Citrus tarts ~ A belated Thanksgiving two-for-one!

My children were both born in American, which means that we’ve been able to legitimately appropriate some wonderful new holidays into our annual calendar. Independence day is a confusing one… But my favourite, hands down, has to be Thanksgiving.

However, some of the traditional foods are highly questionable to me. Whilst green bean casserole has been an absolute revelation, things like candied yams (barf!) and even the sacred pumpkin pie leave me scratching my head. I think it’s one of those foods you need to grow up eating to enjoy, because to me it just tastes like a sickly sweet, spiced vegetable in pastry. I just don’t get it.

But the pie itself is so iconic, a Thanksgiving table would seem conspicuously bare without one. So what to do? Well, I came up with a novel solution: I made a different pie that looks orange.

I never said it was a clever solution, but at least this pie got eaten!

To make my orange tart, I tweaked the recipe of my tried and tested lemon meringue pie. Whilst I did consider that my lemon meringue pie deserved it’s own post, it would be kinda redundant as I use the same recipe for every citrus tart that I make; Since I discovered the technique of emulsifying curd with butter, I’ve never made one any other way – it’s just too damn good!

So let’s start with the pastry recipe, which conveniently makes enough for two tarts 🙂

Almost every time I make a sweet pastry, I use my mother’s recipe. It’s so full of flavour, it just seems to make everything that much more special. I think the addition of lemon zest and ground almonds is the secret. And the richness of that egg yolk can’t hurt either.

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Beat some fridge cold butter until it is smooth and softened, and then add in the icing sugar, mixing until it is all combined. Add in the egg yolk, lemon zest, and milk, and beat again to incorporate.

With all your wet ingredients added, you can start to mix in the flour and ground almonds. You don’t want to do this until it looks like a finished dough, just until it clumps together in little boulders, at which point you should tip everything out onto the counter, and gently compress it into a dough. This way, it won’t become overworked and tough. This will need to be rested in the fridge for a good 30 minutes before using, otherwise it will be too soft to work with.

If you wanted to, you could use the ‘jigsaw’ method I outlined when making a strawberry tart, but for speed I chose to use the traditional method. Just roll out the pastry until it’s 3-4mm thick, and then drape across your tart ring. Ease it down into the sides, making sure to push it into the corners. As our filling is not going to be cooked in the pastry, you won’t run the risk of cracking – you could trim the top now if you wanted to, or you can leave it draped over the edges and trim it halfway through the baking instead.

Chill your tart shell in the fridge for a good 20 minutes before continuing.

Prick the base of your tart shell with a fork to stop the pastry bubbling up in the oven, then line it with some baking parchment or ovenproof clingfilm, and add rice or beans to help weigh it down. As I like to use ovenproof cling film, I need to keep the oven temperature fairly low, at 170c. I find that I get the best results from my oven if I bake for 15 minutes initially, then after removing the rice, another 12 minutes. You will need to experiment with your oven and find out what works best – every oven is different, and the temperature on the dial may be way off.

Whatever method you use, just make sure that your tart shell is fully baked. It should look completely dry all over, and have a tinge of golden brown all over the base.

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If you are a stickler for perfection, once the tart shell is cool, you can use a fine microplane zester to trim some of the untidy bits of pastry off the edges (or even a vegetable peeler if you’re super gentle). Just make sure that you take off only a little at a time, and go slow!

So that’s all the baking done, let’s make that delicious filling! If you are going to use the rest of the pastry in the next couple of days, you could store it in the fridge. Otherwise, wrap it well and put it in the freezer where it will keep for about a month. At this time of year, I would recommend using it to make mince pies 🙂

So, the first thing you’ll want to do is extract all the flavour from the fruit. If you weigh out your sugar and stir through the zest, you’ll find that the sugar will start to draw out the oils and moisture from the citrus fruit. As we’re going to be removing the zest later, it’s important to get as much flavour out of it as we can now. You’ll want to leave this to sit for at least 5 minutes, which should give you time to get your other ingredients ready.

