I love snow. I wished for snow. I was elated this past Tuesday as I sat in cozy restaurant watching it fall in a fluffy torrent that would rival even the most plotted and staged feather pillow fight on TV. I relished in the cold flakes that whipped at my face and clung to my hatless head on the walk home. But now, as I slosh around in the dirty slush that inevitably follows a New York City snowfall, I feel a little cheated. What was once pristine and wondrous has melted into salty pools of sludge that stain my boots and seep through to my socks (I should really invest in a good pair of rainboots; these just aren’t cutting it anymore).
In an effort to dodge my post-blizzard blues, I trudged through said slush to the market and did what any cabin-fevered city soul would do when faced with cloudy skies and the dire remnants of a wintry produce aisle: I bought citrus. A whole heck of a lot of it. In the absence of pretty berries and delicate beans, asparagus, and baby lettuces, flanked on all sides by the pathetic taupes and beiges of root vegetables and onions, citrus is the saving grace. I bought massive grapefruits–whites and ruby reds–blood oranges, meyer lemons and some special variety of naval orange that boasted pink flesh and raspberry overtones.
I ate warm brûléed grapefruit (slice in half, sprinkle with dark brown sugar, and throw under the broiler for a few) and drank fresh squeezed orange juice for breakfast three days in a row. I ate an entire meyer lemon straight from the rind. It’s been lovely to see those sunny colors and taste the fresh promise of warmer days, regardless of how far off they may be. Today I decided I should probably cook something with those colorful orbs, both to share the wealth and to make a dent in this citrus stockpile. I ate the last grapefruit yesterday, and am still cleaning up blood orange stains from my counter, so lemon it is!
I’ve never actually cooked with Meyer lemons before, though they are a long-standing culinary buzzword and I find recipes often that require their sweet, less-tart lemony goodness. With their smooth supple rinds accurately described as the color of egg yolks, and their sweet, fragrant juice, it should not come as a shocker that Meyer lemons are actually a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange. That bumpy thick skin and sour pucker of a regular lemon? Non-existent. How else would I have been able to eat one straight, no chasers? I was amazed at the amount of juice one lemon yielded without much coaxing from me. And the fragrance was overwhelming–almost floral, or perhaps herbal, a little like thyme–and lingered in the kitchen all the while I prepped lemon curd for a delicious lemony tart courtesy of the famed David Leibovitz.
This tart was a cinch to come together, especially after reading about David’s quickie tart dough discovery which required no pastry blender, messy fingers, or freezing. You simply combine butter, sugar, water and oil in an ovenproof dish, place it in a piping hot oven until it’s brown and bubbly–oh the heavenly aroma of browned butter–then whisk in a healthy cup of flour, watching with satisfaction as a perfect ball of dough springs to life from the foamy slurry. It’s much like the beginning process for making pâte à chou, come to think of it, the dough used for cream puffs and eclairs and such. And that’s it! When it’s cool enough to handle, mold it to your tart pan and pop it back in the oven for about 15 minutes until golden.
And what about the lemon curd? Not so bad either, my friends. As I mentioned before, juicing the Meyer lemons is a breeze—I needed only about four to yield ½ cup of juice. It is combined with sugar, butter and zest from one of those beautiful lemons over a low flame just until the butter melts. In the meantime, you whisk together a couple of eggs and yolks, temper them by adding some of the hot lemon butter mixture so you don’t end up with lemony scrambled eggs, and that’s pretty much it. A sieve, a spatula and five minutes in the oven finishes it off.
This sunny yellow tart is a simple thing of beauty and will certainly stave off the wintry blues. Hang in there, fellow east coasters. The sun will shine again (and melt that yucky snow).
Meyer Lemon tart from the kitchen of David Leibovitz
Find his tarte crust recipe here.
*I’m sorry, but not surprised to say that my finished tart did not turn out with the same glorious perfection that David’s did, but I blame that mostly on the fact that I mistook my 10 ¼ in tart pan for a 9 incher, not the fact that I am not, as David is, a celebrated pastry chef, and an award-winning cookbook writer and blogger who now resides in the culinary capital of the world. Subtle differences, really. Just be sure to use a 9 inch pan OR make a double batch of dough. The remainder will freeze nicely.
½ cup freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice
Zest from 1 lemon
1/3 cup sugar (If you choose to use regular lemons, up the sugar to ½ cup)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in small cubes
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium saucepan, heat lemon juice, zest, sugar and butter over a low flame. Keep a close eye on this mixture, it should not bubble or boil.
In a small bowl, beat together eggs and yolks. As soon as the butter has melted, slowly whisk a small amount of this mixture into the eggs, stirring constantly, to warm them. Be careful: Adding too much too fast will result in scrambled eggs! Scrape the whole mix back into the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens; it should nicely coat the back of a spoon. Again, do not let the mixture bubble.
Remove from heat and immediately pour the lemon curd through a fine mesh strainer directly into the pre-baked tart shell, using a spatula to push the mixture through.
Spread the mixture evenly with your spatula and place in the oven for about 5 minutes, just long enough to let it set. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Once cool, place in the refrigerator to chill. Serve plain or with fresh whipped cream or raspberries, etc.