Lemon Tart à la Julia

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I’ve been wanting a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking for a long, long time.  I owned quite a few dessert/baking cookbooks from an early age, and almost every author acknowledged a heavy and long-standing debt to Julia Child for the way she revolutionized how we think about cooking and food in the USA.  When my copy arrived shortly after Christmas this year, I was charmed, not only by how pretty it is, but how utterly unlike the glossy, expensively photographed cookbooks, iPad apps, and cooking blogs it is.

The illustration of "fraisage", one of the steps Julia describes for making homemade pie, tart, and quiche doughs.

The illustration of “fraisage”, one of the steps Julia describes for making homemade pie, tart, and quiche doughs.

The few images are hand-drawn illustrations of technique, not mouth-watering “food porn” (NOT THAT THERE’S ANYTHING WRONG WITH FOOD PORN).  If you’ve never looked at Child’s magnum opus, it’s a crash course in hundreds of years of French culinary techniques, adapted for American grocery stores, butchers, and appliances (Julia endorses the food processor, as do I).  She and her co-authors, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, break down French cuisine into a series of master recipes, followed by variations that lead to a full range of dishes.  Each recipe’s instructions are accompanied by the relevant ingredients and equipment in the left-hand margin of the page, so no matter where you are in the recipe, the tools you’ll need are only a glance away.

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As part of my computer-free-banish-the-burglar week, I found myself one night with a clean kitchen, several hours to kill, and half a dozen lemons.  I had envisioned making a big batch of lemon curd and working from there, but I was intrigued by Child’s Tarte Au Citron, which differs distinctly from what I’d always thought of as lemon tart.  Instead of a pastry shell filled with rich lemon curd and layered with berries, Child offers up a light, sweet, delicately-lemon-scented soufflé that puffs up beautifully in the oven and can be served hot, warm-temperature, or cold.  Seeing as how this recipe would get me from start-to-tasting more quickly than a curd tart, with all of the cooking and chilling curd requires, I dove in!

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Gus helped/interfered the whole time. He either wanted to learn at the feet of the master, or he was punishing me for running the vacuum all day. Gus feels strongly that the vacuum is an evil machine of terror.

Tarte Au Citron
from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I, by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck

For the pâte sablée:

1 1/3 c. all-purpose flour
3 tbsp. granulated sugar
1/8 tsp. baking powder
5 tbsp. unsalted butter, chilled
2 tbsp. shortening, chilled
1 egg, beaten with 1 tsp. ice water
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Measure the dry ingredients into the bowl of a food processor.  Dice the butter and shortening and add to the dry ingredients.  Pulse the machine 4 or 5 times to blend and begin to break up the fats.  Add the beaten egg and water and pulse the machine off and on until the dough begins to gather together around the blade, adding ice water a teaspoon at a time if needed.  Once the dough has just begun to mass around the blade, turn off the machine and dump the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface or pastry board (apparently bakers in ye olden times used giant slabs of marble, which kept the fats in pastry crusts from melting, so if you have a giant slab of marble handy, go to town).

Now you get to fraisage, just like in the picture!

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Fraisage, bitches.

Using the heel of your hand (not the palm, which is too warm and will soften the dough too quickly), press the pastry out in small portions away from you and along your work surface “in a firm, quick smear of about 6 inches.”  Once that’s done, gather the dough into a ball and wrap in waxed paper.  Refrigerate for about 2 hours or overnight.

When the dough has chilled thoroughly, preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Remove the dough from the fridge and transfer it to a clean, lightly floured work surface.  Working quickly, roll the dough out into a circle (or, in my case, an approximate-square-shape) a few inches larger in proportion than your tart pan (you’ll want a 9″ round pan or equivalent).  Fold the dough in half over the pin and use the pin to help transfer the rolled-out tart shell to the pan.  Unfold the dough and gently press it into the pan, trimming off any overhang (pâte sablée differs from pâte sucrée in that it has egg in it, so what you’ve essentially got is a light sugar cookie dough.  Feel free to bake those scraps, much as you would cookies).

