One kind of lemon tart has become a common place of menus all over the country, great thick, globby, rich, custardy things, with an acid kick to them. This model was popularized, oh, years ago. Since then, it has taken root, been deemed a classic, a pudding to be admired, loved, downed on every possible occasion.
I hate to be a member of the awkward squad, but I’ve got a profound philosophical objection to this form of lemon tart. There’s a fundamental contradiction between the plush, unctuous, wobbly nature of the filling and the clean, austere zing of the lemon. The inherent creaminess is out of keeping with the fruit, and masks its flavour. No matter how well made, I never feel happy with it.
Then there is my sister-in-law, Dilou’s version, another kettle of lemon tart altogether. The very thought of it makes me happy, brings a smile of memory to my lips. The pastry is thin and crisp. Yes, the filling is rich – eggs, butter, sugar and lemons – but it’s no more that a couple of centimeters deep. It has the golden beauty of a sunflower, freckled here and there with little brown flecks. The balance is refined and precise. The lemon sings through. It leaves the mouth clean and the tummy well satisfied. What more can you ask?
70g well chilled butter
6tbsp cold water
Put the flour into a bowl. Grate the butter into it. (This is a brilliant tip, if you didn’t know it). Mix lightly with your fingertips until the butter is well worked into the flour. Add the water tablespoon by tablespoon until you have a nice coherent mass. Wrap in Clingfilm and leave in the fridge for a couple of hours.
Turn the oven on to 180C/350F/Gas 4.
Grease a flan dish generously with butter. Roll out the pastry and line the flan dish with it. It should be thin, but making sure there are no cracks or holes. There’s no need to blind bake the pastry.
2 whole eggs
Melt the butter in a pan. Put the sugar into a bowl or food processor. Grate the lemon peel into it. Add the eggs. Add them juice of the lemons. Whiz everything. Continue whizzing as you add the melted butter.
Pour the mixture into the pastry shell and bake for 25-35 minutes. Check to see if the tart matches the description above. If not, you can continue baking or pop it under a grill until it does. I would put a tray underneath the tart because, no matter how hard I try, melted butter always seems to leak out and end up on the floor of the oven.