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French Lemon Tart (Tarte Au Citron)

How do you know you have arrived in Paris?

You have arrived in Paris if you can walk into a patisserie and get a fabulous French Lemon Tart. Tarte Au Citron in French. Not just a good tarte, but with some guidance or good luck a fabulous tarte.

This dish, like many great French dishes, is really based on a few simple ingredients. Therefore, the quality of ingredients is important. But beyond that, I realize the difference between good and great comes down to proportions and technique. Following the research-based approach of Zous Chef capturing those important attributes is what I am sharing here.

tarte au citron
tarte au citron

Notes on Ingredients

Lemon Filling

If you are reading this in English and thinking about a French Lemon Tart, there is a good chance you are reading it in North America, not in E.U. If so, this section is important to you. In the U.K., you will have nothing to worry about, but may find it interesting. In Australia, it is also important, but with a twist.

As I mentioned, it is important to get the details just right on this dish. The lemon filling is a relatively simple mixture mainly consisting of lemon juice, egg, and sugar. The proportions are important. However, the problem presented to us is that egg sizes in the European Union (EU), including France, are a bit larger on average than they are in most of the English-speaking world. For example, large eggs are about 63 grams in the EU (including egg shells) versus 56 grams in North America. So, to get this recipe right, we must correct our measurements. So, to get the translation from tarte to tart right, we must think about the eggs.

Le Certificat d’Aptitude Professionnelle de Pâtisserie

The French Le Certificat d’Aptitude Professionnelle de Pâtisserie is a professional certification in the French education system. The specifications for a tarte au citron call for 180 grams of eggs in the lemon filling. The home cook rarely thinks in terms of grams of eggs, but this translates to 3 large eggs in the E.U. and that is easy enough. The measurements of the lemon juice (sour) and sugar (sweet) have to balance the substance and fat of the egg. However, if a U.S.-based cook uses 3 large eggs, they will end up with about 160g of egg. Therefore, the lemon juice and the sugar need to be adjusted. In Australia, eggs are even smaller, so we adjust by using 4 eggs. The following tables present the adjustments.

Filling Proportions

Below are recommended proportions for the lemon filling given that you live in the European Union (E.U.), North America (N.A.), and Australia. In all cases your most accurate recreation will be accomplished by using metric measurements. But if needed, Imperial measurements are included. To get closer to the original in some cases I use half tablespoon measurements for butter. This might be unusual but can easily be estimated.

If you live in the E.U. or U.K.

In the U.K.? If so, no worries your eggs have always been close in size to E.U. So this is your table. By the way, in North America you can use this table if you are using X-large eggs.

IngredientMetricImperial
Eggs180g3 eggs
Lemon150 ml5 fl. oz.
Butter100g7 Tablespoons
Sugar150g3/4 cup
E.U. large or N.A. X-large
If you live in North America

Here we need to decrease the sizes some.

IngredientMetricImperial
Eggs160g3 large eggs
Lemon135 ml4 fl. oz. plus 1 Tablespoon
Butter90g6.5 Tablespoons
Sugar135g2/3 cup
North America
If you live in Australia

To get the proportions closer, I recommend using 4 large eggs in Australia instead of 3. It is likely this leaves you with a bit of extra lemon cream. Nevertheless, it will be easy to find a use for this cream. For example, simple cookies can be made from the cuttings of the pastry crust dough. With the extra cream spread on top, this is as tasty as the tart itself.

IngredientMetricImperial
Eggs180g4 large eggs
Lemon160 ml5 fl. oz., plus 1 Tablespoon
Butter105g7.5 Tablespoons
Sugar160g3/4 cup, plus 1 Tablespoon
Australia

Egg Whites/Powdered Sugar for the Meringue

The traditional Tarte au Citron does not have a meringue, but I believe a fabulous one does. My French Lemon Tart does. Meringue is mostly sugar and egg whites. Consequently, the proportions are important to get the sweet, but not too sweet taste. Therefore, I have adjusted the amount of sugar found in French recipes a bit to accommodate the U.S. size. I use about 90g for four egg whites. You may need to adjust if you are creating this in the EU or Australia. However, feel comfortable adjusting anywhere between 80g to 100g according to taste.

Notes on Technique

Tart Rings

This recipe works for two smaller 18 cm rings as shown here or one 24 cm ring. I prefer the smaller rings as it gives a nice shaped slice. Rings will work better than a fluted tart pan with a bottom, however, the fluted tart pan will work.

Tart Ring
Tart Ring

The Pastry

Pay close attention to the pastry instructions. Creating the crust involves the use of the technique of sablage. This technique involves finely working the flour and butter in your hands rubbing the paste to get a fine powdery sand. Especially, pay attention to the instruction for rolling the dough into a smooth ball. This brings the dough together nicely.

Sablage
Sablage
tarte au citron

Tarte au Citron

Yield: 12 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Additional Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour

A taste of Paris

Ingredients

Pâte Sablée (Pastry Tart)

  • 250 g (1 cup, plus 1 Tablespoon) flour
  • 125 g (9 Tablespoons) butter, chilled and cubed
  • 1 large egg
  • 125 g (1 cup) powdered sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon of salt

Lemon Filling (measurements for E.U.)

