I realize I have posted a lot of sweet things lately, but it’s Valentine’s Day so I say bring on the sugar! But let’s get something straight – I am not a baker. In fact I get a bit frazzled when attempting to make anything that requires baking powder. You may notice in my photo chronology of this tart there are pictures conveniently missing during the dough making process. This is not a mistake. I had a fight with the dough. Don’t worry, we made up and came up with a delicious dessert. But I am still dreaming of a Kitchen Aid mixer to end my kneading woes.
Like every good (food) love story, this one started in Italy. I learned how to make this tart in my cooking class and I knew I would be making it again. The only problem is that every time I look it up in my class recipe book I remember that the ingredients are measured in grams. That’s great if you have a scale, but I do not. So coming up with the equivalents in cups, tablespoons, and so forth proves a little challenging. I can just hear Andrea and Mike laughing at me now (curses, you good looking Italian man and funny side-kick!) After some trial and error I think I have the measurements about right, but I will include the gram measurements in case you have a fancy scale (can you tell I have kitchen tool envy?).
Torta al limone (lemon tart), serves 6-8
- 3 cups (300 grams) all purpose flour, plus extra
- 7 eggs (2 for the dough and 5 for the filling)
- 1 cup of sugar (200 grams) – 1/2 for the dough and 1/2 for the filling
- 14 tablespoons (200 grams) unsalted butter (1 and 3/4 sticks)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- Juice and zest of 3 lemons (preferably un-waxed)
- 1 teaspoon cornflour
- 1 package of strawberries
Pasta Frolla (pastry dough): Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (or 180 degrees C if you’re Italian) . The trick to making a good pastry dough is to not overheat it. According to my instructor you only need 7 minutes to make it and should avoid using your hands. I find both these suggestions a bit difficult, so if you have a mixer I suggest you use it. Otherwise I tried to use the blades of 2 knives, but ultimately I used my hands because I couldn’t stand it anymore. Cut the butter into small cubes and let sit until they are at room temperature. On a countertop work the butter into the flour (it should look like little crumbs). Pile the flour together and make a well in the center. Zest 1 lemon to get 1/2 teaspoon for the dough; reserve the rest. In a small bowl combine 1/2 cup of sugar, salt and the zest; mix well. Separate the yolks and whites of 2 eggs, reserving the yolks in a bowl. In the same bowl add the vanilla extract and 4 tablespoons of iced water; mix well with a fork. Pour the sugar and egg mixture into the center of the flour. Knead the ingredients together until the dough forms into a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Topping and filling: Separate the yolks and whites of the remaining 5 eggs into two separate medium bowls. Add 1/2 cup sugar to the egg yolks and beat until light and creamy. Zest the remaing 2 lemons and add the zest and juice to the yolk mixture. Add the cornflour and carefully stir in to ensure there are no lumps. Pour into a heavy-based pan and heat gently for 5-7 minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens. Do not allow the mixutre to boil or it will curdle. Take the mixture off the heat and transfer to a large bowl.
Meanwhile, on a floured countertop roll out the pastry until it is thin. Butter a 9-10 in. (25 cm) tart tin and carefully place the dough on top, pressing it into the tin. Prick the bottom of the dough all over with a fork. Bake for 15 minutes.
While the pastry is baking, beat the reserved egg whites until stiff like a meringue. Gently fold the egg whites into the lemon yolk cream. Pour the mixture into the pastry case and bake for 30 minutes. The surface should be lightly browed all over. When the tart is finished baking let it cool for 20 minutes.
The final step is cutting the strawberries into hearts. Using a paring knife, cut a circle around the stem and remove. Cut the strawberry in half lengthwise and trim a little off each side at the top to make the shape of a heart. Slice thinly. Starting on the outside circle of the tart place the strawberries side by side. For the second row slightly overlap the strawberries and repeat until you get to the middle. Serve warm or cold. Happy Valentine’s Day!