I never seem to have much success when it comes to food and thermometers. Though nothing quite tops the shattering of the glass tip of the candy thermometer while whipping my 7 minute frosting, I still was nervous when I used a (new) thermometer to fry doughnuts, and I watched as the temperature dipped up and down throughout the process, resulting in some doughnuts that were browner than others.
I can also never get the thermometer to stand upright in whatever bowl or pot I am using - it tends to slide around and fall over, resulting in a few choice words occasionally heard in the kitchen. Another problem with the thermometer is that it is often not a one person job. Though I prefer to cook in an empty kitchen, I often find myself yelling for help as I attempt to keep the thermometer up, hold the bowl steady, whisk, read the thermometer and check the consistency of the cream. It's enough to make you break a sweat.
So when I attempted The Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart (her title) from Dorie Greenspan I was nervous. And with good reason. Ultimately, with major bumps and hurdles, I got an extraordinary tart.
The recipe is actually quite simple - the tart dough comes together quickly, requires no rolling out, and easily presses into a pan.
The lemon curd filling - though made of only 5 ingredients - is where the tricky part comes in.
The instructions (below) state that the mixture must come to 180 degrees F. Additionally, the book wrote, "Getting to temperature can take as long as 10 minutes." Well, after over 15 minutes of whisking and temperature checking and knocking over the thermometer and calling for help and forgetting to whisk and almost knocking over the bowl, while only reaching about 160 F, I gave up. The mixture had thickened considerably and I assumed there was no hope for me to reach 180 F, and instead I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.
But this was a dessert I made for my family and then left for the weekend, so I wasn't even around to see if it held up. I left my mother with strict instructions to only reveal to our guests that I had made it if it cut into neat slices. So I arrived home to find the remnants of the tart in the fridge, neat edges all around, and I assumed success.
I assumed wrong. Apparently when eaten Friday night the filling oozed all over the place with every slice, but by Saturday it had set completely - and even turned a darker (somewhat strange - thought not as strange as this picture appears) shade of yellow.
Either way - messy or neat - it was incredibly delicious - the lemon filling was completely addictive, and I had trouble restraining myself from eating it by the spoonful before it made it into the shell, instead contenting myself with licking the bowl clean.
Tip of the Day: Don't be afraid to recruit helpers in the kitchen when necessary (nor to kick them out when they prove unhelpful). If you must go at it alone - keep duct tape on hand to hold things in place you cannot!
Recipe: (from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)
Note: this recipe requires hours of refrigeration and freezing time, so plan accordingly.
1 cup sugar
zest of 3 lemons
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (from 4-5 lemons)
2 sticks plus 5 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup confectioners/icing sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick plus 1 tbsp (9 tablespoons) frozen butter or margarine
1 egg yolk
For the filling:
Mix the sugar and zest together with your fingers until it is moist and grainy.
Add in the eggs and lemon juice and whisk until combined.
Bring a few inches of water to boil in a saucepan and set the bowl containing the mixture on top.
Whisking constantly, cook until the thermometer reads 180 degrees. It should thicken and begin to leave tracks.
As soon as it hits 180 F, remove from heat and strain into the container of the food processor or blender. Let it stand there, stirring occasionally, until it reaches 140 F, about 10 minutes.
Turn the machine on high, and as it works add the softened butter in tablespoons, about 3 or 4 at a time. Continue until all the butter is added, and then continue to blend for another 3 minutes.
Pour the finished cream into a container, cover tightly with plastic wrap (pressed against the surface) and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.
For the crust:
Put the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine.
Scatter pieces of the frozen butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is cut in.
Break up the yolk and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition.
After it's all in, process in long pulses - 1o seconds at a time, until dough comes together.
Turn out of the bowl and knead any uncombined ingredients - but sparingly.
Press the dough into a oiled 9-inch tart pan. Make sure to press it up the sides of the pan.
Freeze the crust for an hour.
When frozen, tightly press an oiled piece of aluminum foil on top of the tart, and bake at 375 F for 25 minutes.
Remove the foil, and bake for an additional 8 minutes until firm and golden brown.
When crust is completely cooled, and the lemon cream has been refrigerated for at least 4 hours, spoon the filling into the shell and serve.