As the saying goes, “Imitation is the highest form of flattery.” Now, I would never claim to have the culinary skills of the venerable Julia Child, but hey, I can imitate, and that’s good enough for me.
I know, I know, you’re probably thinking, “Sara, we’ve already seen Julie and Julia, we don’t need to read about your misadventures in cookery.” But hear me out. I promise I won’t take you down a self-reflective road of discovery on my way to inner peace; I just want to tell you what I did last weekend. That’s all.
My very good friends, Sarah and Matthew, are part of a roaming pot-luck group and it was their turn to host last Sunday. Sarah is a food writer for our local paper and also maintains a blog. She pointed out to me that Julia Child’s 100th birthday is on August 15th, and she wanted to have a celebratory pot-luck in honor of her; all items were to come from Julia’s own cookbooks. I thought it was a fabulous idea, and I was instantly rolling recipes around in my head in preparation for the Big Night.
You guessed it, I brought dessert. In fact, I brought two: a lemon and almond tart, as well as chocolate mousse. But this post is all about Julia Child’s amazing lemon and almond tart. I felt that the flavor combination was truly indicative of summer, and I wanted to bring something that tasted both light and comforting. The decision was made – into the kitchen I went!
I took my time with this dessert; I started on Saturday morning with the tart shell and decided I would make the filling the next afternoon. If you decide to make this, it’s not essential to spread the work out, but it does make the whole endeavor less stressful.
I stayed pretty true to Julia’s recipe except for a few things. First, I toasted the almonds in the oven before pulverizing them in the food processor. Second, I didn’t use all of the julienned and candied lemon rind on top of the tart. These choices were simply a matter of taste, as I prefer the nutty flavor of toasted almonds, and I don’t prefer to eat three lemons-worth of candied peel.
Because of this recipe, almond extract will have a permanent spot in my baking cupboard. I absolutely love the scent and flavor of it, and I cannot wait to try it out in ice creams and further desserts. Yes, everyone loves vanilla extract, but I now think that almond extract is the unsung hero of the dessert world. More on that later…
Regrettably, I don’t have a photo of the final product as a whole – for whatever reason, be it the excitement of the night, or just plain old age, I forgot to snap one. Don’t fret, people, I’ll make another – it was just that good. What I do have for you, though, is a photograph of the amazing spread of Julia dishes just waiting to be eaten:
Do yourself a favor and plan to make this in celebration of Julia and everything she brought to the culinary world. You will not regret it, I promise you. Bon appétit!
Tart Au Citron et Aux Amandes
Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking
Ingredients for the crust:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
5 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into cubes
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening (I used lard because I prefer it)
1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
***If you don’t have lard or shortening, all butter would be just fine in a pinch.
Method for the crust:
Place the flour, sugar, butter, lard, and baking powder in a 3-quart mixing bowl. Rub the fat and dry ingredients together rapidly with the tips of your fingers until the fat is broken into bits the size of small oatmeal flakes. Blend in the egg and vanilla, and knead the dough rapidly into a ball. Place on counter or pastry board and with the heel of your hand, not the palm, rapidly press the pastry down on the board and away from you in a firm, quick smear of about 6 inches. Gather the dough into a ball, flatten into a disk, and wrap with wax paper or cling film. Chill in the fridge for several hours until firm.
Pre-heat oven to 375ºF.
Mold the pastry in a 9- to 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Line the dough with a piece of foil or parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake crust in center of oven for 5-6 minutes until the dough is set. Remove the lining, prick the bottom of the crust with a fork in several places, and bake for 8-10 minutes longer. The shell is done when it has shrunk slightly from the mold and begins to brown very lightly. Remove from oven and place on rack to cool.
Ingredients for the filling:
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
A candy/deep fry thermometer (you really should have one of these around the house – they’re great!)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup toasted and pulverized almonds (toast in oven at 350ºF for about 15-20 min)
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
The grated rind and strained juice of 1 1/2 lemons
Instructions for filling:
From one lemon, remove the yellow part of the skin with a vegetable peeler; cut into julienne strips 1/16-inch wide and 2 1/2-inches long. Simmer 10-12 minutes in water. Drain thoroughly. Grate the zest from the second lemon and set aside. Juice 1 1/2 lemons and set juice aside.
Boil the 1 cup sugar and 1/3 cup water to the thread stage (230ºF); add the vanilla and lemon peel. Let stand for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 325ºF. Place pre-baked pastry shell on large sheet pan.
Beat the eggs and 1/2 cup granulated sugar in a mixing bowl for 4-5 minutes, or until the mixture is thick, pale yellow, and falls back onto itself forming a slowly dissolving ribbon.
Beat in the almonds, almond extract, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Pour this almond cream carefully into the pastry shell and place sheet pan with shell into oven. Bake for about 25 minutes. Tart is done when cream has puffed, browned very lightly, and a tester inserted into the cream comes out clean. Place tart on cooling rack.
Drain the strips of the lemon peel and strew them over the tart. Boil their syrup down until it is a glaze (about 228ºF). Spoon a thin coating over the top of the tart. This tart is usually served cold, but may be eaten warm or room temperature if you like.