There are recipes that have “Don’t try this at home” written all over them. I have even published them, if only to quash the idea that they are trade secrets that I am unwilling to divulge. The recipe for pike boudin, for example, is one such, involving as it does getting hold of fresh pike (difficult), filleting it, pulverising the flesh, passing it through a sieve and then carefully beating it with double cream to form a light mousse before piping it into sausage skins, poaching it a little over blood temperature, cooling it down, taking it out of the skins again and finally losing the will to live.
Silly, really. Things like pike boudins are what restaurants are for. Amazingly, when I published that particular recipe, some readers followed me every step of the way, one triumphantly sending me the photographs to prove it.
Today’s recipe is not of quite the same order of difficulty but, be warned, a lemon tart can strike fear in the heart of a pastry cook. It involves baking a tart case blind and then baking a custard mixture in it afterwards. Easy peasy, you might think. However, the pastry has to be short but at the same time tough enough to cope with the constructional difficulties of a high-sided tart. There can be no leaks, which is why I recommend brushing the cooked case with beaten egg. The custard must be cooked at a very gentle temperature so that it just sets with no colour and, above all, it must not be overcooked.
You might ask why bother, since there are plenty of lemon tarts in the shops. Quite simply, never has the difference between “shop” and homemade been so pronounced: this lemon tart is twice as deep and both a great deal creamier and sharper than any commercial effort. However, do practise before you do it for a big dinner party.
Rowley Leigh is the chef at Le Café Anglais and author of ‘No Place Like Home’ (Clearview, £9.99)
Use a high-sided (3cm), 24cm-wide tart ring or tin. I usually place some thin zest, poached in stock syrup, alongside. Serves 10.
180g unsalted butter
270g plain flour
75g caster sugar
3 egg yolks
A pinch of salt
● Cut the butter into very small dice without letting it warm up too much. Put the flour, sugar, salt and butter together in a large bowl. Rub the mixture together using only your fingertips. The mixture should be completely blended to a sandy texture with no lumps of butter remaining. This can be done with the blending attachment on the slowest speed of an electric mixer. Whisk the egg yolks with two tablespoons of cold water and pour into a well in the middle of the pastry. Very gently blend the mixture together to form a dough. Shape into a slightly flattened ball and refrigerate for one hour.
● Butter and flour the inside of the tart ring. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface. Allowing extra for the depth of the tin and to overlap the sides by a minimum of another centimetre, roll it out to a disc of at least 27cm in diameter. Carefully drop the pastry into the ring, making sure it fits right into the corners and hangs over the edge of the ring at every point. Do not cut off this overhang. Make absolutely sure there are no holes in the pastry, using any excess overhang to carry out repairs. Refrigerate the case for 30 minutes.
Line the interior of the case with greaseproof paper or foil and baking beans. Bake in a moderate (180C) pre-heated oven for 25 minutes. Remove the beans and paper and return the case to the oven for five minutes. Beat the egg with a tablespoon of milk and brush the interior of the case as soon as it comes out of the oven and is still very hot.
The lemon filling:
8 eggs and 2 yolks
300g caster sugar
300ml double cream
● Very finely grate the zest of the lemons into a bowl and then strain the well-squeezed juice over. Whisk together the eggs and the sugar until the sugar is dissolved and the mix is smooth. Pour in the double cream. Mix together well before stirring in the lemon juice and zest.
● Lower the oven temperature right down to 110C. Place the tart tin on the middle shelf of the oven a third of the way out of the oven. Carefully pour the mixture (stir it well beforehand if you have let it rest) into the case and slide it very carefully into the oven. It will take an hour and 10 minutes to cook. The surface should not colour: if it threatens to do so, be prepared to cover it with a sheet of foil. To test, give the tray a gentle nudge back and forth – there should be no sign of liquid movement beneath the surface of the tart.
● Allow the tart to cool a little before sawing off the overhang with a serrated knife and gently lifting off the tart ring. Transfer the tart to a plate only once it has completely cooled and then refrigerate. Dust with a sprinkling of icing sugar and serve chilled.