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Smitten Kitchen’s Whole Lemon Tart…Birthday Celebration Part 1

A few years ago I decided that, for my birthday, I’d make myself a dessert that’s just a little fancier than normal. Something I’ve been lusting after but required more time or effort than I’m typically willing to put into things. Since I don’t tend to like store-bought desserts that much, it was a way of making sure I got something I’d really like. And, boy, has it produced good results so far?! Two years ago I made these amazing vanilla almond cupcakes with peach jam filling, and last year I tried out Smitten Kitchen’s red wine chocolate cake.

Whole Lemon Tart

This year, since it’s a “technicolor” birthday (as my co-worker says), I decided that I didn’t have to pick between the two desserts I was eyeing. So this is part one of 30th birthdaypalooza, and Smitten Kitchen has once again done me a solid.

Whole Lemon Tart done

This lemon tart is absolutely jam-packed with flavor. While I love lemon things, I am often turned off by lemon flavor that’s cloying or fake tasting, which is always a danger. But this tart is so bright and fresh and in-your-face with its real lemonness. Lemon-ity?

whole lemon tart lemon slices

What’s also fascinating is that you throw the entire lemon into the filling (not whole, that would be weird…). I don’t know why that makes a huge difference, but it does. And while it looks like there are a million steps in the recipe below, it’s really not that difficult or time consuming. As long as you have time during a couple parts of the day (so you can make the tart crust and let it chill, then freeze a little, then bake), you’re golden. And the butter—oh, the butter! This tart is lemon-y, creamy, tangy, rich, custardy goodness.

whole lemon tart crust dry ingredients

whole lemon tart crust dry ingredients butter

Pulse the flour, sugar and salt together in a large food processor for just a second, then scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in (pea- to oatmeal-sized pieces).

whole lemon tart crust dough

Break the yolk of the egg with your finger or a fork, and then add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. Once the egg is fully added, begin to process in long pulses–about 10 seconds each–until the dough forms clumps and comes together. Just before it’s the right texture, you’ll hear the sound of the machine kind of change. It looks like a legit dough, which was pretty exciting because me and dough don’t always get along.

whole lemon tart crust dough wrapped

Turn the dough out onto a work surface (I just turned it onto the plastic wrap). If there are any dry ingredients trying to make a run for it, very lightly and sparingly knead the dough to get them in there. Then wrap in plastic and chill the dough for about 2 hours before rolling.

whole lemon tart crust dough rolled out

Butter a 9-inch fluted tart pan (or any tart pan with a removable bottom).

Roll out the chilled dough on a floured sheet of parchment paper (I did it between two pieces of wax paper, like I do my pie crusts) to a 12-inch round. Mine was rock-hard, so I put it in the microwave for like 5-10 seconds to soften it a bit. As you’re rolling, you’ll need to lift and turn it occasionally to free it from the paper or get rid of wrinkles. Get it fairly thin if you can.

whole lemon tart crust dough pan fluted

Turn the dough into your buttered tart pan, peel off the paper, and seal any cracks in the dough. Trim any overhang to about 1/2-inch, and then fold it in to make double-thick sides. Then pierce all the sides and bottom with a fork several times. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes (preferably longer) before baking.

Memo to self:  no one will ever see this fluting, stop wasting your time.

whole lemon tart crust dough baked

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and fit it, buttered side down, tightly against the crust. Put it on a baking sheet and bake for around 20 minutes (possibly 25). Because we froze the crust, we don’t have to use pie weights, which is exciting because I don’t even know what they are. I’m assured they’re annoying though.

Remove from the oven, carefully remove the foil, and if the crust has puffed press it gently down with the back of a spoon. Let cool to room temperature while you make the tart filling.

If you’re making the filling right away, lower the heat to 350 F and center a rack in the oven. Place the mostly cooled tart shell on a baking sheet, which you can line with foil or parchment paper to make any spills a breeze to clean up.

whole lemon tart lemon sliced

Lemons!

