Lemon is the singular best dessert ingredient. Its tangy and sour punch is the best complement to a sweet dessert. Besides, how can you appreciate all that sweetness without a little something to make your lips pucker?! While driving through our sleepy neighborhood while in Louisiana on Christmas break, I came across a sign taped to a box: "Free Lemons." Organic Louisiana lemons?! Naturally, I couldn't help myself and I gathered all of the lemons I thought I could feasibly fit in my carry on for the journey back to New York.
Anyone with a lemon tree will tell you that their lemon tree produces way more fruit than they can stand to eat. And besides, it's not like someone is having a whole lemon with their breakfast every morning! One lemon goes a long way. Plus, organic lemons are the only option for someone who's serious about lemons. Organic lemons are unwaxed. This means when you use their lemon zest, you aren't getting a layer of wax along with it!
Thrilled to have a supply of lemons, I got to thinking about what I would make with my bounty. I settled on a classic: lemon tarts. Lemon tarts are nothing more than a par-baked pie crust filled with chilled lemon curd. If you’re feeling fancy, you can top them with meringue and toast the meringue. These lemon tarts are deceptively simple for how unbelievably packed with flavor they are.
There are two parts to this recipe, and you can do them in any order you wish: preparing the lemon curd and baking the pie dough. I used my favorite pie dough recipe and fit the dough into mini tart pans. I then pre-baked (“blind baked”) the pie crust completely in advance because the lemon curd is completely cooked once it goes into the pie crust—no additional baking is needed. I lined the bottom of the crust with parchment paper, and then filled it with dried beans or rice (or pie weights if you’ve got them). I baked them for 10-15 minutes, removed the parchment paper and beans/rice, and continued to bake for another 10 minutes until the crust was lightly golden and completely cooked.
Next, I prepared the lemon curd. Homemade lemon curd is such a treat and way easier than you’d think. I simply cooked eggs, sugar and fresh lemon juice in the top of a double boiler until it thickened. Then refrigerate. That’s it! Once the lemon curd has chilled and thickened, you can place it in the tart shells.
Now, here’s where you can get fancy. Lemon zest? Sprinkle it on top. Want to make a meringue? Go for it! Whip out the kitchen torch and brulee that meringue. Or just put in the oven on broil and toast the tops!
Meringue or not, these tarts are a hit! They have completely wrecked my diet this week. And I may have even had one for breakfast ;) Enjoy!
Mini Lemon Tarts
Pie Dough (makes a double recipe)*
2 1/2 cups (350 grams) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons (25 grams) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon (5 grams) salt
2 1/2 sticks (280 grams) unsalted butter, cut into ½” pieces
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) cold water
8 mini tart pans (three to four inches)
*You only need half of the dough for this recipe to make eight 3” mini tart shells.
3 large eggs at room temperature
150 grams granulated sugar
3.25 ounces fresh lemon juice
180 grams unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into pieces
grated zest of two lemons
Prepare and Chill the Dough
Combine flour with sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor or stand mixer. Pulse or mix to incorporate. Add the pieces of butter. Pulse or mix using the paddle attachment until no dry flour remains and dough just begins to collect in clumps. Sprinkle the water in while mixing.
Fold and press the dough until it comes together into a ball. Divide ball in half (because this recipe makes servings of pie dough). Form each half into a disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before rolling and baking.
Pre-bake (“Blind Bake”) the pie crust
Preheat the oven to 350F. Roll out one of the discs to a round large enough to fit 6 mini tart pans. (Reserve the remaining disc of pie dough for use at a later date). Press the dough into the six mini tart pans. Gather the remaining dough and roll it out. Fit it into the remaining two mini tart pans. Line each tart with parchment paper.
Fill the parchment paper with pie weights or dried beans. Make sure they’re distributed all across the bottom and partly up the sides of the parchment-lined crust. The weights ensure that the crust holds its shape during baking and doesn’t slump in the pan or bubble up. Place the mini tart pans on a cookie sheet. Transfer to the oven and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the dough is no longer raw and the paper no longer sticks to the bottom of each shell. Remove from the oven, carefully lift up the parchment paper and remove the beans or pie weights, as well as the parchment paper. Return to the oven for an additional 8-12 minutes, until the bottoms of the crust are lightly browned. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
Prepare the Lemon Curd
Combine the eggs, sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest in a heat-proof bowl or the top of a double boiler. Whisk to combine.
Fill a small pot (but large enough to balance the heat-proof bowl) halfway with water. Bring to a hearty simmer, and reduce the heat to medium. Place the bowl on top of the simmering water. (Make sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water, otherwise you’ll end up with scrambled eggs in your lemon curd!)
Whisk constantly to ensure that the curd cooks evenly for seven minutes, or until the curd thickens and lightens. You may need to reduce the heat or turn it off completely—be very careful that the bowl doesn’t get too hot or the eggs will scramble.
Remove the curd from heat and pour it into a bowl. Place plastic on top so that it’s touching the lemon curd, and refrigerate for at least one hour.
Assemble the lemon tarts
Pour the curd into each baked pastry shell. You may sprinkle lemon zest on top or add meringue and toast, if desired.