This elegant classic French lemon tart is deceptively easy to make and has a delightfully rich, mellow lemony flavor that pleases all citrus lovers. Tips to make foolproof shortcrust pastry from scratch included!
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French pastry has a well-deserved worldwide reputation, treating sweet lovers with sophisticated desserts that feature complex textures and elaborate combinations of flavors. These desserts are not merely dishes: they are experiences that require teams to create.
Fortunately, not all French desserts are difficult to make. Many of the elegant treats you can find in French bakeries or pastry shops can easily be made at home. Financiers probably are the easiest French cakes you can make from scratch. Their texture is so rich and their flavor is unique, yet they’re as easy to make as muffins. Although I enjoy creating more elaborate desserts, such as French macarons, I do love desserts that are deceptively easy to make—creating a dessert that’s jaw-droppingly beautiful and incredibly delicious in little time and with few ingredients makes me feel like I have a superpower of some kind.
This classic French lemon tart is one of these easy, yet impressive desserts. If you’re a fan of lemon meringue pie, right now you’re probably wondering, Who would want to make or eat a lemon tart without that dreamy meringue on top? I’m a huge lemon meringue pie lover—it’s one of my favorite desserts—so I can attest that French lemon tart is a different dish altogether and that no, it doesn’t need that extra meringue layer to satisfy lemon dessert lovers.
Well, there’s the obvious: French lemon tart isn’t topped with meringue.
But the main difference between French lemon tart and lemon meringue pie is the way the filling is made.
Lemon meringue pie filling is cooked on the stovetop, the way a lemon curd would be, before it is poured into the pie shell and baked for an additional period of time.
French lemon tart filling is quicker and easier to make: you simply whisk together 5 ingredients—eggs, sugar, cream, lemon juice, and lemon zest—pour it into the tart shell, and bake.
The texture and flavor of French lemon tart is also quite different from that of lemon meringue pie: while French lemon tart is indeed assertively lemony, it has a mellower type of lemony flavor because of the use of heavy cream. The cream produces a rich, custardy texture that’s pretty irresistible all on its own. If you know people who find the flavor of lemon meringue pie too sharp or acidic, chances are they’ll love the silky, creamy flavor of French lemon tart.
I personally think the beauty of French lemon tart is in its bare simplicity, so I like to serve it as is. When I serve it to company, I’ll add a light sprinkle of powdered sugar right before serving.
In the summer, you can garnish French lemon tart with fresh berries: the tart would look absolutely breathtaking covered with a layer of fresh raspberries or blueberries, or sliced strawberries.
For an additional indulgent touch, you can also serve French lemon tart with a cloud of Chantilly cream—lightly sweetened whipped cream. See how to make Chantilly cream in the recipe note below.
While French Lemon Tart is delicious when made with regular lemons, if you can find Meyer lemons, I strongly suggest you to use them in this recipe. Sweet, flowery Meyer lemons blend so well with rich heavy cream and add a sophisticated touch to the flavor of the tart. Meyer lemons are absolutely perfect for this luxurious dessert.
Well, yes, it can, thanks to my Foolproof Shortcrust Pastry recipe, which comes together in seconds with the help of a food processor. If you’ve always shied away from making pie pastry from scratch, now’s the time for you to try my recipe: it’s one of the most popular recipes on my site. The reasons why are multiple, yet simple: it’s truly quick and easy, it’s reliable, and you can use it for both savory and sweet pies.
My Foolproof Shortcrust Pastry recipe has convinced many, many pie lovers that they don’t need to buy pastry from the store to make a pie. Now it’s your turn: make shortcrust pastry from scratch and turn it into this gorgeous French lemon tart. You’ll be so proud of your delicious accomplishment!
This French Lemon Tart recipe requires you to blind bake the tart shell. “Blind baking” means baking a tart shell “naked”—that is, before you pour the filling into the shell. This step is especially important when the tart filling you use is wet, such as that of a quiche or this lemon tart. Blind baking ensures the crust will be cooked through and crisp, which would be difficult to achieve under a wet filling.
To blind bake a tart shell, you need pie weights. Pie weights are small ceramic beads that you fill the tart shell with to prevent it from puffing up while baking. If you don’t have or don’t want to buy ceramic pie weights, you can use dry peas instead. I’ve been using the same jar of dry peas for years: after using them, simply let them cool completely and store them in a glass jar or a heavy-duty resealable plastic bag in the pantry. They will last forever—just know that after using the peas as pie weights, you won’t be able to cook and eat them anymore :)
Here’s how to blind bake a tart shell to make French Lemon Tart: After making the shortcrust pastry, roll it out and fit it into a 9-in (23 cm) tart pan with a removable bottom. Refrigerate the tart shell for 1 hour minutes, or freeze it for 30 minutes.
Using a fork, prick the bottom of the tart shell several times. Cut out a large piece of parchment paper and ease it into the pastry to line it. Fill the pan with pie weights or dry peas. Bake the crust for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, pull up the parchment paper with the weights and set aside, then return the crust to the oven and bake for 10 minutes, or until it’s golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes, then proceed with preparing the French Lemon Tart filling.
You can use any type of 9-in (23 cm) tart pan with a removable bottom. Classic tart pans are most often fluted, but for a modern, pro pastry look (which is pictured in this post), you can also use a 9-in (23 cm) cake pan with a removable bottom.
Since this tart isn’t a “deep-dish” type of dessert, you need to cut out the pastry to the right height before you blind bake it. To do so, carefully fit the cake pan with the shortcrust pastry, making sure the pastry carefully sticks all the way up the vertical ring of the pan. Use a sharp knife to cut off the extra pastry: the pie shell should be 1.5-in (4 cm) deep pre-blind baking. Freeze or refrigerate the tart shell as indicated in the blind baking instructions.
To make sure the sides of the pastry shell stay perfectly straight, ease a large square of parchment paper into the shell, then fill the shell up to the very top with pie weights or dry peas. This will prevent the pastry from crumpling down the sides of the pan while baking. If you decide to use a cake pan to make this French Lemon Tart, absolutely don’t skip freezing or thoroughly refrigerating the tart shell before you blind bake it, as this extra step allows the butter pastry to harden and crisp up, without melting or shrinking.
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