When Life Gives You Lemons

Have you ever had one of those days when you just know you shouldn’t leave the house?  Those days when you’re feeling so distracted that you’d be a danger to yourself and others if you got behind the wheel of a car?  Two days ago, I experienced that feeling.  Things are changing a bit in my life and lately I’ve been distracted by those changes.  Typically, when I’m feeling anxious about an upcoming event or stressed about a looming project or due date, I get into the kitchen and cook it out.  I had the of best intentions the other day when I put my apron on…unfortunately, the cooking gods didn’t want to cooperate. 

I just wanted to make a lemon tart.  Was that too much to ask?

I started out with an unfamiliar recipe for tart dough.  Common cooking sense would have told me that there was entirely too much sugar and butter, but not enough flour in the dough, but as I said, I was distracted and evidently, it looked fine to me.  I should have just gone with the dough recipe I always use, but nooo, I wanted to try something new. 

I forged ahead, thinking to myself, “It’ll come together in the fridge while it rests, of course it will.”  In 30-minutes time, I pulled it from resting in the fridge and it was still a sugary, buttery, nowhere-near-tart-dough mass.  As my blood pressure rose, I thought, “No, this is fine…it’ll roll out just fine on my board.”  Nope.  Wrong again.  It smeared like wet sand all over my nice, shiny marble board.  With a swift flick of my wrist, I scraped it up and added it forcefully and deliberately to my “circular file,” as my dad would say. 

I was not about to give up.  No way.  I’ve successfully conquered far too many pie and tart doughs to let one misstep have the better of me.  So, armed with a new stick of butter, more flour, and a clearer head, I began again. 

And let me tell you this: the end result was divine.  Seriously.  The new dough came together as it should and the lemon curd set up like a dream.  After all the stumbles, after all the distractions, I managed to get over it and cook through it. 

Lemon Tart

For dough:
adapted from Ina Garten’s Barefoot in Paris

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
kosher salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons cold lard
1/4 cup ice water

Combine flour, 3 tablespoons sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt in a bowl and place in freezer for 30 minutes.  Put flour mixture into bowl of food processor and add the butter and lard and pulse until the butter is broken down into pea-sized pieces.  Add ice water and process until dough comes together.  Turn out onto lightly floured board and press into a disc.  Wrap in cling film and chill for 30 minutes. 

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Roll out dough and fit into a 9-inch tart pan with removable sides.  Be careful not to stretch the dough when placing it in a pan, as it will shrink when baked.  Cut off excess dough by rolling the pin over the top of the pan.  Line the tart shell with a piece of buttered aluminum foil, butter side down, and fill with dried beans or rice.  Bake shell for 10 minutes.  Remove beans and foil and prick the bottom of the shell all over with a fork.  Bake for another 15-20 minutes, until lightly browned.  Cool completely.

***Lower heat to 325ºF.

For filling:
adapted from Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook

zest from one lemon
1/2 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice (about 2 medium lemons)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup heavy cream

In mixing bowl, combine the lemon juice and sugar and whisk until well blended.  Add eggs and whisk well until the eggs are incorporated, then whisk in zest and cream.

Place pre-baked tart shell on baking sheet.  Pour mixture into shell, being careful not to over-fill it.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the custard is set.  Remove from the oven and let cool before slicing.  If you want to fancy it up a bit, serve it with fresh whipped lemon cream, lightly sweetened (2 tablespoons sugar mixed with 1 cup heavy whipping cream and 1 teaspoon lemon zest).

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