Easter for us was a small affair. With Handyman Tim out of town, it was simply my parents, my sister, my peanuts and myself celebrating. We've learned that the best holidays have very simple menus and since I was completely on my own to have a clean house and do all the food prep, I kept this year's menu easier than most.
Despite all the corners I cut, I just couldn't bring myself to make an "easy" dessert. I love to bake and I rarely allow myself the opportunity in the kitchen unless I know I'll have party guests to help me finish it off. When I think of Easter I think of lemon or coconut but sheer fear kept me from trying my mom's favorite: lemon meringue pie.
While looking at my favorite spot for dessert inspiration (the Barefoot Contessa online book index), I noticed Ina has a recipe for lemon meringue tart. Knowing her recipes are usually easy enough for me to tackle and with three batches of the swiss meringue frosting under my belt in the last month, I decided to suck it up and try this recipe.
Step one meant tackling my biggest baking fear: a homemade pie crust. Normally I just substitute a Pillsbury pie crust from the grocery store, but I knew from the picture of the finished tart that this dessert required a thicker base. I was absolutely shocked with how easily the crust came together.
Despite a warning in the recipe to not stretch the crust when placing it in the tart pan, I still accidentally stretched it on the sides. I'll definitely be even more careful next time since the sides then shrunk and browned up faster than the rest of the crust.
The real winning part of this recipe is that golden yellow sugary goodness that is the lemon center of the tart. Oh. My. Goodness. I couldn't stop licking my spatula. This is the most delicious lemon curd/pie filling have ever tasted in my life. It would be worth making just to eat by the spoonful like pudding. I'm only joking a tiny bit.
Because I was making the recipe in advance, Ina suggests storing the crust and filling separately and then assembling and whipping up the meringue on the day of your party. Next time, I'm going to go ahead and assemble the whole darn thing and leave it in the fridge to keep cold. My family prefers a little bit firmer of a tart and I think it is way more delicious cold right out of the fridge rather than room temperature. Sorry Ina.
Now that I know this tart is even better after having sat in the fridge overnight, it will definitely be gracing our table again. It is one of the more perfect make-ahead desserts I've found.
One last helpful tip--when piping the meringue on top of the tart, don't do those fancy little piped tips. See how they are dark? They all burned before the rest of the meringue had browned up enough. I just pinched off the worst of it and it was fine, but next time I'll just leave a pretty swirl minus the little spiky tip.
Lemon Meringue Tart
courtesy of the Barefoot Contessa's "Barefoot in Paris"
For the lemon filling:
¼ pound unsalted butter at room temperature
1 ½ cups sugar
4 extra large eggs
3 extra large egg yolks (save the whites for the meringue)
¼ cup finely grated lemon zest (6 to 8 lemons--I used 5 really big ones)
½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
⅛ tsp kosher salt
For the pie crust:
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
3 tbsp sugar
½ tsp kosher salt
6 tbsp cold unsalted butter, diced
2 tbsp cold Crisco
¼ cup ice water
For the meringue topping:
4 extra large egg whites, at room temperature
¼ tsp cream of tartar
¼ tsp kosher salt
½ cup sugar
For the filling:
Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for 1 minute. On low speed, add the eggs and egg yolks one at a time, and then add the lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt. Don't worry, it will look curdled.
Pour the mixture into a small saucepan and cook over medium-low heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until thick, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Whisk briskly when it starts to thicken and cook over low heat for a minute or two, whisking constantly. Don't allow it to boil! It will be 175 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Pour into a bowl and cool to room temperature.
For the crust:
Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl and place in the freezer for 30 minutes. Put the flour mixture in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the butter and Crisco and pulse about 10 times until the butter is in small bits. Add the ice water and process until the dough comes together. Dump on a well-floured board and form into a disc. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Roll out the dough and fit into a 9-inch tart pan with removable sides. Don't stretch the dough when placing it in the pan or it will shrink during baking. Cut off the excess by rolling the pin across the top of the pan. Line the tart shell with a piece of buttered aluminum foil, butter side down, and fill it with dried beans or rice. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove the beans and foil and prick the bottom of the sell all over with a fork to allow the steam to escape. Bake for another 15 to 20 minutes until lightly browned. (Careful or the sides will darken quickly. I had to cover the edge in foil to get the center baked through enough.) Set aside to cool.
Raise the oven temperature to 425 degrees.
For the meringue:
Whip the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on high speed until frothy. With the mixer still running, slowly add the sugar and beat until the meringue is thick and shiny, about 2 minutes.
Spread the lemon filling in the cooled tart shell and pipe the meringue over it with a large star tip. Be sure the meringue covers the entire top and touches the edges of the shell, to prevent it from shrinking. Bake for 3 to 5 minutes, until the meringue is lightly browned.
Cool to room temperature and then store in the refrigerator to keep cool. Best if it has set for a few hours to overnight. Serve chilled.