Tartelettes au citron

Originally – in my teenage years – it was baking much more than cooking that intrigued me to experiment with new recipes. I’ve always had a sweet tooth and after school, while working in a café in New Zealand, that was very popular and known for its cakes, even played with the idea of becoming a pastry chef. Over the years however, I was baking less and less – a birthday cake and some Christmas cookies eventually. I also have to admit that I’d always choose a humble berry crumble over a refined French macaron…

That said, I do love tarts, whether savory or sweet, and am a big fan of a little sourness here and there instead of over-sweetened icings. So I just had to make this French classic. While a tart au citron is one of THE classics of the French pâtisserie, there are many, many recipes out there. I’m not claiming that this one is more authentic than others, but I assure you that although I’m using a lot of butter here, it will taste rather light, is not too sweet and the curd will be very creamy, since its not made with starch or cream, which causes the cream to set a little to much for my taste. The recipe will make six 10cm tartlets or 1 tart.

I made a classic version with meringue and a personalized one. You can decide which one to make – or make both and tell me which one you preferred!

For the pastry:

125 g butter, room temperature
60 g granulated stevia (or other sweetener of choice)
1/2 tsp ground vanilla beans or 1 scraped vanilla bean
a pinch of sea salt
4 tbsp ground almonds  
1 medium sized egg
200 g flour (I used kamut flour, an ancient type of wheat that has less gluten and what is more, gives the crust a yellowish color with looks very nice with the lemon curd)
some more flour to roll out the dough
a little more butter to grease the tart shells

For the filling:

grated zest of 2 organic lemons
130 ml freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 4 lemons)
150 g granulated stevia
4 medium sized eggs
250 g cold butter

For the meringue:

1-3 egg whites (depending on whether you plan to cover the whole surface of the tarletes or just decorate it a little)
a pinch of sea salt
1 tsp rice malt syrup per egg

tarte au citron my way – with a cream cheese filling, caramelized lemon and sage:

1 organic lemon
juice of 1 additional lemon
2 tbsp rice malt syrup (or aromatic honey)
2 tbsp water
8 sage leaves
1 tbsp butter
5 tbsp cream cheese
a pinch of sea salt

To prepare the dough, whisk together butter, almond meal, vanilla powder, salt and stevia until you’ve got a creamy texture. Mix the egg well into the batter. Then sift in the flour and whisk quickly, avoiding to overwork the batter. Form a ball with your hands and place in the fridge for at least 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease the tart shells. Roll out the pastry quite thinly on a lightly floured surface. Cut out circles that are bigger than the tart shells, so there is enough dough to cover the sides. Press down gently in the forms and trim off any excess pastry. Stab some holes in the bottom using a fork. Place in the oven (if you want to, you can cover the pastry with parchment paper and pour in some dry legumes, but I don’t think this is necessary) and bake for 10 minutes (if you are making the meringue version) or a few minutes more for the caramelized-lemon-version, until the pastry turns slightly golden. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.

In the meantime prepare the filling. I a heavy-bottomed saucepan whisk together zest and juice of lemon, stevia as well as the eggs. Let simmer on medium heat, stirring continuously. Be very careful not to bring the mix to boil! Otherwise the eggs will set. Keep stirring – that will take 15-20 minutes – until the mixture thinkens and is not liquid anymore. Remove from heat, add pieces of cold butter and quickly whisk under the mixture. Whisk the mixture for two minutes with a hand-held blender – that will make it light and airy. If you are making my personalized version, mix cream cheese with the sea salt and spread it on the bottom of the tartlets before you are pouring in the lemon mixture and set aside.

For the meringue version, whisk together egg whites and salt, gradually adding the rice malt syrup, until it forms stiff peaks. Preheat the oven to 150°C. Either spread on the lemon curd or decorate with a pastry tube. Place in the oven for 5-10 minutes until the meringue starts to turn golden. Let cool for 1-2 hours before serving.

For the caramelized lemon and the fried sage,  put the syrup, lemon juice and water into a heavy-bottomed pan and stir over a low heat until the syrup has dissolved. Bring to the boil and bubble hard for 10 minutes or until you have a sticky syrup when you swirl it around the pan. Now add the finely sliced lemon, without pips. Bubble for 2–3 minutes, then remove from the heat and leave to cool. Fry the sage leaves in butter until they turn crispy. Decorate the tart with one lemon slice and sage leaf each.