Monday, April 21, 2014


Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.
Can she bake a cherry pie?
Simple Simon met a pieman.

 Cherry pies and apple pies, as American as…. A Fourth of July picnic. Shoo Fly Pie from deep in the heart of Pennsylvania, bitter and intriguing, quickly addictive. Thick slabs of coconut cream, chocolate cream, banana cream, lemon meringue, redolent of diners, formica counters, swivel stools and grilled cheese sandwiches, thick, heaving swirls of a creamy concoction mounded sky high, served chilled with two forks, one for me, one for mom.

 Apple pie, double crust, golden and crispy, thick layers of apples meltingly smooth, sweet and tart both, in their own concentrated juices. Lusty. My man's favorite.

 But the tart. The tart. Not quite a pie. No, I wouldn't call it a pie. Une tarte, lines of them in perfect rows in so many pastry shop windows across France. Une tarte, elegance itself. No chunky wedges of apple, oh-so rustic, rather delicate, paper-thin slices carefully applied to a delicate, paper-thin puff pastry circle, round and round they go. A rosace of apple slices. Quarters of fresh figs, blood red, garnet and deep violet, or segments of deep coral-painted apricots dancing across a rectangle of dough, baked to tenderness and glistening under a glaze of confiture. Strawberries, whole strawberries perched atop lush, velvety pastry cream heady with vanilla or nestled into swirls of whipped cream.

 A tart is the graceful sister of the pie, the French cousin dressed in finery.

 Sour grapes, rhubarb compote, lemon curd.

 Pucker up!

 Bright and tangy. Snappy and acerbic. A quick comeback, angry words, a sharp wit, too much red wine vinegar on the salad.

 Heavy handed.

 Tart words make no friends; a spoonful of honey will catch more flies than a gallon of vinegar. – Benjamin Franklin

  They straggled in, a line of them, sandwiched between two cops, looking like naughty children who have been caught at it again and sent to the corner, punished, without dessert. Sour.

 They were led into the station by the side door, a walk of shame through the gaping hall where we waited to have my residency request reviewed along with a mob of others. They slouched in, bedraggled and forlorn, eyes averted from the curious, gawking crowd. A weighty silence oozing discomfort. Unwashed and unkempt, clothes askew, makeup smeared, I couldn't help but feel sorry for them. Shrouded in misery and mistrust, this was obviously not the first time they had been rounded up and brought in. Bitter.

 Our first taste of Italy, none too sweet.

 A mere quarter hour later, if that, the side doors once again swept open. Another string of women assembled and marshaled into the station. Tall and elegant, still beautifully made up, perfectly coiffed even after what could only have been a very long night, gorgeous dresses in deep colors and flashy lam├ęs, low cut and hiked short to reveal dizzyingly long legs, so unlike the first group. They sashayed in, shoulders back, heads held high when not tilted coyly to one side. Their eyes scanned the crowd, urging contact, smoldering looks, captivating smiles, come hither glances, flirting with the room. Steamy and dangerous. Salty.

 The first group female. The second group male. What a difference a night makes.


  The only tart I knew as a kid was the famous – infamous – Pop Tart. Cherry was my predilection, only outdone by a chocolate frosted fudge-filled Pop Tart, when the mood hit. Saturday mornings in front of cartoons, a tall glass of cold milk and a plate of Pop Tarts.

 Then I grew up and met tarts both savory and sweet. The quiche! The perfect crust, tender and buttery, cupping its warmth around an egg-rich filling laden with broccoli, leeks, salty bits of bacon, dense with Gruyere or nippy chunks of feta. Roasted cherry tomatoes, so sweet. Mushrooms and tenderly sweet caramelized onions in autumn, chicken and smoky red peppers in winter, asparagus and artichokes in spring, rocket and goat cheese all summer long. Real men do eat quiche.

 Lemon tart, tangy and tart, sweet and zingy quickly became our family's favorite. Lemon tart, so very French. Worlds away from the old Pop Tart.

 Pies, tarts, tortes.

 Months and months, years of standing in a professional cooking school, hours upon hours each week taking my place next to the pastry chef in front of the marble-topped work counters, ovens humming, industrial mixers whisking, the buzz of voices. I may have been there to translate French to English, English to French, but I picked up tips and method, information and gestures. How to roll out pastry dough into the perfect round, how to line a tart tin, lift, press, trim, poke, how to portion, cut and lay slices and wedges and chunks of fruit. How to concoct the perfect cream.

 Tart it up!

 At home, I thought that I would try my hand at an emblematic French tart, a cream and frangipane filling. My favorite springform pan lined and filled and pushed into the oven. An impatient wait. Excitement mounting. Husband as eager as I to see, to taste. Timer dings and I carefully lift the tart from the oven in mitted hands but what happened to my beautiful tart? No pale, creamy filling the color of down, rather a green-tinged phosphorous hue as if aglow with alien luminosity. A sniff of aluminum rather than the gentle fragrance of almonds. Yes, I had read somewhere that cream tarts should not be baked in aluminum, advice that I stoutly ignored, now much to my chagrin.

 Beautiful tart straight into the trash. Tart words to myself, acerbic taste in my mouth.

  Lemon desserts are truly a favorite in my home and I am constantly searching for and developing new recipes. Curds – lemon, lime, orange or grapefruit - are simple and fast to make and can be the basis of any number of great recipes: cakes, cookies, pies and tarts, tiramisu, puddings and verrines. Tart, tangy, sweet, bright and fresh, this tart is simply lemon curd whisked into whipped cream and mounded into a pre-baked tart shell to which I have added ground almonds, the nuts a perfect pairing with lemon, the cream taming the tartness of the curd. Topped with summer's ripest berries makes it extra special.


Lemon Curd:

3 large eggs
3/4 cup (150 g) granulated white sugar
1/3 cup (80 ml) or a tad more lemon juice (anywhere from 1 1/2 - 3 lemons depending on how juicy)
4 Tbs (60 g) unsalted butter, cubed
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons (about 1 Tbs)

 Whisk the eggs, sugar and lemon juice together in a medium saucepan (you do not want to use a wide, shallow or large saucepan) until smooth and well blended. Place the saucepan over very low heat and, whisking constantly, heat very gently and cook until it thickens, 8 to 10 minutes. This can be done in a bain marie... but if cooking in a pot directly on the flame, watch carefully and if it begins to bubble too much pull it off the heat and continue to whisk... putting it back on the heat at intervals.

 Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter one or two cubes at a time until melted and blended in. Whisk in the zest. Scrape into a heatproof bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least overnight until chilled and firmed (very thick). Makes about 1 1/3 cups.

For the Lemon Tart:

Pre-baked Sweet Pastry Crust, preferably with the addition of ground almonds
1 1/3 - 1 1/2 cups (more or less 300 ml) Lemon Curd (recipe above or use your favorite)
1 cup (250 ml) heavy whipping cream, chilled, more if you like it lighter, less lemony

 Beat the cream until peaks hold. Beat the lemon curd into the whipped cream about half a cup at a time. The resulting lemon cream should be thick and fluffy. Mound into the baked pie shell, lightly spread evenly. Refrigerate for minimum an hour before serving. Serve decorated with raspberries, strawberries or as you like.

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1 comment:

  1. I love this lemon tart--so simple and perfect. =) And Ilva, I really love that photo of the pinned lemon slices.