It was time to celebrate my big sister’s 30th birthday! This extraordinary event in the life of such a wonderful woman called for a diabolically delectable dessert. So when it came time to make a decision, I had few very important factors to consider.
Firstly, as a treat for such a grand birthday, I fancied to create something I could decorate with some frills and a li’l panache. I always feel free and creative when I’m cooking–that’s one of the major reasons I love it so much. Cooking up a tasty meal with fresh ingredients is a craft I enjoy practicing and perfecting daily. It inspires me and excites my right brain, and it makes me feel productive and valuable. But sometimes I have the urge to venture beyond the domain of functionality and into the realm of the fine arts. Cooking expresses the soul of the ingredients comprising their dish; cake decorating expresses the soul of the chef (that’s me!), who transforms these ingredients into something uniquely beautiful and revealing of her artistic vulnerability. Plus, there’s just something special about presenting a confection that is like candy not only to the mouth, but also to the eye.
The second factor to mould my recipe decision was that I wanted to try something new. For some nonsensical reason, I had never enjoyed lemony desserts before. I’ve always been a big fan of cooking with lemon in savory dishes, but I just couldn’t seem to latch onto the appeal of sweet lemon pastries. Until this very day. Totally out of the blue it hit me: I want, nay, need, to make and eat this esteemed pastry treasure that I have been missing out on all these years, and I need to do it now.
This brings me to the third and final factor in my desserting brainstorm mission: whatever I should end up making must help all participants to forget that we are in fact in the dead of winter. Perhaps this decision fueled the former. Never before my move to NYC had I endured “life” through winter and all it’s implications. Never before did I understand the meaning of comfort food, nor did the joys of spring ever really occur to me, as there was no terrible, desolate season to preface the beautiful California January-through-December weather to which I was accustomed. Winter hibernation did not apply, and the “frightful” weather outside seemed as distant and imaginary as Santa’s Workshop (but with a few heaping spoonfuls of suffering and a pinch of agony added to the mix). So, I subconsciously opted for the freshest, most vibrantly summery dessert I could imagine. And voilà: just like that the one dessert I’d never acknowledged becomes a new über-favorite in my saccharine repertoire.
I borrowed the recipe for the lemon curd and pastry shell from Joy of Baking. To it I added a sweet garnish of my own vanilla bean whipped cream as contrast to the tartness of the…well, tart. Then I bejeweled the whole thing with ruby red raspberries for an added layer of delightful freshness and a royally elegant aesthetic appeal.
3 large eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup fresh (not bottled) lemon juice (2-3 lemons)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon lemon zest (The yellow outer skin of the lemon)
Sweet Pastry Crust:
1 1/2 cups (195 grams) all purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
In a glass or stainless steel bowl, placed over a saucepan of simmering water, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and lemon juice until blended.
Cook, whisking or stirring constantly to prevent it from curdling (whisking will produce a more airy, light consistency, while stirring will produce a thicker custard), until the mixture becomes pale in color and quite thick (like a hollandaise sauce or sour cream) (160 degrees F). This will take about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and immediately pour through a fine strainer to remove any lumps. Cut the butter into small pieces and whisk into the mixture until the butter has melted. Add the lemon zest, cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming, and let cool to room temperature before filling the pastry crust. Can be made and stored in the refrigerator for about a week.
Sweet Pastry Crust:
In a separate bowl, whisk the flour with the salt. Place the butter in the bowl of your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, and beat until softened. Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Gradually add the beaten egg, beating just until incorporated. Add the flour mixture all at once and mix just until it forms a ball. Flatten the pastry into a disk, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 15-30 minutes or just until firm (can place in freezer for about 10-15 minutes.)
Lightly butter and flour, or spray with a non-stick vegetable/flour cooking spray, an 8 – 9 inch (20 – 23 cm) tart pan with a removable bottom. Once the pastry has chilled sufficiently, evenly pat onto the bottom and up the sides of the tart pan. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the freezer for about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees F (205 degrees C) and place rack in center of oven. Lightly prick bottom of pastry crust with the tines of a fork (this will prevent the dough from puffing up as it bakes). Place tart pan on a larger baking pan and bake crust for 5 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) and continue to bake the crust for about15 minutes or until crust is dry and lightly golden brown. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool.
While the crust is cooling, combine 1 cup heavy whipping cream, 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste, and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar. Beat on high until cream forms stiff peaks.
Once the pastry shell has cooled, evenly fill with the lemon curd. The tart can be served immediately or covered and placed in the refrigerator until serving time.
Serves 6 – 8