I love lemon tart and that’s why I choose it as the cake to celebrate my birthday. It’s not a cake, I know, but birthday cakes are all about eating the thing that you love the most with little regard for what others may think or like. Cheesecake is often the preferred birthday cake in our house, but then that’s not really a cake either. Regardless, with both of these options, if you adorn it with birthday candles, and sing loudly, then you can pretend it’s a cake. And that’s all that matters.
This recipe is from Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion, and it’s the only recipe I’ve ever used to make a lemon tart. The reason for that is it’s super simple and unbelievably delicious. What more could you want? To be honest, I’m not the one who usually makes the lemon tart, because you should never make your own birthday cake. Given that, I’m all for giving advice from the sidelines, but only when asked.
When making a lemon tart there are a couple of things to remember. It’s really important to blind bake the pastry case so that it’s lightly golden, before adding the filling. It should take around 20 minutes but that depends on your oven, so colour is the best way to tell if it’s cooked enough. Covering the rim with foil means the edges won’t burn, and lets the base cook to the required goldenness.
And then there’s the choice of pan. We’ve always used a shallow, loose-based tart tin and it worked pretty well. But it was super stressful moving it from the bench to the oven when it was filled with the lemony liquid. Different strategies have been used over time. To date: placing the tin on a baking tray so that the tray was carried rather than the tin (the filling still tended to slop a bit); and filling the tart case while it was on the oven rack. Great idea but I failed to foresee the slopping of the filling as the shelf was slid back into the oven. So this time a deep sided, loose-based tin was used and it worked a treat. The down side is the finished tart tends to look a little more rustic because judging the depth of the tart filling is a little hit and miss. But alas, it was a stress-free manoeuvre from bench to oven, and that’s what counts.
- 160 grams unsalted, cold butter, chopped into small pieces
- 240 grams plain flour
- pinch of salt
- 3 tablespoons cold water
- 3 large lemons
- 6 eggs
- 250 grams castor sugar
- 200 ml cream
- icing sugar and thick cream, to serve
- Sieve the flour and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Add the butter and blitz until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the water through the top shoot and mix until the dough comes together.
- Remove the dough from the bowl onto a lightly floured workbench. Press into a flat disc shape about the size of a small plate, wrap in plastic clingfilm and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes.
- Remove the pastry from the fridge and roll it out to line a lightly greased, 24 cm loose-bottomed deep tart tin. Line the bottom of the pastry with baking paper or foil and fill with pastry weights (you can use dried beans). Place a foil collar around the top edge to stop it from overcooking. Bake at 200 degrees celsius for 15 minutes, then remove the weights and baking paper and bake for another 5 minutes or until lightly golden.
- Reset the oven to 160 degrees celsius.
- Zest and juice lemons. Combine eggs and sugar until well amalgamated, then add the zest and juice and stir well. Add cream and mix well using a balloon whisk.
- Pour into the just-baked pastry case and bake for 35-40 minutes or until almost set.
- Cool in the tin. Serve dusted with icing sugar and with thick cream.