Sometimes, I get infatuated with the idea of dessert recipes that are, shall we say, involved. I suppose I like the challenge. When my first-ever batch of macarons failed spectacularly, with gooey insides that stuck to the parchment paper and cracked, wrinkled tops, I ended up spending months making several batches of macarons every week until I got them perfect every time. I spent a sweaty summer day making puff pastry dough from scratch. I once made a towering croquembouche for no other occasion than that I was bored on a Saturday.
I kind of thought that lemon meringue tarts would be like that. I wanted to attempt these because the tartes au citron meringuée at the bakeries around our place are never as lemony or tart as I want them to be. My palate requires a strong acidic component to compete with that tall cloud of marshmallow-like meringue.
As it turns out, lemon meringue tarts are actually surprisingly manageable. I used my favorite tart dough, which never shrinks on me. The lemon curd in this recipe is extremely forgiving due to the cornstarch, making it difficult to curdle the egg yolk. French meringue is a simple matter of elbow grease and sugar.
And I mean, look how cute they are. The only problem I had was that I ended up eating tarts for breakfast.
Lemon Meringue Tarts
Adapted from The Canadian Baker.
Makes four 5″ tarts, several smaller tarts, or one deep 10″ pie.
For the tart dough:
1 1/2 cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold and cut into pieces
1 large egg
For the filling:
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup cornstarch
2 cups water
5 egg yolks, beaten
1/4 cup butter
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4-1 cup fresh lemon juice
For the meringue:
5 egg whites, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
Heat oven to 350°F (180°C)
Whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and quickly rub it into the flour mixture with your fingers, until it resembles crumble topping. There should be some pea-sized pieces of butter left in the mixture. Whisk the egg in a separate bowl, then add it to the flour and butter mixture mix until just combined.
Separate the dough into four parts and press it evenly into the bottoms and sides of four 5-inch (12-cm) tart pans. Prick the dough all over with a fork, then refrigerate for at least 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the filling: whisk together the sugar and cornstarch in a heavy saucepan, then, while whisking, add the water in a thin stream. Place the saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. The mixture will turn be very thick.
Start tempering the egg yolks with the cornstarch mixture by whisking a few spoonfuls of the hot mixture into the egg yolks. Whisk in a few more spoonfuls, then a few more, until it has all been incorporated. Return to the mixture to the saucepan and return to the heat, whisking constantly, just until the mixture comes to a boil again. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter. Stir in the lemon zest and vanilla extract, then the lemon juice. Start with 3/4 cup of juice, taste, and add more if you’d like the curd to be more sour. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the lemon curd and refrigerate until cool.
Remove the tart dough from the refrigerator and line the inside of the tarts with aluminum foil. Weigh the foil down with pie weights, dry beans, or do what I did and use ramekins. Blind bake for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Turn the oven up to 375°F (190°C).
To make the meringue, whip the egg whites and salt in an impeccably clean bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually begin adding the sugar, a little at a time, while continuing to whip. Stop once the meringue is shiny and holds stiff peaks.
Spoon the lemon curd into the tart shells. Spoon the meringue on top of the lemon curd, making sure it goes all the way to the edge of the tart, then make decorative spikes and swirls with a spoon. Alternatively, you can spoon the meringue into a piping bag and pipe decorative designs.
Bake for 15-20 minutes until the meringue is golden brown. If desired, use a kitchen torch to further singe the meringue.
Cool and serve within 24 hours.
Depending on the kinds of lemons you use and how sour you like your lemon curd, you’ll need to use less or more lemon juice — but the curd won’t take much more than 1 cup of lemon juice without getting too watery.
You’ll want to make these on the day you plan to serve them, as the tart crusts will start to get soggy quickly after the first day or so.
For pretty, clean cuts, dip your knife in hot water before slicing the tarts.
Music to cook by: Eet [Regina Spektor // Far]