Carolyn here today with one of my favorite recipes, perfect for spring. Many people in the desert have lemon trees in their garden or have access to a neighbor’s bounty. Farmers markets also have lots of citrus in the spring. Making this recipe always reminds me of two dear friends. I begged the recipe several decades ago after eating at a dinner party hosted by Susie Morris and David Devine. I adored the pie, but dreaded making it because I always grated my knuckles along with the lemon zest. Then, a few years ago in repayment for a very minor favor, another friend, Margaret Pope, gave me a new type of zester. It is a miracle tool that makes zesting citrus peel quick and bloodless.
You can use a commercial pie crust or use the directions for a lemon-flavored crust below. Some directions call for combining the flour and butter in a food processor, but I think that cuts the butter too small. It’s those larger pieces of butter between layers of flour that make your crust flaky. I use an old-fashioned pastry cutting tool for this.
To make the filling, you need to separate the eggs. Even a little bit of yolk in the whites with inhibit the amount of volume when you beat them. The trick here is to have three bowls: one for the whites, one for the yolks and the working bowl. Crack the egg over the working bowl, catching the yolk in the shell and letting the white go into the bowl. If there is no yolk in the white, add it to the bowl for whites. If the yolk breaks, set the whole egg aside for scrambled eggs for breakfast and get another egg.
Use the yolks to make the lemon custard filling. It cooks rather quickly, so use low heat and stir and stir. Stop when it is the consistency of mayonnaise.
Next, you will beat your egg whites. The filling for the pie is similar to lemon meringue pie, but rather than the custard on the bottom and meringue on top, you fold together the egg whites and custard.
Tarte Au Citron
1 ¼ cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon ice water
½ cup butter
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
¾ cup sugar
½ cup lemon juice
zest of two lemons
1 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 2 teaspoons water
Optional garnish: Whipped cream and mixed berries
Tarte shell: Heat oven to 400 degrees. Cut butter into the flour. Add egg yolk, ice water and lemon juice. If you are in the desert, you might need to add more water as our flour has little moisture. Roll out and fit into a 8- or 9-inch tart pan. Bake 10 minutes at 400 degrees. (Use pie weights, beans or rice over a sheet of foil or parchment paper to keep pastry from puffing up). Reduce heat to 350 degrees. Bake another 10 minutes until lightly golden. Set aside.(Can substitute own recipe for pastry but this is really good)
Filling: While the crust is baking, you can start the custard. Separate eggs. Beat yolks with half the sugar. Add lemon juice, zest and cornstarch. Transfer to saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring often, until consistency of mayonnaise, about 5 minutes.
Remove from heat and rest in bowl of ice water to cool completely. Again preheat oven to 400 degrees if it is cold. In a bowl, place egg whites and salt. Beat gradually, adding remaining sugar until stiff peaks form. Stir about a quarter of the whites into the yolk mixture to lighten it. Then gently fold in the remaining whites.
Spoon lemon mixture into the pastry shell. Bake until the crust is lightly browned and the filling is set, about 15 minutes. Serve alone or with whipped cream and berries.
Cool on wire rack. Serves 8 (or maybe 2).
Carolyn Niethammer is the author of five cookbooks on Southwest foods. You can see her books here.