A very pretty lemon tart whipped up with a magic spoon aka tarte au citron
“’You make a mistake if you don’t try to figure out love,’ he said now as he served the tarte au citron—boldly tangy with a hint of sweetness held in his feathery pastry. ‘If you give yourself to someone without understanding it, you are only asking to be a slave.’”Isabel Vincent, Dinner with Edward: an uplifting story of food and friendship
This Tarte au Citron is roughly based on one used Le Certificat d’Aptitude Professionnelle de Pâtisserie (CAP Pâtisserie), a one or two year French qualification for professionals, particularly those hoping to become pastry cooks.
Filling made with whole eggs
The filling is a fabulous rich smooth lemon cream which the tasters were all convinced contained also lime juice – but it doesn’t, it’s unadulterated lemon. The lemon cream is made with whole eggs, so no whisky sour (sadly) in the offing, and no small bowls of egg whites waiting in the fridge for a raison d’être.
You mix it in a chicken’s arse!
My French isn’t too bad (good enough to enjoy Maigret in the original), but I struggled with cul de poule, and Deepl (my translator of choice, other than a native that is) struggled too, both of us coming out with ‘a chicken’s arse’. This is what I was supposed to make the lemon cream in. Further investigation revealed that this is the name for a mixing bowl in French. It’s probably best not to give too much thought to that!
How I discovered how useful a magic spoon can be
Then I had a second linguistic challenge – the idea was to whisk in the butter into the warm lemon cream using une cuillere magique – a magic spoon. Aha! So these French pastry chefs all have a secret weapon – no wonder my sauces never reach the Gallic dizzy heights of perfection! More research, and I’d found out what it was… a utensil I had had hanging in my own kitchen for some decades and never really used (I beat my eggs with a fork). But from now on, I will be using it as, I discovered, this nifty little tool effectively incorporates air into everything: it emulsifies sauces, smooths a roux, mixes a mayonnaise or a vinaigrette, aerates an omelette and renders pancake batter lumpless!
Magic spoon – take a bow! (If you are searching for one in English try ‘manual egg beater or whisk’).
Did you know?
French families will buy a Tarte au Citron from the local patisserie for their beautifully togged-out-for-church children to present to their grandparents when they go for Sunday lunch.
Pretty lemon tart aka tarte au citron
Serves – 8
- 200g/8 oz butter – at room temperature
- 75g/¾ cup icing sugar + another 120g/1 cup
- Pinch of salt
- 4 eggs
- 190g/1¾ cups plain flour
- 1 tbsps cornstarch
- 120 ml/½ cup/juice of about 4 lemons
- Double cream to serve
- First make the pastry. Cream half the butter with 75g/¾ cup icing sugar and a pinch of salt. Knead it into a soft, homogenous ball.
- Add one egg and mix it in well.
- Add the flour, and mix in well with your hands. Wrap in clingfilm and put in the fridge to cool for half an hour. You can speed up this process by putting it in the freezer for about half that time!
- Preheat the oven to 180°C.
- Flour a cool board (marble or granite ideally), and roll out your pastry on it. Cut out a circle large enough to line a greased (or non-stick) tart dish – the shallower the better.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes – the pastry should be golden.
- Take the pastry case out of the oven and leave to cool, still in the tin, on a rack.
- Meanwhile make the lemon cream. In a mixing bowl (cul de poule) beat the eggs and the icing sugar together – I do this with an electric whisk.
- Add the cornflour and whisk again until no lumps remain.
- In a medium saucepan warm the lemon juice, and pour it, stirring briskly, into the sugary egg mixture. Pour the lot back into the saucepan and warm gently until it starts to thicken. Whatever you do, don’t let it boil. It should have the smooth texture of a crème pâtissière. The more cooked and solid it is, the more difficult it is to get it to sink and spread into the tart.
- Take the lemon cream off the heat, and slowly add the rest of the butter, whisking with a ‘magic spoon’ (see main text for explanation).
- Pour the lemon cream into the pastry base, and refrigerate for a couple of hours before serving with cream.