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Monday, April 14, 2008

Lemon Tart for LiveSTRONG: A Taste of Yellow

Finding out my mother had cancer was an experience that forever changed my life. Today, as we gratefully count off the years of her survivorship, our always close relationship has grown even closer. Now, I am filled with thankfulness, but I can still remember what it was like to first find out. For the first time in my life I understood what it meant to say that you literally could not stand up. My legs buckled under me as I clung to the public telephone in Ghana trying to make sense of the words coming out of the receiver. If my husband hadn't been there to catch me, I would have collapsed like a heap on the ground.

In those first few dark and confusing days I understood what it must be like to be pulled under the water in a rushing river. Everything went fast. Nothing was clear. No one knew which way was up. And the way that I fought back to sanity was by reaching out to the only place that I could think of that could give me information to make sense of things: the American Cancer Society. During those first awful and confusing days, organizations like the American Cancer Society and now Lance Armstrong's popular LiveSTRONG Foundation are lifelines.

Charities I Love
ACS Hope Lodge
Ronald McDonald House
American Cancer Society
LiveSTRONG Foundation
Because of the great depth of gratitude I feel to organizations that provide awareness, research, and caring to those affected by cancer, it was a foregone conclusion that I would participate in the Taste of Yellow blog event for LiveSTRONG day.



But what to make? I thought for a while about the warm yellow of cheddar and broccoli soup. I debated the anti-oxidant rich yellow of gazpacho made from yellow tomatoes and yellow peppers. But finally I decided on the sunny yellow of my favorite lemon tart.

I have been really learning the art of tart making for about four years now. During that period the "tart" has probably become my favorite dessert. I have made all sorts of creative variations on the tart using unusual fruits, tea-infusions etc. But for this I wanted to return back to my roots and make a basic lemon tart. The crust is based on my great-aunt's recipe for shortbread cookies, with some modifications. The filling base I have experimented with over the years to get something that will set up nicely and uses just enough butter and egg for firmness while still trying to stay in the range of an acceptable indulgence.

For my tastes, this tart showcases the slightly assertive power of lemon as a citrus fruit, and that's just the way I like it. It is a glorious shade of yellow, thanks to the juice, zest, and the golden egg yolks. Sitting on my counter top as it cooled it reminded me of a summer sun in a child's crayon drawing.

I won't go into any poetic lengths about when life gives you lemons...but of course those ideas were probably lurking in my sub-conscious when I made the choice of a lemon tart to celebrate LiveSTRONG day.


Recipe

Serves 16.

Almond Crust

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup crushed toasted almonds
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
6 T unsalted butter, cold
1/2 tsp almond extract
3-5 Tablespoons ice water

Put the almonds in a non-stick skillet over medium-low heat and toast, jostling regularly, until aromatic and medium browned. Do not allow them to burn or they will be bitter.

Remove almonds from the skillet, chop to medium fine sized pieces, and set aside to cool. (for rapid cool, put in fridge or freezer)

Combine the flour, wheat flour, brown sugar, salt. Sprinkle the almond extract over the dry ingredients.

Cut the cold butter into cubes with a knife and then add to the dry ingredients. "Cut" in the butter using a pastry blender, two forks, or a potato masher. Technically you could also blend this together in a food processor, but in my experience the heat from the friction of the food processor tends to heat the dough up too much, melt the butter, and generally interfere with the perfect cold-butter chemistry of baking. But then again, if using a potato masher to cut the butter really makes you feel irritated, then by all means better to make it in a processor than not at all.

Add the chopped almonds. Note: DO NOT add the almonds until they are cooled, or the heat from the almonds will also melt the buttery bits and mess up the chemistry of the dough. Cut in several times to mix.

Dough should look like wet sand, with a few lumps the size of pebbles.

Slowly begin adding ice water. At first, add one tablespoon at a time, but as dough approaches desired consistency, add one teaspoon at a time. To test for the correct consistency, pinch together some dough in your hand. Before pinching, it should look like wet sand, but it should hold together when pinched.

Wrap dough in plastic wrap and press together. If the dough has a very difficult time holding together, and lots of parts crumble or flake off, remove from plastic wrap, return to bowl, and another 1-2 teaspoons of ice water.

Once dough is wrapped in plastic, refrigerate for approximately ten minutes. You can skip this step if pressed for time, but I like to use this time to tidy up some of the mess I just made while making the dough.

Remove dough from fridge. Press into a tart pan (ideally with a removable bottom). Try to ensure even coverage of the crust or some parts will brown too quickly. I like to cover the outside rim with a pie shield or with a little bit of aluminum foil to overlap the edges of the crust, because otherwise these tend to get too dark.

