Adventures in baking: why a lemon tart is always in style

By
Imogen Denny
Added
22 February, 2016

Baking a classic lemon tart might sound straightforward, but there are hundreds of recipes and variations available, so try to make sure you’re picking the best option. Cooked writer Imogen Denny puts a Michelin-starred one from Jason Atherton to the test.



Why?

A lemon tart is a classic pudding, something I am sure all proficient cooks can handle, and yet, my dirty little kitchen secret is that I never attempt pastry. Mad as this may seem, with all the many ready-made varieties available, the thought of ‘baking blind’ and ‘soggy bottoms’ fills me with trepidation.


The prep

Somewhat later than planned I began to prep the pastry for this tart (it was nearly 10pm, on a school night). Mixing the ingredients together gave me a pastry ‘dough’ of a similar consistency to crumble topping – not a good start – but I powered on and squished it all together, into an unconvincing ball, to chill in the fridge. Given the time, I was keen to move on to the next stage: rolling the pastry. This was a disaster. I had chilled the pastry for the minimum time recommended but it just wasn’t ready. So following the addition of half an egg and ten minutes in the freezer I tried again, with much more successful results. It still needed a bit of patching up, but the tin was covered!   


The cooking

I was once told that baking beans are not necessary kitchen equipment, that dried pulses will do just as well. I haven’t yet had a chance to test this, or the idea that clingfilm works best as a pastry case liner for a smooth finish, so my midnight baking session seemed like the ideal time to put both of these tips to the test. It was a success! The dried lentils didn’t cook, the clingfilm didn’t melt, and the base was as smooth as my patched up version was ever going to get. By contrast to the pastry stress, the filling was easy. Other than a bit of time spent fishing out lemon seeds, it was just a quick whisk and a stir. My cake tin is a few centimetres wider than the one recommended, so the filling didn’t reach quite as high as I might have liked, but it did mean there was less chance of a spillage! Unfortunately it also meant the edge was a rustic, jagged height, not the smooth one I was hoping for. If I’d tried to slice it smoothly I think the whole pastry case would have cracked.




The verdict

The pastry had a delightful crunch, no soggy bottoms in sight, and the filling was tangy and rich. It finally came out of the oven around four hours after I’d begun baking, at 2am, so it was not a quick pudding, and not one I’d start quite so late next time. But when I served it to my guests the next evening they were impressed, especially when I revealed that I’d made the pastry myself. While that was the trickiest, fiddliest part I think it was worth it for the flavour. It may not have looked quite as pretty as I’d hoped, but it tasted far better.


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