Lemon Meringue Tart, The Most Extraordinary

You can imagine how long the days, how sore the back, how bruised the ego of a culinary intern during her first month on the job in a restaurant. I learned at least something every day at Boulette’s Larder in San Francisco, and many somethings many days.

My favorite time of day was around 3:30, when lunch service was finished and plates were put up for staff lunch. I tried to be nonchalant as we queued up for eats, yet I couldn’t help but want to take cuts, or elbow my way to the start of the line. Delectable dishes had been wrought by the sous chef out of leftovers, out of mish mash. Was I starving and therefore everything tasted of perfection? A pile of chicken legs that were tender and deeply lacquered with Asian flavor stands out in my memory. I was ravenous but truly, this food was exceptional, especially because no ingredient in the joint was anything but the best.

The most exciting part of the staff lunch line was at the far end near the bread station where I’d been slicing loaf after merciless loaf of Acme breads all day. Here sat a plate of stray desserts—a jagged edge or two of brownie, a stack of peanut butter cookies. If we were lucky, there would be a canelé that hadn’t made the cut or that was day-old. If you have not had life’s tremendous joy of eating a canelé, may I urge you to find one someday, someway, and indulge? And then let me know when you do? These little custardy cakes have a dark, caramelized exterior that comes, in a purists’ kitchen at least, from beeswax-lined molds. This crisp mysteriousness contrasts a soft, pale yellow interior cake. And between the two, you are a lost and found soul.

Beyond the canelé, I felt I’d won the mega-millions if only a corner of Boulette’s lemon meringue tart made it onto my plate at staff lunch. I’d been watching the construction of the tart with laser-sharp attention whenever possible during my work day there. I saw the voluptuous meringue piped in agile puffs around the tart, then torched golden brown with a big kitchen flame. It was a gorgeous affair.

I saw that the pâte sucrée was pushed into the tart pan rather than rolled, and that it was chilled in blocks rather than disks and then sliced off. These slices made the crust, especially the edges, perfectly even.

I didn’t feel I could ask many questions, not wanting to interrupt the flow and also feeling the need to redeem myself after having used the dry pastry brush for a wet job (the brush was labeled DRY but I didn’t see that until it was too late. The reaction was somewhat unforgiving. I walked next door to Sur la Table and replaced the brush, which seemed to shock and to exonerate).

Then I got bolder. What can you tell me about this dough, and why the crust is so good? In hushed tones I was told: Melted butter. Melted? Whoa, whoa, whoa. Tart dough is all about the chill, or so I thought. I scoured the internet for a crust made with melted butter; I asked everyone I knew about a melted butter crust, but came up empty. I finally gave up on the melted facet and turned to a pâte sucrée recipe I had gotten from a French chef in Chicago, one that includes almonds and doesn’t betray me as my crusts had in culinary school, and simply chilled and sliced it as they do at Boulette’s. It worked beautifully.

How about the curd? I asked. This was the silkiest, most flavorful curd I’d ever eaten. That’s butter too, I was told. Back to the internet, which led me to the inimitable Dori Greenspan and her take on the French pastry icon Pierre Herme’s ‘lemon cream.’ It was full of butter, and flavored with a double whammie of lemon juice and lemon zest. I asked the chef herself at Boulette’s if this was what she based her lemon tart on. No, she said, not at all. But that’s good too, she said, familiar with Herme’s lemon cream.

Good is the world’s most egregious understatement for our lemon tart. Dori Greenspan calls it The Most Extraordinary. This tart is an effort, it is a splurge, and it is what’s been on my mind whenever I’ve daydreamed about the sweet I would indulge in at the end of my sugar fast this Lent. Kind of like the humbling experience of being an intern, it has felt like a long journey at times, the fasting and the efforts at renewal. Sometimes I think the interning was worth it just for the exposure to the lemon tart alone, so no doubt there is a most extraordinary fruit of the spirit to be had that is well worth waiting for too.

Lemon Meringue Tart
This tart has three main elements: the crust, the curd, and the meringue. Both the crust dough and the curd can be made in advance, but the meringue must be made the day the tart is served. Meringue can be piped on the tart or spooned on in easy swirls. Or not at all! The tart is just as delicious without the meringue. The lemon curd is based on a recipe for “The Most Extraordinary Lemon Tart” by the great Dori Greenspan. She calls the curd “lemon cream”; it can be refrigerated for four days and frozen for up to two months prior to assembling the tart. Serves 8.

In an effort not to extend this post down into the floor for its length, I refrain from including the recipe in this spot as I usually do. Please find a PDF of this recipe here.

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30 Responses to Lemon Meringue Tart, The Most Extraordinary

  1. Michael Ganz says:

    Maureen,

    I’ve read many of your blogs, postcards, stories and recipe’s… This story and recipe by far, for me, is the best. I don’t really know you that well, but one thing I’ve learned, though, is that when you write about anything “sweet” there seems to be a whole different PASSION and intensity in your writing!!

    This might suggest that you have a “sugar” and/or “sweet” problem??

    I’m sure I don’t have the culinary expertise to attempt this dish, but I can taste your tart here in Chesterton, IN….

    Your description and your photos are really well done. I’m sure your readers, like me, appreciate all of your work and effort.

    Thank you,

    Michael Ganz

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Michael, you are right about my passion for pastry and all things sweet, and you are a dear for writing such a thoughtful note. Thank you for joining me here and for all of your kind words too. Oh, and enjoy that lamb this weekend! It’s going to be great.

  2. Tlazolteotl says:

    Wonderful!

