Sunday, March 28, 2010

Want to impress at a dinner party? Make this Lemon Meringue Tart!

I don't know what the weather is doing outside of Eastern Ontario, but it's sure a confusing time over here! We have summer weather before it's officially spring, and then when March 21st rolls around the temperatures drop to Winter ones and before you know it we're trading in our dresses and sandals for scarves and gloves! However, the weather is supposed to improve this coming week in Ottawa, and it's about time the weather apologized to us!

I love Spring. It marks the end of yet another winter, flowers start popping up, the weather improves by a few degrees each week, and people emerge from their cocoons and take advantage of the outdoors again. Spring baking is also loads of fun - the flavours are fresher, brighter and lighter in taste. Soon we won't have to deal with chemically pumped berries but ones that are in season and therefore at their natural best. Fruit filled desserts are a treat for the eye as well as the taste buds.

What I'm going to divulge today is my go-to recipe for Lemon Meringue Tart. Although delicious all year round, it just has a proper place in Spring and Summer. It's pretty easy to do, and to die for! You'll never want to buy it from the grocery store again!

Here are the various components that are in it:

- Lemon infused sweet dough
- Almond Cream
- Lemon curd
- Italian Meringue

Sweet Dough

200g flour
100g butter (at room temperature)
70g icing sugar
3 egg yolks
4ml milk
1 lemon, for zest
Pinch of salt

1. Pre-heat oven to 400F. Grease pie shell generously. Use one that is preferably with a removable bottom.
2. Sift icing sugar and add lemon zest and salt to it.
3. Sift flour, set aside.
4. Separate eggs - save the white for the meringue.
5. In stand-up mixer or with hand mixer cream butter until fluffy, scraping the bowl from time to time. Add icing sugar mix and beat until all is well incorporated.
6. Add yolks one at a time making sure each has been mixed in well before adding the next.
7. Add flour and beat only until everything is mixed well - don't over mix!
8. Flatten into a round and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill in fridge for 20-30 minutes, or until a little stiffer but not so hard that it can't be rolled out.
9. When dough is ready, flour your work surface and roll around dough, rotating it constantly so that all sides are of equal thickness. Dough should be no thinner than 1/4" thick. It's the right size when you place tart shell in the middle of it and you can fit 2-3 fingers on each side on the remaining dough.
10. Roll on to pin and lay into tart shell going backwards. Push dough into bottom, roll over the top with the rolling pin to remove excess dough. Pull the edges up slightly at a 90 degree angle and remove the excess with the back of a small knife. Place in fridge for 10 minutes.

Mis-en-placing (as my pastry supervisor calls it)! Clockwise, from top: Almond cream, butter, yolks, flour, naked lemon, and zesty icing sugar. Sorry there is no picture from the rolling out of the dough, that probably would have been a little helpful. D:

Almond Cream

60g icing sugar
60g butter
60g almond powder
6g flour
1 egg

1. Melt butter. Add all the dry ingredients, mix well and then add the egg. Pour into tart shell, spreading all around with a spatula or the back of a spoon.
2. Place tart shell on baking tray and put in oven. Rotate after 10 minutes. Tart and almond cream are ready when the crust and cream are slightly golden and the cream looks slightly spongey. It will firm up when it cools.

Lemon Curd

2 lemons, juiced
1 lemon, for zesting
100g sugar
100g butter
2 eggs

1. Zest lemon into sugar. Juice the lemons and strain to remove any pulp and seeds.
2. In a medium saucepan add the zesty sugar, lemon juice and the eggs.
3. Over medium heat continuously whisk until the mixture becomes thick and bubbly.
4. Remove pan from heat and add butter, whisking to dissolve it. Pour into another bowl and set aside.
5. Once cool, add to tart shell. Chill in fridge until solid.

Italian Meringue
(This can get a little tricky, so I'll do my best to explain it)

120g egg whites (about 4, and at room temperature... cold whites seem to not want to whip as well)
240g sugar
80g water
Slivered almonds

This recipe has been doubled because I always find that I'm out of meringue before I cover the whole tart, and I also can't get enough of its marshmallowey texture!

1. In mixer add whites and beat gently so that it foams, about at 2-5 setting.
2. In a small sauce pan add the sugar and water. On high heat get the sugar and water boiling. When it starts to boil run a wet pastry brush above where the sugary water is to prevent crystallization. Up the speed on the whites. You may have to lift the bowl up so the whisk touches the bottom and thus whips all the whites, not just the top.
3. Get a bowl of cold ice water (I'll get into this in a minute), or a candy thermometre. The temperature we are looking for is at 120C/240F. This is 'soft ball stage'. The sugary water will boil furiously for a bit, but it gets close when the bubbles aren't as fast.
4. If you are brave and want to get up and close with the sugar, here is what you do - when you start to see the bubbles slow down, with one hand tip the pot towards you, and dip the fingers of the other hand into the ice water. Quickly dip your cold fingers into the sugar, pulling some out and dunking your fingers and the sugar immediately into the water. When the sugar firms up and you can roll a ball and squish it, it's ready. Or you can use a thermometre, but I don't trust those things!
5. The whites should be almost at firm peaks at this point. With the mixer still running, slowly pour the sugar down the side of the bowl. If sugar strands get caught on the sides, that's ok!
6. Put the mixer on the highest setting and let it go for about 5 minutes. It will double in volume and it will be ready when you feel the bottom of the bowl and it's at body temperature. It will also stand up on its own and look like a bird beak (see photo below!).
7. With a funky pastry tip (I use the St. Honoree one from school) pipe the meringue and sprinkle some slivered almonds on top.
8. With the oven at 450F, put the tart on a baking tray and leave it in there just until the meringue and almonds have browned a little bit. No one wants burned meringue, but having it just slightly caramelized is divine!

Foamy whites!

This step looks silly but hell hath no fury like sugar crystallizing! It's like a domino effect!

The bubbles are starting to slow down. They become larger and fewer as a result.

Soft ball - it's not that scary to play with sugar!

Pour the sugar flush to the side of the bowl is ideal (I was taking this action shot so I was a little off balance), because when it's at this high speed the air from the whisking will shoot the sugar everywhere!

The meringue doubles in volume as it cools.

This is the 'big bird', as one of my school chefs would call it.

Piped meringue, pre-toasted.

You'll be worshipped for this tart, I kid you not. It's lovely for any occasion and the almond cream adds a wonderfully indulgent quality to it.

Happy baking! I'm having a unusually (but wonderful) bake-free weekend. I love what I do but sometimes taking a break helps me recharge my batteries and not become burnt out from too much baking. This upcoming week at work will be very insane as we are preparing for Easter and we have a million catering events. So far my only personal commission has been for cookies, which I love. Decorating cookies is very zen for me right now and I love figuring out what designs I'm going to do!


Shona said...

Whatever happened to the silhouettes who mysteriously appeared a couple of weeks ago?
Also, I got fat and have since lost over half of it, but if I keep reading this that could change very fast!

Tastes Like More said...

Oh Shona, you were NEVER fat, my sexy lady! Come here though and I'll make sure that you're ripe for roasting ;D.

Reading is calorie free, though! And this recipe has a lot of things that are good for you... almonds... lemons... egg whites... jeez it's probably the healthiest thing I bake.

Oh and the mysterious silhouettes will make a presence soon! I actually didn't use those, but I'll leave you hanging here!

Shona said..., I was a house. You just never saw it!