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I’m not a huge fan of “mise en place”, which is french for ‘getting everything ready before you start’, but in this recipe it’s absolutely essential, as you need to move quickly and must stir constantly.

Be sure to have your sieve set up over your blender, and your butter all neatly cut up before you start heating anything.

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This process is very similar to making a traditional lemon curd. You will need to heat the lemons, sugar and eggs over a bain-marie until the mixture thickens. This could take a while, so don’t panic if after 10 minutes it’s still looking very thin – it will happen eventually! Once it has thickened, give it another couple of minutes just to be sure you’ve reached a safe temperature for the eggs, and to ensure a firm enough texture that the  the finished tart can be sliced.

Pass your curd through the sieve into the the blender, pushing it through with a rubber spatula, and using a clean spatula to scrape the underside of the sieve – you don’t want to waste any on your precious filling! Your sieve will have caught all the lemon zest, as well as the spindly pieces of cooked egg white, giving you a smooth curd.

Turn the blender on, and slowly add the butter, a piece at a time. The curd will lighten in colour and texture as it blends. Once all the butter is added and incorporated, quickly pour the filling into your tart shell, as it will set up quickly. I needed an extra pair of hands to take pictures of this part as I needed to work very quickly; Hopefully you can use your imagination to envisage a blender being used 😀

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If the filling is already starting to set, smooth it out as much as possible. Pop any large air bubbles that you can see, then place into the fridge to set completely.

To complete my lemon tart, I’m going to add some sweet meringue to counter the sharpness of the lemon. And as we’re not going to bake the tart any more, that means either Swiss or Italian meringue is required, so that the egg whites are safe to eat.

Actually, I made a bit of an error here, and answered the door while my egg whites were whisking. They ended up becoming over-beaten and dry before I added the sugar syrup, meaning that the final meringue was not very stable. At the time I thought it was just solid enough to hold it’s shape, but sadly it was not to be. Some strategic blowtorching can do wonders to hide a saggy meringue, but it’s no substitute for not messing up in the first place! Never mind, it still tastes amazing!

If you enjoy a tart au citron, you should seriously give this filling a try – it’s a lot creamier and lighter than a baked version, and there’s no danger of the surface cracking either 🙂

Lemon Meringue Tart

275g plain flour
25g ground almonds
175g butter, cold
75g icing sugar
Finely grated zest of 1/2 a lemon
1 egg yolk
3 tbsp milk

120g caster sugargrated zest of 2 lemons
140mls lemon juice
3 medium eggs
pinch of salt
170g unsalted butter

3 egg whites
150g caster sugar
50g water

Sift the flour, and add the ground almonds to the bowl.

Beat the butter using a stand mixer of hand held electric mixer, until smooth.
Add the icing sugar, and continue beating until all the lumps have gone.
Add the zest, egg yolk, and milk. Beat until incorporated – it may well look curdled.

Add in the flour mixture, and whisk until it just starts to clump together.
Turn everything out onto a work surface and squish everything together until it forms a dough.
Wrap in cling film and rest in the fridge for 20 minutes.

Use half of the pastry to make the tart shell – about 300g.
The rest of the pastry can be kept in the fridge for a few days, or the freezer for up to 3 months.

Line the tart shell with the pastry, and press the excess over the lip onto the outer edges.
Use ovenproof clingfilm or baking parchment to line, and fill with rice and beans.
Blind bake for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven and leave for 5 minutes to firm up.
Remove the rice and beans, then carefully trim off the excess pastry with a small knife.
Return to the oven for 5 more minutes, until the pastry is completely cooked.

Mix the sugar and lemon zest in a small bowl, and leave to infuse for 5 minutes.
Tip into a large heatproof bowl, and add the lemon juice, salt, and eggs.

Sit the bowl on a saucepan of simmering water, and whisk the mixture continuously, until it thickens.
Continue to cook for 2 more minutes.
Sieve the mixture into a blender, remembering to scrape the bottom of the sieve.
Turn the blender on, and add the butter, a little at a time.

