When I was ten years old, my family and I had a summer vacation in a little hamlet in Provence, and while there, we decided to sample lemon tarts from every bakery within a twenty-minute drive. Each day, we would retrieve our sample and carefully examine its strengths and weaknesses. How crumbly and light was the pastry? Did the curd have a silky texture, but a noticeable tang that made your eyes water before the buttery sweetness kicked in?
This dish satisfies all those requirements and more, and it also includes a time-saving adjustment. Instead of making a traditional tart crust, which requires a rolling pin and a lot of time and effort, I use a buttery dough that I just press into the pan. It can be made in a flash and turns out as crisp as a shortbread biscuit, but it’s also rather thin, so the lemon curd inside has plenty of space to breathe.
The melted butter is convenient, but it also offers an unexpected benefit. The milk solids should settle to the bottom of the pan while it cooks, and the fat should become amber and smell like hazelnuts. Although the resultant brown-butter crust isn’t often used, its caramel undertones pair well with the tart curd.
The only challenging element is knowing how long to bake it. After being prepared on the stove, the curd just requires a little while in the oven to set into the crust. When the tart is done, the centre should jiggle slightly but the sides should remain still when you gently shake the pan. Cooling will cause the centre to solidify.
The cooling process should not be rushed. Two hours of cooling time is required after baking the dessert. If the curd is still a bit runny after that, chill it for another hour or two before slicing.
If you serve the tart the same day you make it, the crust will retain its crunchiness. A day or two later, though, it’s almost as divine (but softer). Refrigerate it and enjoy it cold or let it warm to room temperature before eating. Great quality in both directions.
There’s no need to serve lemon tarts with a topping like ice cream or whipped cream. Even while my inner 10-year-old still pines for a glass of cool milk and daydreams of sun-drenched Provençal days, one delicious yellow slice is adequate on its own, possibly accompanied with an espresso.