Around the World in 80 Bakes: Tarte au Citron

Nothing says France like ‘Tarte au Citron’ …and there’s a way the French make it that gives it that certain je ne sais quoi! To my mind (and, more importantly, my taste buds) it’s all down to using French flour (I still have a load that I smuggled over – pre COVID/pre-Brexit – from my last visit to see Papa Bleu) PLUS the method you use to make the filling. Dispense with the recipes that call for the use of double cream – you really don’t need the resultant clogged arteries and double chins – and, while we’re at it, the ones that have you making a curd. Gah! Who on earth wants to put themselves through the egg-induced palpitations that go with that? So, here we go – a foolproof way to make a tarte au citron that tastes near enough authentic French… just add sun and rosé and you’ll be in the Corrèze!

For the sweet pastry:

  • 125g softened butter
  • 250g plain flour (you can swap this out for gluten free if that’s your thing)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 90g icing sugar
  • 30g ground almonds

For the lemon filling:

  • 200ml freshly squeezed lemon juice (grate the zest of 2 lemons into this and allow it to steep overnight, but strain it through a sieve before use)
  • 100g butter, melted and left to cool at room temp
  • 4 eggs
  • 120g icing sugar

To decorate:

  • 1 tablespoon icing sugar
  • dark chocolate, melted (optional, if you’re feeling fancy)
  1. First, make the sweet pastry – or pâte sucrée as they say in la belle France! Stir the butter and sugar together, add the egg and mix. Add the flour and ground almonds and bring it all together to form a well-combined dough. Roll into a ball and flatten slightly, wrap it in cling and pop it in the fridge to chill for half an hour (or overnight).
  2. Now to make the lemon filling. Whisk the eggs and sugar together until pale and light. Keep whisking while you gradually add the lemon juice, and finish with the melted butter. Set aside at room temperature.
  3. Next job is to blind bake the pastry case. Preheat the oven to 200°C fan and grease a 20cm dia. (or near enough) round tart tin. Roll out your pastry on a floured worktop and then transfer to the tin, making sure it fits snugly. Trim away any overhanging pastry to make a neatish edge. Line the pastry case with greaseproof paper (scrunch it up first so you won’t get any unsightly creases on your pastry case as it bakes) and fill with ceramic baking beans. Bung it in the fridge for 30 mins to rest. Once it’s rested, bake the pastry case in the upper part of the oven for 15-20 mins. Gently remove the beans and greaseproof paper. You don’t want filling leaking everywhere, so if there are any suspect cracks or holes, now is the time to make repairs by pressing excess pastry over the dodgy areas. To give the pastry case a protective ‘seal’, brush it with beaten egg white. Return the uncovered pastry case to the lower shelf of the oven and bake for a further 5 mins. The pastry should look and feel dry but not have reached a properly ‘done’ colour. Leave it to cool slightly before filling.
  4. Reduce the oven temperature to 130°C. Fill the pastry case with the lemon filling and return to the oven. Bake for 30 mins or until the filling is ‘set’ but still a bit shaky. Chill in the fridge for an hour before removing from the tart tin. The filling should now be firm and properly set.
  5. To decorate, dust with icing sugar and – if you’re going all out pâtissier(e) stylee – decorate with chocolate swirls. (These are easy peasy – melt the dark chocolate in a bowl over some boiling water and pipe your decorations onto a chilled dinner plate; leave your chocolate designs to set in the fridge before transferring to the top of your tart with a palette knife). Eh, voilà!