    Congratulations, it must be or better said, has been…, delicious.

    I’ll save this recipe for the near future :-)
    Tlaz

  3. Jane says:

    Maureen,
    As usual, your post is simply a joy to read and look at — your thoughtful writing is to be savored and your photos are an absolute FEAST for my eyes! Your San Francisco experiences are fascinating, to be sure! Keep up the wonderful work — I’m a big fan, my friend! :-)

  4. Greg Patent says:

    Maureen,

    There’s an old pie dough recipe using Wesson oil that you press into the pan. I’ve made it with melted butter instead and added sugar. Works like a charm for a påte sucrée.

    • Maureen Abood says:

      How fascinating Greg–the crust I learned from my mother uses vegetable oil!! And I’ve always loved it. I will try it as a press-in and I will try it with melted butter!!! Thank you thank you, master of all.

  5. Diane Nassir (My maternal grandmother was an Abowd) says:

    Maureen, I love these comments from others–they relate to your passion, your soul, your artistry, and, the joy you give–Oh, and Sur la Table in SF–the first kitchen store I ever went into, didn’t even know such a place existed. And the lemon tart looks sublime!

  6. Sammie says:

    What a beautiful lemon meringue tart! I absolutely loved the way you piped the meringue on top! It’s just gorgeous!!!

  7. This is the most sensual lemon meringue tart I have seen , ever; just took my mom to a pastry shop here in Beirut at the Bristol Hotel (they have amazing pastries) and the only thing she wanted was their lemon tart; their meringue was piped only on one side, very stylish; yours is just sexy, sorry that is the only way I can describe it. I can just imagine the taste too. Divine!

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Now that’s a true compliment–sexy!–especially coming from you Joumana!! I will put the Bristol Hotel on my hit list, too….

  8. Tess says:

    I am just curious why you assemble the pie crust by cutting it into chunks and pushing it together, rather than rolling out the dough as in a traditional tart or pie. Is there a reason for this?

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Hi Tess–pate sucree, or tart dough with sugar (and here, an egg) can be much softer than pate brisee (savory tart dough) and more difficult to roll out. Plus, some people hate to roll out dough, and this is an easy technique for that, and for those times when rolling out dough isn’t an option.

  9. Martha says:

    Gorgeous. I think I’ll have to make this for the baby shower I’m hosting next week. I might have to ‘practice’ and eat one at home first :)

    • Maureen Abood says:

      A perfect shower dessert–tastes wonderful and looks like a dream. And I agree, a practice round is just the right thing to do…. Please let me know how it comes out!!!

  10. John says:

    David Lebovitz posted a few years ago about a melted butter crust: http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2009/05/french-tart-dough-a-la-francaise/.

    It’s great and very easy.

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  12. j.kim says:

    wow, thank you for this very detailed, entertaining, and inspiring post.
    i am not a baker at heart (it’s too exacting an art, compared to cooking), but occasionally i am tempted by outstanding concoctions like this.
    one request: i am a key lime rather than lemon girl – would you consider expanding on your post by including a modification to make this “The most extraordinart key lime tart”? lastly, any thoughts on modifications if one were to use Meyer lemons?
    janet

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Hi there! Thanks for your great comment. Key limes would most likely work well and be just as delicious in place of the lemon in the curd–be sure to use the zest. The Meyer lemon would result in a far less tangy/tart flavor which is one of the delights of this curd, as Meyer lemons are sweeter than they are tart. But that wouldn’t be a bad thing if you’re not really a lemon girl, and you’d probably like it better!! Please let me know if you make a lime or Meyer lemon tart…it’s going to be extraordinary…

  13. This looks wonderful! I love citrus, especially in tarts!

  14. Beverly says:

    Hi Maureen, I came across this post yesterday morning and attempted to replicate your stunning lemon meringue tart for my boyfriend’s birthday (they’re his favourite!). Reading your story and following your baking instructions was such a joy – while this recipe does require quite a bit of attention and waiting time, I had a great time spending the day making it… perhaps because the end result was so rewarding! It was my first time making a lemon meringue tart, and it turned out beautifully. I substituted all-purpose flour with a gluten-free flour blend, so my crust was more delicate and slightly more crumbly when first out of the oven, but was perfect once I had allowed it all to chill and set. Thank you!! x

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Beverly, that’s so great! Thank you for letting me know you enjoyed making and eating this tart as much as I do. And a gluten-free crust–that’s fantastic. I’ll keep that in mind to make this for my gluten-free nephew!

  15. Angela Harwell says:

    This looks insanely delicious! I can’t wait to make it! My sister Kim told me to check out your blog. We are from Lansing, Michigan. However, we have both moved away. She’s in Chicago. I’m in Naples, Fl.
    My grandpa is a Kalush, so we were raised on Lebanese food. It’s hard to find the authentic recipes anymore. Which is why we are so happy to have found your website/blog! Well wishes and thank you!! Ps. Beautiful photography! :)

  16. Carlos Sandino says:

    Hello, Maureen! I had friends over on Saturday evening. We had falafel and fattoush for dinner. For dessert I took a risk (I’m not a very confident cook) and baked your Lemon Meringue Tart. I couldn’t believe what I was eating had actually been baked by me. Neither could my friends, I think, haha! It was awesome. Every detail included in your recipe helped me deliver the best tart, ever. Small moments like Saturday night’s dessert success make my life so much nicer. Thank you!

    • Maureen Abood says:

      How very lovely Carlos–I’m touched to know this and love what you said about how making special dishes makes our lives…so much nicer.

 

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