  • 3 large eggs
  • 150 ml (5 fl. oz.) lemon juice (juice of about 4-5 lemons)
  • 100g (7 tablespoons) butter
  • 150g (¾ cups) sugar
  • 10 g (1 tablespoon) corn starch

Lemon Filling (measurements for North America)

  • 3 large eggs
  • 135 ml (5 fl. oz., plus 1 tablespoon) lemon juice (juice of about 4-5 lemons)
  • 90 g (6 ½ tablespoons) butter
  • 135 g (⅔ cup) Sugar
  • 10 g (1 tablespoon) corn starch

Lemon Filling (measurements for Australia)

  • 4 large eggs
  • 160 ml lemon juice (5 fl. oz., plus 1 tablespoon)
  • 105 g (7 ½ tablespoon) butter
  • 160 g (¾ cup, plus 1 tablespoon) sugar
  • 10 g (1 tablespoon) corn starch

Meringue

  • 4 egg whites
  • 100 g powder sugar (Use 80-90 g in Australia or N.A., or to taste)
  • pinch of salt

Instructions

Preparing the Pâte Sablée 

  1. Before starting determine what size rings you will use. Two 18 cm (7") rings work well for nicely sized quartered pieces or one bigger 24cm (9 ½") ring. If rings are not available, removable bottom tart pans of the same size will work.
  2. Sift the flour into a bowl, then add the 125g powdered sugar and salt. Mix the ingredients. Then cut the butter pieces in.
  3. Mix the ingredients by rubbing them between the hands. Continue rubbing until it looks like grains of sand. (Sablage, is the term for this method used as a verb and a noun.) Work relatively fast, so the butter does not melt.
  4. Create a well in the sablage in the bowl. Add the egg to the well. With the fingers of one hand work the egg into the sablage. Work in a circular motion starting in the center and working outward until completely incorporated. Continue to work through the dough until thoroughly mixed. When mixing is completed your hands will be covered with a bit of dough. Dip your fingers in the small bowl of flour and rub the flour across the sticky dough. This will allow you to remove the dough from your fingers.
  5. On a work surface roll the dough into a smooth ball. If using smaller rings, as suggested, divide the dough into two balls. The dough should not be sticky if you have worked fast enough. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour. (See note)

Forming the Tart Shell

  1. If using the recommended rings, place parchment paper on a sheet pan and place the rings on the paper before starting.
  2. Remove your dough from the refrigerator. Pinch off a small bit of the dough (about half the size of your thumb). Rub this dough around the inside of the ring, creating a buttery/floury coating. A clearly visible coating should be the result. This will help keep the cooked tart from sticking.
  3. Flour your work surface. Begin by pressing your rolling pin in the dough in three places, pressing it flat. Turn the dough 90° and repeat. (Hint, a pastry scraper can help turn the dough.) This will start the dough out as a nice circle. Repeat this a few times (turning 90° each time) until the dough is somewhat spread. Now you can start rolling the dough out easily making a circular tart. Continue to roll, turning 90° and dusting with flour to keep it from sticking.
  4. When the dough is desired thickness and most importantly sized bigger than your ring, lightly dust the top of the dough with flour, then gently roll the dough up on the rolling pin and lay it on the ring.
  5. Unroll the dough over the ring, Begin by gently lifting the edges of the dough and pushing the dough into the ring, Work around the ring using your thumb and index finger until the dough is firmly against the edges of the ring. Fold the leftover dough over the edges of the pan and allow it to hang over. Then use the rolling pin to roll over the edges to cut the extra dough away. Lastly, using the tip of your thumb gently push the dough off the edge of the ring very slightly so that it will separate from the ring easily after baking.
  6. Tap the dough with the tines of two forks as if you were lightly beating a drum. Create holes in the dough all around. (This will keep the dough from rising when baking.)
  7. Place the dough (rings and pan) in the freezer to rest the dough. This will allow the dough to be baked blind (without pan weights). Leave the dough in the freezer for about 30 minutes (or while making the filling).
  8. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  9. Place the chilled crust in the oven to bake for approximately 12-16 minutes. The crust should be light brown when removed. (The crust must be frozen and have the holes pricked to bake this way -- without pie weights.)

Make the Lemon filling

  1. Bring the diced butter and the lemon juice to a boil in a saucepan.
  2. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs, then add the sugar. Continue whisking until the mixture whitens. Add the corn starch, mix but not too much either. then add the sugar.
  3. Gradually pour the butter mixture into the egg mixture -- whisking continuously while you add. Return to saucepan over low to medium heat and bring to boil. The mixture should thicken.
  4. Allow the egg mixture to cool for at least 10 minutes. Whisk lightly every few minutes while it cools.
  5. Pour into the pie shells and smooth the surface. Place the pie into the refrigerator.

Make the Meringue

  1. In a bowl add the egg whites and salt. Whisk slowly with an electric mixer for 1 to 2 minutes to make the whites fluid.
  2. Gradually increase the whisk speed. When the whites are almost whipped, gradually add the sugar, whisking constantly.
  3. Finish whisking the whites quickly. They need to firm up to form a meringue.
  4. Add the meringue to the tart. This may be done simply by spreading with a spatula or using a pastry bag. For a balanced taste, have a meringue about 50% thicker than the lemon filling.
  5. Brown the meringue by placing it under a broiler for a few minutes -- watch carefully, so it doesn't burn!

Notes

Chilling the dough -- there are two schools of thought on working with the dough. Some recommend no more than 20 minutes of chilling, to make it easy to work with. Others recommend more. What is best may depend on your work environment. My recommendation is to start with the lower time and place it back into the refrigerator if it is too soft.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 12 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 365Total Fat: 16gSaturated Fat: 10gTrans Fat: .6gUnsaturated Fat: 5.3gCholesterol: 101mgSodium: 216mgCarbohydrates: 47gFiber: .7gSugar: 30gProtein: 5.7g

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