Pour the lemon cream into your prepared tart shell, and rap gently to bring bubbles to the surface.
Transfer the tart to the fridge to set the filling.

Whisk the egg whites to a firm peak.
Boil the sugar and water until they reach 118c.
Continue whisking the egg whites, and pour the hot syrup down the side of the bowl in a slow and steady stream.
Whisk until the meringue become stiff and glossy.
Decorate the tart with the Italian meringue as desired.
You can use a blowtorch to add colour, as well as definition to your piping.

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The orange and cinnamon tart can be made in exactly the same way, simply replacing the lemons with oranges, and adding a little cinnamon to the curd. Whilst my kids find the lemon far too sharp for their taste, I have yet to come across anyone who doesn’t think that the orange and cinnamon version is perfection!

As the orange tart is significantly sweeter than the lemon version, I think meringue would be a bit too much. Instead, I added just a little whipped cream around the edges, to provide a little textural contrast. If you are going to prepare this well ahead of time, it could be worth making a stabilised whipped cream, which you can find detailed in my recent post on eclairs.

Not too tricky, eh? And I’ve yet to come across anyone who wasn’t wowed by these tarts – quite simple to look at, but oh so delicious to eat 🙂

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Orange and Cinnamon Tart

275g plain flour
25g ground almonds
175g butter, cold
75g icing sugar
Finely grated zest of 1/2 a lemon
1 egg yolk
3 tbsp milk

120g caster sugargrated zest of 2 oranges
140mls orange juice
3 medium eggs
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
170g unsalted butter

1tsp powdered gelatine
4tsp cold water
300ml double cream, cold
30g icing sugar

Sift the flour, and add the ground almonds to the bowl.

Beat the butter using a stand mixer of hand held electric mixer, until smooth.
Add the icing sugar, and continue beating until all the lumps have gone.
Add the zest, egg yolk, and milk. Beat until incorporated – it may well look curdled.

Add in the flour mixture, and whisk until it just starts to clump together.
Turn everything out onto a work surface and squish everything together until it forms a dough.
Wrap in cling film and rest in the fridge for 20 minutes.

Use half of the pastry to make the tart shell – about 300g.
The rest of the pastry can be kept in the fridge for a few days, or the freezer for up to 3 months.

Line the tart shell with the pastry, and press the excess over the lip onto the outer edges.
Use ovenproof clingfilm or baking parchment to line, and fill with rice and beans.
Blind bake for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven and leave for 5 minutes to firm up.
Remove the rice and beans, then carefully trim off the excess pastry with a small knife.
Return to the oven for 5 more minutes, until the pastry is completely cooked.

Mix the sugar and orange zest in a small bowl, and leave to infuse for 5 minutes.
Tip into a large heatproof bowl, and add the orange juice, salt, cinnamon, and eggs.

Sit the bowl on a saucepan of simmering water, and whisk the mixture continuously, until it thickens. Continue to cook for 2 more minutes.
Sieve the mixture into a blender, remembering to scrape the bottom of the sieve.
Turn the blender on, and add the butter, a little at a time.

Pour the orange cream into your prepared tart shell, and rap gently to bring bubbles to the surface.
Transfer the tart to the fridge to set the filling.

Mix the gelatine and cold water in a microwave safe jug, and leave to bloom.
Put about 3/4 of the cream into the bowl of a stand mixer, and whisk until just starting to hold it’s shape.

Warm the bloomed gelatine in the microwave until it is completely liquid.
Pour the remaining cream into the warmed gelatine, whisking continuously to avoid creating lumps.
This will temper the cream and help to avoid lumps of gelatine in the final product.

Start the stand mixer on a low speed, and pour in the gelatine mixture.
Return the mixer to a high speed, and whip until the cream forms firm peaks.
Use the stabilised whipped cream to decorate the tart as desired.

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