Notes: A recent trip to Whole Foods scored us a big bag of beautiful Meyer lemons. What better way to use them than to make lemon tarts, one of my favourite desserts? I prepped the dough for the tart shells the night before, and this morning, I started with the garnish: Meyer lemon confit. The syrup was simply sugar, glucose and water into which I added seeded and thinly sliced lemons. After about an hour and a half of gentle simmering, they turned translucent and I turned off the heat.
The tart dough is made from pâte à foncer, a “lining dough” similar to an American pie dough but made with egg yolk, milk and pastry flour. The test batch size (2 lbs) easily yielded eight 4" fluted tart shells plus some leftover. While the lined molds chilled, I made a test batch of the curd, using 5 egg yolks (3.5 oz). Instead of using (and cleaning) an immersion blender, I just whisked in the room-temperature butter. As I tasted the finished curd, I discovered it wasn't as tangy as I would have liked. This is most likely due to the lower acidity of Meyer lemons which requires an adjustment in the amount of sugar. Most of the distinctive flavour of Meyers is in the zest, so I should have increased that, while decreasing the sugar.
Although it rested and chilled sufficiently, the tart dough shrunk somewhat when I blind baked it at 385°F (non-convection). Perhaps I will lower the temperature next time. Once the shells were cool, I was ready to assemble the tarts. The original recipe calls for baking the curd-filled in a low oven to set the curd, but I didn't feel that I needed to do that, nor glaze or garnish with chocolate. At this point, I decided to make a meringue to use up the egg whites and also to try out my new kitchen torch!
Using the Italian meringue recipe as a guide, I tried to scale the test quantities to fit the amount of egg whites I had. But the amount of sugar seemed high, so I ended up halving it. As the syrup got to the desired temperature, I slowly poured it down the side of my stand mixer bowl and whipped the egg whites continually. I'm always amazed every time I make this type of meringue that the whites don't immediately get cooked by the molten sugar. While it's being whipped, it certainly smells like cooked eggs. I overwhipped the whites somewhat, as they were grainy and clumpy, rather than shiny and smooth.
Once it was cool, I tried fitting my piping bag with a St. Honore tip, but it was too big for the opening. I improvised by using a Ziploc freezer bag with the corner cut off, and masking tape to hold the tip in place. I experimented with two piping patterns: curved, radiating lines and a pinecone design. The curved design was inspired by this tart and a photo in Saveur of a lemon meringue pie. The pinecone design was something I think I saw in Whole Foods bakery department.
At the local 7-11, I picked up a butane refiller and loaded up my new torch. Dr. S played the flame across the meringue, and we watched as it puffed up gently. The meringue darkens quickly so you do have to keep an eye on the flame.
These tarts were beautiful to look at, and extremely delicious. The crust was very tender and broke apart with the touch of a fork. I won't ignore the importance and difference that pastry flour makes in the future! The lemon filling would be even better with more zest in it, but the lemon confit made up for that.