Bake the crust at 425 for 15-20 minutes. If your heating element is in the bottom of your oven, bake in the top third. If your heating element is in the top of your oven, bake in the bottom third. Be sure to check in on the crust so it does not over-brown. You want a light golden brown color. Remove and cool.





Lemon Filling

3 whole eggs
3 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar*
2 Tablespoons clover honey
3/4 C fresh lemon juice, strained (4-5 large lemons)
2 T. lemon zest (3 lemons)
Pinch salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed

*If you prefer a sweeter tart, increase the sugar to one cup.

I prefer to buy organic lemons for this recipe because you are using the zest, which is otherwise where the pesticides can concentrate.

To begin, zest three of the lemons using either a microplane zester or a standard zester. Then cut all five lemons in half and squeeze out the juice until you have 3/4 cup. Strain the juice to remove any seeds.

Separate the yolks from three eggs. In a room temperature pan, combine yolks with another three whole eggs. Whisk together with sugar. Add lemon juice and whisk to combine. Add lemon zest and salt. Add honey. If you don't have clover honey, substitute regular honey.

Heat pan with lemon, zest, salt, sugar, and eggs over medium heat, whisking constantly.

It is important that you add the eggs to a cooled pan and then gradually raise the temperature while stirring. If eggs are added to a warm liquid they will tend to congeal before combining properly with the custard, resulting in little bits of scrambled egg in your tart. Also, if you leave the liquid without stirring it for too long (say, to run around photographing things for your blog) you may also get little bits of egg that separate out. It isn't pretty, but it isn't the end of the world, and it certainly won't kill you.

Cut the butter into cubes and add the butter to the pan. Continue whisking. You will see and feel the lemon filling thicken. The filling may simmer a bit, with slow plops of bubbles, but if it starts to resemble "boil" be sure to turn down the heat.

When the filling has thickened so that it thickly coats the back of a spoon and does not immediately slide off, it is ready for the tart shell. Pour the filling through a fine mesh sieve to ensure a smooth finished tart.

Bake at 325 degrees for 10-14 minutes, just for the filling to set.

Remove. Cool.

Serve plain, sprinkled with powdered sugar, or topped withs sliced strawberries.



Nutritional Information, per serving (1/16 recipe): 178 calories, 9.9 g fat, 20.4 g carbohydrates, 0.5 g fiber

9 comments:

Julie said...

What a beautiful post. A touching story and photos that are sure to crush the competition. Love, love, love your blog and can't wait to catch up on your archives. :)

Flanboyant Eats said...

it's great when food finds a wonderful cause!

nice pics!

Erin said...

Julie, thank you so much for your wonderful comment. It really put a smile on my face. And it is a particularly nice compliment coming from a foodie like you!

Bren, thanks for your note, and congrats again on your upcoming Emeril appearance.

chou said...

Erin, thank you for sharing your experience. I think lemon pie is the perfect way to celebrate your mother's health and her life. BTW, I haven't forgotten about our discussion earlier, I just find myself a bit mystified as to where I want to start!

Min said...

Hi Erin,thanks for visiting my blog. Just to share with you, my mom was also diagnosed with cancer, breast cancer, last year. She's gone thru the whole treatment and is healthy now. So,I wish you the best. Be strong and appear happy for your mom.
Take care.

Erin said...

Chou, it is still on my mind as well. I'm sure something will bubble up.

Min, I am so glad to hear that your mother is healthy again. What a wonderful relief after what was, I'm sure, a long and tough period.

Barbara said...

Greatv to hear a happy cancer story Erin. Well done to your Mum.
I love the lemon tart.

Thanks for supporting LiveSTRONG With A Taste Of Yellow.

Sarah said...

Oh, this tart sounds divine. I particularly love that you put almonds in the crust. I've been experimenting with ground hazelnuts in pie crust for a chocolate custard pie, and now you've inspired me to try it with almonds, too.

It's great that you're supporting LiveSTRONG, my mom was diagnosed with cancer last summer.

BTW, thanks for the info about star anise. I found dried star anise at the local Orient Market (sadly regular grocery stores in Idaho don't seem to carry it.)

Erin said...

Thanks Barbara!

Sarah, toasting the almonds makes a world of difference in terms of flavor, and requires only a little bit of patience. I have experimented with a variety of other nuts in the shortbread style crust (walnuts, pistachios, even macademia).

In general I think almonds give a lot of flavor that still balances well with other elements without either overwhelming or getting lost. I do really love pistachio and the walnut can also hold its own.

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