I've been on a French kick recently. This past Christmas I was gifted "The Art of French Classics" by Jacquy Pfeiffer. At first glance it seemed detailed, confusing, and lengthy. Second glance didn't get much better. This was not the type of book you would use to whip up a batch of cookies or bake a cake for dessert tonight. No, this book was going to require time, diligence, patience, determination, and careful reading.
I decided to dissect this book by my favorite method: list making. Simple and efficient. I started employing this method when I was 13. My mom had bought me a cake mix cookbook by Betty Crocker, and I was thrilled to have my own cookbook to go through and cook all on my own. Most of those recipes I would shudder at now (they're not completely from scratch, haha!!), but I wanted to make everything in there. Well, almost. Which is where the list came in. I wrote down every recipe I wanted to make, referencing the page numbers. When I had made a recipe, I would put a check mark by it. Much easier to glance at one page (or two or three, there were too many recipes I wanted to make!) than to go through the book every time. And oh so satisfying to make that little check mark. But, I am a nerd when it comes to baking, so you can take this as more of an anecdote than a recommendation. :)
After initially being intimidated from reading “The Art of French Pastry” and applying my list method, I realized it wouldn’t be so difficult to make a lot of these recipes, after all. Some recipes, yes, which include making puff pastry, choux pastry, and various pastry creams and caramel all for one magnificent cake, but if French cuisine was easy we would all be making cream puffs, croissants, and eclairs everyday now, wouldn’t we? But to my pleasant surprise many of the recipes were quite manageable. This book helps you master some basic techniques that then become easier because you use them often for many of the recipes.
One of the simpler, but nonetheless delicious recipes from the cookbook is this Lemon Cream Tart. Everyone should have a good lemon tart in their repertoire. Someone once asked me, after learning I liked to bake, if I could make a good lemon tart. I had made good lemon tarts before, but sometimes I lack confidence that even if I like something, will it live up to other people's tastes buds? Until I find the recipe, that is. Then I know the search is over, although I will always be open to trying new things. I hung on to my current lemon tart recipe, but I felt like I could do better. A recipe that would be reliable, and deliver that over-the-top creamy, lemony zing. I think I found it in this recipe, oh yes.
You’ll notice in my photos that the lemon tart is decorated with meringues and candied orange peels. The recipe does not include those because I feel that for the time spent making them, they don’t add significantly to the eating experience and are more for the wow factor. Don’t get me wrong, they’re yummy, but meringues do require a certain technique (mine unfortunately cracked a bit) and candying orange peel requires 10 days. So. I more than encourage you to get the book and try out those recipes yourselves, and especially the others, like the croissants, palmiers (my absolute favorite recipe from the cookbook), the brioche variations, eclairs, and I could keep going! Or, if all this seems a bit ambitious to you, gift the book to your favorite baking enthusiast and have them make them for you. :)
Recipe adapted from “The Art of French Pastry” by Jacquy Pfeiffer.
*Note: Make the pâte sablée at least one day ahead as it needs to rest overnight in the refrigerator; two nights is ideal.
Lemon Cream Tart
For the Pâte Sablée
6 Tbsp / 97g butter
1/4 tsp / 1g salt
1 cup + 1 Tbsp / 145g all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp / 18g almond flour
1/2 cup / 55g powdered sugar
1/4 tsp / 1g vanilla extract
2 egg yolks
For the Lemon Cream
1 cup / 200g sugar
5/8 cup / 140g lemon juice
pinch of salt
3 eggs + 1 yolk
zest of half a lemon
14 Tbsp / 192g butter, softened and cut into cubes
candied lemon peel, toasted nuts, or meringues for decoration, optional
Make the Pâte Sablée (2-3 Days Ahead of time)
In the bowl of a stand mixer, add butter, sea salt, and all-purpose flour. Mix on low until just crumbly. Over-mixing will active gluten in flour and make for a tougher crust. Add almond flour and powdered sugar, mixing until just combined. Add vanilla and egg yolks on medium speed until just combined.
Scrape dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap. Press into a 1/2 inch rectangle and wrap airtight in the plastic. Refrigerate overnight.
The next day:
Very lightly grease a tart pan with softened butter, just enough to keep it from sticking. You should barely see the butter on the pan. If it is over-greased the dough may slip down the side as it is baking.
Remove the dough from the fridge, unwrap from the plastic, and place on a lightly floured surface. For easier transportation, you can roll it out on a floured silpat or piece of parchment paper.
Tap the dough with a rolling pin to make sure it's pliable. If at any point the dough seems too stiff or cold, or cracks as you roll it out, let it rest at room temperature for a few minutes before continuing. Roll the dough 3 times in one direction, then make a quarter turn. Periodically check to make sure your dough isn't sticking to the surface. If it is, use a thin spatula to peel it off and re-flour the surface underneath. Repeat rolling 3 times and making quarter turns until you have an evenly rolled out, 1/4" thick round of dough.
At this point your dough should be larger than your tart pan. Carefully transfer the dough to the pan. You can do this by gently wrapping the dough around the rolling pin, then unrolling it over the pan. Press the dough into the pan, paying careful attention to the corners and being careful not to stretch or tear the dough to do so. Use a knife to trim away any extra dough. Refrigerate the tart shell uncovered for at least one hour, or preferably overnight.
An hour later or the next day:
Preheat oven to 325°F / 160°C.
Remove the crust from the fridge and dock the bottom with a fork. (Poke holes in it.) This will allow steam to escape evenly during baking.
Line the shell with parchment paper or cheesecloth and pie weights, dry beans, or rice.
Bake for 15 minutes, then remove the parchment paper and pie weights. Bake for an additional 5-15 minutes, or until the crust begins to evenly color and turn golden. Allow to cool.
Make the Lemon Cream
In a small bowl, combine half of the sugar, lemon juice, and salt; whisk until sugar and salt have dissolved.
In a medium bowl, combine the remaining half of sugar with egg yolks and whisk for 30 seconds. Whisk the first lemon juice mixture into this mixture and add the zest.
Create a water bath by simmering 1 inch of water in a medium saucepan over low heat. Place the lemon mixture over the saucepan, making sure the bottom of the bowl isn't touching the water; whisk constantly so the eggs don't scramble. Attach a digital thermometer to the bowl and continue to whisk until mixture reaches 176-179.6°F / 80-82°C.
Remove from the heat and strain into a bowl through a fine-meshed sieve. Use a spatula to push mixture through the strainer, if necessary. Transfer thermometer to the new bowl. Allow mixture to cool to 140°F / 60°C, about 5 minutes.
At this point pour the mixture into a blender, or leave in the bowl if using an immersion blender. Add half of the butter and blend, then add second half of the butter and blend for an additional 30 seconds or so, until mixture is completely smooth.
Pour the lemon cream into the baked crust and allow to set for at least 2 hours in the refrigerator. Decorate as desired, dust with powdered sugar, or leave as is.
Although this recipe may seem lengthy and entailed, it's quite simple, especially if you separate it into a "crust" day and a "filling" day.
The unbaked pâte sablée will keep well covered in the fridge for up to a week, or a month in the freezer.