Gently press a layer of aluminum foil into the pan atop the dough.  Fill the foil with beans, rice, lentils, or pie weights and bake for about 8 to 9 minutes.  Remove the pan from the oven and remove the foil and weights.  Prick the dough all over with a fork and return the pan to the oven for about 7 minutes, until the tart shell is very, very lightly browned (it will go back in the oven once more, so be sure not to over-bake).  Remove the shell from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

For the lemon soufflé:

1/2 c. granulated sugar
4 egg yolks
Grated zest of 1 lemon (2 if yours are small)
3 tbsp. lemon juice

4 egg whites
pinch of salt
1/4 c. granulated sugar

Beat the egg yolks in an electric mixer fitted with a wire whip until thoroughly blended, then add the 1/2 c. granulated sugar and continue to beat on high speed until the mixture is pale yellow, thick, and forms slow-dissolving ribbons when the whip is lifted out of the batter.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.  Beat in the lemon zest and lemon juice.  Transfer the mixture to the top half of a double boiler and set over a pan filled with about 1 inch of barely-simmering water.  Stir the mixture gently, either with a wooden spoon or a heat-proof spatula, until the mixture is hot, about 165 degrees Fahrenheit on a candy thermometer, being careful not to overcook the mixture and scramble the eggs (ew).  Remove the egg yolk mixture from the heat and set aside until needed.

In a clean stainless-steel bowl, mix the 4 egg whites and the pinch of salt on low speed until well-combined and beginning to foam.  Gradually increase the mixer’s speed and beat until soft peaks form when the whisk is lifted out.  Sprinkle the 1/4 c. sugar over the egg whites and continue to beat at medium-high speed until the mixture holds stiff peaks.

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Like so.

Fold about a third of the egg white mixture into the warm yolk mixture to lighten in, and then gently fold in the remaining whites.  Turn the mixture into the pre-baked tart shell.  Bake the tart for about 30 minutes.  When the tart puffs and begins to brown, sprinkle the top with confectioner’s sugar.  It’s ready when a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

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Mine may have gotten over-brown, but it didn’t affect the taste or texture, so don’t worry too much about your cooking times.

Julia says that she and her colleagues preferred to eat this hot out of the oven, but if you’d rather wait, turn the oven off and leave the tart to cool in the oven with the door open (it will sink and de-puff as it cools).  I have to say I kind of liked it best at room temperature.  It’s a simple, comforting kind of dessert that doesn’t smack you over the head with richness or frills.  It makes a lovely accompaniment to afternoon tea, and a quick dollop of freshly whipped cream, lightly sweetened, would transform it into an elegant special-occasion dessert.  Bon appétit!

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It’s always so refreshing to see lingerie, in any shape or size, in colors other than black/white/beige/pink/red.  I think a lot of women are really coming to think of their lingerie as an extension of their wardrobe and as something they’d like to apply their individual fashion sense to.  There are some charming lemon-yellow options beginning to pop up for Spring, but I’m particularly taken with these fun bras from Just Peachy by Figleaves, both for their amazing price points (just $32 regularly, and $24 on sale!) and for their availability in two sets of sizes.  There’s a lovely padded balconette bra in sizes 30-38 A-DD and a sweet unlined balconette bra in sizes 30-38 DD-G (all sizes UK), as well as a matching brief and short (8-18 UK), both of which are regularly $16 and are currently on sale for $12.80.  While I haven’t tried either style and can’t comment on fit, it’s always such a treat to find pretty lingerie for such a great price!

Chloe Spot Padded Balconette Bra

Chloe Spot Padded Balconette Bra

Chloe Spot Non-Padded Balconette Bra

Chloe Spot Non-Padded Balconette Bra

All styles are available White/Lemon as well as Black/Blush.  How sweet it is!

2 Comments on Lemon Tart à la Julia

  1. Tanya
    February 13, 2013 at 9:44 pm (7 years ago)

    Very nice! Loved the Chloe bra pairing and the tart looks divine! Another great yellow bra option (which I believe u have shared in prior reviews) is the Cleo Lucy.

    I can’t wait to try the tarte! My to loves are baking and lingerie as well. And Gus is just adorable! Sorry about the break-in, but I’m glad u, the kitties, and the knickers are safe!

    Reply
    • Sweets
      February 13, 2013 at 10:10 pm (7 years ago)

      Aw man, I totally forgot about that gorgeous yellow Lucy! Well sugar. Now I want to buy a new one (I had one a few sizes ago, and it was great) and review it! Thanks so much for your kind words. The break-in sucks, but you’re right: Kitties (and knickers) and I are safe, and that’s the important thing. Let me know how you like the tarte!

      Reply

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