Cut the lemon in half and make sure the white ring of the skin isn’t too thick. Under 1/4-inch should be fine; if it’s more than that, remove the skin from half of the lemon before proceeding. That sounds like a crazy-thick lemon, so if it looks normal you’re fine. Slice the lemon halves into thin wheels, removing any seeds.

whole lemon tart lemon sugar butter

whole lemon tart lemon sugar butter blended

whole lemon tart crust filling blended

Toss the lemon rounds—peel and all—along with the sugar and chunks of butter into the food processor. Blend until the mixture is thoroughly pureed. Then add the eggs, cornstarch and salt, and pulse until the batter is smooth.

whole lemon tart assembled

Pour the filling into the prepared tart shell. It will fill it completely but do not pour it past the top of the crust or you’ll have a mess on your hands later. Ugh, mess is the worst.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the filling is set. If you bump the pan a little, it should only jiggle slightly, and the top should start to get very light brown. Like so.

Whole Lemon Tart finished

Remove from the oven and let it cool on rack, then unmold the tart pan and serve.

As I’ve shared before, I’m weird (or discerning, if you ask me) about fruit desserts being warm, so I fully chilled this before serving, and it was totally awesome. Sprinkle a tiny bit of powdered sugar on top for fanciness.

Whole Lemon Tart slice

Keeps well in the fridge for several days. I worked from home the day after I made this and ate my body weight in it, but still had a few pieces left to make my Friday lunch just a little bit happier. I think the lemon taste gets even more intense after a few days in the fridge.

Whole Lemon Tart

Tart Shell

Makes enough for one 9-inch tart crust (plus a little extra)

  • 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup of confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons; 4.5 ounces) of very cold or frozen unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 large egg
  1. In a large food processor bowl, pulse the flour, sugar and salt together briefly, then scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in (pea- to oatmeal-sized pieces). Stir the yolk with a finger or fork, just to break it up a bit, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is fully added, process in long pulses–about 10 seconds each–until the dough forms clumps and comes together. Just before it’s the right texture, you’ll hear the sound of the machine kind of change.
  2. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and, very lightly and sparingly, knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing. Wrap in plastic and chill the dough for about 2 hours before rolling.
  3. Butter a 9-inch fluted tart pan (or any tart pan with a removable bottom). Roll out the chilled dough on a floured sheet of parchment paper (I did it between two pieces of wax paper) to a 12-inch round. You’ll need to lift and turn it occasionally to free it from the paper or get rid of wrinkles. It was rock hard for me, so I put it in the microwave for 5-10 seconds, just to soften it a little. Turn the dough into your buttered tart pan, peel off the paper, and seal any cracks in the dough. Trim overhang to 1/2 inch, and fold it in to make double-thick sides. Then pierce all the sides and bottom with a fork several times. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes (preferably longer) before baking.
  4. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and fit it, buttered side down, tightly against the crust. Put it on a baking sheet and bake for around 20 minutes (possibly 25). Remove from the oven, carefully remove the foil, and if the crust has puffed press it gently down with the back of a spoon. Let cool to room temperature while you make the tart filling.
  5. Note, apparently the dough can be wrapped and kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 2 months, if you want to make it ahead.

Tart Filling

  • 1 average-sized lemon (about 4 1/2 ounces; 130 grams), rinsed and dried; Smitten recommends a regular lemon, not Meyer
  • 1 1/2 cups of sugar
  • 1 stick (4 ounces or 8 tablespoons) of unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons of cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon of table salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F and center a rack in the oven. Place the mostly cooled tart shell on a baking sheet, which you can line with foil or parchment paper to make any spills a breeze to clean up.
  2. Cut the lemon in half and make sure the white ring of the skin isn’t too thick (under 1/4 inch should be fine; if it’s more than that, remove the skin from half of the lemon before proceeding). If it looks normal, slice the lemon halves into thin wheels, removing any seeds, and toss the rounds—with the lemon flesh and peel—with the sugar and chunks of butter into the food processor. Blend until the mixture is thoroughly pureed. Then add the eggs, cornstarch and salt, and pulse until the batter is smooth.
  3. Pour the filling into prepared tart shell. It will fill it completely but do not pour it past the top of the crust or you’ll have a mess on your hands later.
  4. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the filling is set. If you bump the pan a little, it should only jiggle slightly, and the top should start to get very light brown.
  5. Remove from the oven and let it cool on rack, then unmold the tart pan and serve. I am really weird about fruit desserts being warm, so I fully chilled this before serving, and it was totally awesome. Sprinkle a tiny bit of powdered sugar on top for fanciness. Keeps well in the fridge for several days.

Smitten Kitchen’s great unshrinkable tart crust & whole lemon tart

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