrees C on a thermometer). This will take about 10 minutes.
2. Remove from heat and immediately pour through a fine strainer to remove any lumps. Cut the butter into small pieces and whisk into the mixture until the butter has melted. Add the lemon zest, cover, and let cool to room temperature before filling the pastry crust. (Note: The lemon curd will continue to thicken as it cools. Covering the lemon curd with plastic wrap prevents a skin from forming on the surface.) Serve plain or with softly whipped cream and fresh berries.