If the Clark family has a signature dessert, it is the lemon tart. On summer vacations to France, we made it our quest to find the perfect lemon tart - seeking out examples of this silky sour treat made by everybody from Michelin-starred pastry chefs to tiny neighborhood patisseries. My mother, in particular, really loved lemon tarts and she was always the final arbiter over which tart of the summer was the best of all.
Since those family vacations have gone the way of the French franc, now the quest to find the best lemon tart turned into the quest to make the best lemon tart. Every year I whip up a different version (usually on Mothers' Day, but this year for Fathers' Day) to present to the whole family and get their expert opinions. And, reader, this year's version is a doozy, possibly the best yet -- even including those childhood French tarts of yore.
The first difference was in the crust. I did an almond tart shell (from the recipe published in In The Kitchen with A Good Appetite), but added a tablespoon of poppy seeds. I though it would just make it pretty, but the seeds actually added a palpable crunch and nuttiness that was simply gorgeous.
The second twist was baking the filled tart for 10 minutes. The curd was already cooked, so it wasn't strictly necessary to bake it off, but that quick baking resulted a creamy and slightly firmer texture than an unbaked curd filling, and one that is far silkier than I get with a baked filling that hasn't also thickened on the stove for curd (as in the recipe in my book).
Though regardless I'll try something new next year. I just can't keep striving for what might be even better.
Lemon Poppy Seed Tart
Makes 1 (9-inch) tart
For the almond tart shell:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup blanched almonds
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
Pinch kosher salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold and cubed
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
For the lemon curd:
1/2 cup lemon juice (from about 2 1/2 lemons)
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
4 egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chopped into pieces
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
2 teaspoons poppy seeds, for garnish
1. To make the tart shell, place 1/4 cup of flour and the almonds in a food processor with the blade attachment. Run the motor until the almonds are finely ground, about 1 minute. Add the remaining 1 1/4 cups flour, sugar, lemon zest, and salt, and pulse to combine.
2. Add the butter and pulse until a coarse meal forms. Add the egg and pulse just until a crumbly dough comes together. Add the poppy seeds and pulse briefly to combine. Press the dough into a disc, wrap in plastic, and chill for 1 hour or overnight.
3. When ready to bake the tart, roll the dough out between two sheets of plastic to a 3/8-inch thickness. Line a 9-inch tart pan with the dough and chill for 30 minutes.
4. Preheat the oven to 325° F. Line the tart shell with foil and fill with baking weights. Bake for 20 minutes, then carefully remove the foil and baking weights. Continue baking, uncovered, for 5 additional minutes. Take the tart shell out of the oven to fill.
5. The curd can be made up to 5 days ahead, or while the tart shell is baking. To make the curd, in a double boiler or a stainless steel medium bowl set on top of a medium heavy-bottomed pot with 2 inches of simmering water, combine the lemon juice, sugar, egg yolks, eggs, and salt. Stir constantly, with a whisk, making sure to scrape the bottom and sides, while the liquid thickens and coats the back of a wooden spoon, about 12 to 14 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in butter until dissolved. Strain the curd through a fine-mesh sieve. Whisk in lemon zest. If not using the curd right away, cover the curd and store, refrigerated, in an air-tight container.
6. When the tart shell is ready, pour the curd into the shell and return to the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool. Garnish with additional poppy seeds before serving.