In 2011 I went to Italy and Greece with some dear friends. We had a marvelous time eating our way from one region to the next. I especially enjoyed the Coastal areas of Italy where lemons are the big thing. When I say big, I mean lemons that weigh a kilo. Big!! I had some magnificent desserts along the Amalfi Coast (and elsewhere too, of course), but the irony of this story is that the dessert that most won my heart was in a small coffee shop in London. It was extraordinary. Called a Sicilian Lemon Tart, I saw it beckoning to me in the case. I offered to share it with one of my friends, which turned out to be a big mistake as, after I tasted it, I wanted all of it.
After returning home I went online to see if I could find the recipe. The coffee shop had a web site and even mentioned the tart, but no recipe. I surfed the Net looking for something similar and found a few ideas, but essentially, it was up to me to figure it out.
Interestingly enough, I learned that the Meyer lemons that we covet in California are very similar to the lemons growing on the Italian Coast though they don’t grow nearly as large here (similar flavor). I have a Meyer lemon tree that I all but worship. Because I have a very productive tree (a dwarf no less) and because I was into all things Italian and Greek post-trip, I decided to make Limoncello as gifts last year.
The Limoncello came out tasting better than any I have tasted, a surprise for a first-time attempt. My family decided it was perfect as an afternoon beverage paired with ice and sparkling water. I decided it was perfect in the Sicilian Lemon tart that I created.
It isn’t imperative that you add Limoncello to the tart, though it is a nice touch. You can substitute a bit more lemon juice or even a little lemon extract for an extra lemony taste. But if you have some around, don’t hesitate to add it to the filling. Also, if you don’t have access to Meyer lemons, don’t despair. You can always use regular lemons. You may need a little extra sugar in the lemon curd, but beyond that, it will work just fine.
For a year and a half I’ve hung onto this recipe, unwilling to part with it. Even though it’s a snap to make, if I shared the recipe with friends and family, I would lose yet another special treat to serve during the holidays or to give as a gift. However, I have now decided to share it as a special holiday gift with my online friends and loyal purchasers of our premium vanilla products. Just please do consider purchasing our vanilla as your purchases make it possible to keep the work I do with farmers and women in the developing world (who are either farmers or work with farmers) moving ahead.
Here’s the recipe: Sicilian Lemon Tart
Now for the comments on making it.
First, use your favorite pie crust recipe for a 9″ pie. You can also use a pate sucree recipe (a sweet pie crust), or add a little sugar to your regular pie crust recipe if you’re so inclined. I’ll do pie crust another time. Given that it’s the holidays and I’m working a ridiculous number of hours, we’re going to move right along to the lemon curd. You will need to do a “blind” baking of the pie shell as you will only “lightly” bake the pie itself. Bake it until it is lightly golden brown so that it doesn’t get soft.
Quite honestly, I think homemade lemon curd is worth the energy. But then, I have the lemon tree in my yard and I’ve been making it since Moses was walking in the desert. I’m here to say that it’s fine to purchase the pie crust and the lemon curd, if this makes your life easier. I’m writing this on December 15th; anything between Thanksgiving and the new year that we can do quickly and easily is a good thing.
However, if you want to make it yourself, it’s not that difficult. Here’s the lemon curd recipe.
Here are some helpful tips:
First, if you don’t have a microplane to zest citrus, I highly recommend that you get one. Zest gives a great punch in flavor to foods. The microplane makes this happen quickly and easily.
Second, if you think of lemon curd as custard without milk or cream, that helps. After you’ve melted the butter and sugar in the saucepan, added the lemon juice, and have taken it off the stove, add about 1/4 cup of this mixture to the beaten eggs to temper them. This means you need to whisk the eggs while you pour a bit of the mixture into them. This will help to keep the eggs from cooking when you add them into the lemon/sugar/butter mix. Then add the beaten egg mixture to the saucepan.
Third, a heat diffuser will keep the mixture from cooking too fast. Better to cook it slowly than quickly. While you can make the custard over a double boiler, you can do without that step if you proceed carefully and don’t allow it to scorch. Keep whisking the mixture until it starts to thicken. It will thicken more when you refrigerate it, but you nevertheless need it to get thick enough that it will make a thick coat on the back of a wooden spoon. Once you have made lemon curd a few times, you’ll notice that the color changes slightly — it becomes a little dull just as it’s ready.
Fourth, remove the lemon curd from from the stove and pour it into a clean bowl. Now add the vanilla extract and lemon zest. Because even the best cooks and bakers can have a bad day and have little pieces of egg white in the custard, it’s wise to add the zest after you make the custard. And, if you do end up with little pieces of egg white in the mixture, simply run the custard through a sieve, then add the vanilla and zest.
Finally, if the custard is still runny when it cools, you can put it back in a saucepan and carefully whisk it over medium-low heat until it thickens more.
The balance of making this tart is a snap. While it is more of a spring/summer dessert in terms of color and “lightness,” it’s so easy to make and so delicious after a heavy meal, I’ve given it to you now. We need desserts with a WOW! factor but that don’t take hours! I hope you will enjoy this tart as much as I do.
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