I have a slight obsession with citrus deserts. Walking into a French patisserie can overwhelm you with options: sweet strawberry filled éclairs; rich, salted caramel tarts ready to ooze out of their flaky, melt in your mouth pastry; and the most perfect Opera cakes consisting of layer upon layer of chocolate sponge, intense ganache and light and airy buttercream. Despite the abundance of alluring options, my eyes always seem to wander towards the classic tarte au citron meringuée. It’s the combination of intense, tart citrus filling with the heart-stoppingly buttery pastry and sweet, gooey meringue, that gets me every time.
This classic French dessert is surprisingly simple to make. I always follow Pierre’s Hermé’s tarte au citron recipe and add some classic Italian meringue to the top. I’m going to put it out there and say it’s foolproof! The only advice I can give is to avoid overworking the pastry!! It isn’t a pizza dough so there is no need to kneed it. The less you do, the more delicate and flaky it will be. Also, don’t forget to let the dough rest in the fridge. Leaving it to rest allows the gluten to relax and it reduces the chance of it shrinking and going tough in the oven. It is ideal to make the dough the night before and rest if overnight but if this isn’t an option make sure you give it at least an hour.
Make 6-8 small tarts.
For the base
150g of softened, cubed butter
95g of icing sugar
30g of almond meal
1/4 vanilla seeds
1 egg at room temperature
250g of flour
½ tsp of salt
For the lemon curd
4 lemons ( the zest of 2 and juice of 4)
4 large eggs
300g of room temperature butter, cut into large cubes
240g of castor sugar
For the Italian meringue
100g of eggwhites
80g of water
250g of sugar
Beat the butter until smooth and creamy. Add the sugar, almond meal and vanilla. Mix until well combined. Add the egg and ensure that it is fully incorporated. Sift in the flour and salt and mix until just combined (it is ok it there are still lumps). Divide the dough in the portions you need – roughly 6-8 for this recipe. Roll each portion into disk and wrap in plastic film and place in the fridge to rest overnight or at least for an hour.
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease 8 small tart tins and set aside. Remove the dough from the fridge and roll it out in between two sheets of baking paper. Place the dough in the tart tins and blind bake for 10 mins. Once 10 mins is up, remove the weights and baking paper and bake normally for 10 more mins or until a light, even, golden colour is obtained. Set aside to cool before removing them from the tins.
The lemon curd
Set up a bain-marie by bringing a saucepan of water to the simmer. Combine the sugar and lemon zest in a bowl that fits over the saucepan. Rub the lemon zest into the sugar, then add the eggs and lemon juice. Once the water starts simmering, put the bowl on top and whisk constantly until it thicken or reaches 82°C. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to approximately 60°.
Pour the mixture into a blender (alternatively you can use a stick blender or electric beaters) and while the blender is running, gradually add the butter one cube at a time. Once all the butter is added, continue blending for another minute.
Pour the mixture into the tart shells and place in the fridge to cool.
The Italian meringue
Add the water to a small saucepan followed by sugar and place on med/high heat. When the syrup reaches 121°C remove it from the heat and set aside. Beat the eggwhites on high speed. Once they start to stiffen, add the sugar syrup by pouring it in a slow, steady stream avoiding contact with the beater. Continue beating until the meringue cools to an ambient temperature. Fit a pipping bag with a large nozzle and fill the bag with the mixture. Remove the tarts from the fridge and decorate with drops of meringue.