The Kitchn: This sunny lemon tart is practically glowing
There are recipes where taking a few shortcuts or starting with store-bought components is just fine. And then there are recipes where the very best version takes some extra time and effort, but the payoff makes it worth it. Friends, this classic lemon tart is definitely the latter type of recipe. It calls for a whopping amount of egg yolks, a homemade crust, and more lemon zest than you’ve probably ever grated, but the end result is a stunning, almost glowing lemon tart that is the perfect balance of sweet, tart, buttery and rich.
The origins of this lemon tart recipe
I rarely find a recipe that stops me in my tracks, but that’s exactly what happened when I took my first bite of Cook’s Illustrated’s lemon tart. My husband and 7-year-old daughter made it for our Christmas dessert, and while it took them the better part of the day (and left us with a sink full of dishes), it was picture-perfect and honestly the best lemon tart I’d ever had, fancy bakery versions included.
The lemon filling wasn’t overly gloopy or eggy, and it set just perfectly in the sturdy crust, which cut like a dream but still melted in my mouth. Having worked in the Cook’s Illustrated’s test kitchen myself, I knew they had worked hard to make the recipe as foolproof as possible.
But of course, being a recipe developer by trade, I wondered if there were some things in this recipe that could be simplified. I was particularly interested in whether the lemon filling, arguably the most difficult part, could be tweaked a bit to be even more foolproof. I’m happy to report that my changes were successful, and my version is just as good as the original but takes less time to make.
Making the perfect tart crust
Getting a buttery tart crust that slices without crumbling but also has a delicate sandy texture comes from three key ingredients and a food processor. Powdered sugar adds a lighter touch than granulated sugar, and an egg yolk and heavy cream provide the right amount of richness to keep the crust from getting tough. The food processor does all the heavy lifting, quickly breaking down the cold butter and wet ingredients into the dry ingredients while keeping the dough cold. I know it’s a pain to haul out the food processor, but it’s worth it in this case.
The original recipe called for chilling the dough, rolling it out and lining the pan, and then freezing before par-baking. I was able to shave off some time by rolling out the dough immediately between two sheets of parchment paper, then freezing it for five minutes. This quick chill firms it up enough to line the tart pan, and then the whole shell is frozen while the oven heats up for the par-baking. (Or, you can stop at this point and leave the tart shell in the freezer for up to a day if you want to space out the prep, just keep it in the parchment and wrap the whole thing up in aluminum foil.)
A foolproof lemon filling
As for the filling, the main thing I changed was making it in a double boiler rather than directly on the stovetop. Since it has so many eggs (seven yolks plus two whole eggs!), I wanted a bigger cushion of time between when it was thickened to perfection to when it was overcooked and clumpy. Yes, it’s an extra pan when you use a double boiler, but you don’t have to wash it out since it’s only filled with water, and this method makes it easier to cook the lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar, butter, and eggs to the right consistency.