I absolutely love lemon desserts and these creamy French Lemon Tarts are hands down one of my all time favorite lemon indulgences! The lemon cream is so rich and delicious and it just tastes like Spring. Lemons are so bright and cheery anyway – this is the perfect dessert to ward off those Winter blues in anticipation of warmer Spring days to come.
Anyone recognize this fabulous ($2) blue bowl from my “Thrift Shopping Adventure” a few weeks ago? Love.
I originally found this lemon tart filling recipe in a cookbook called Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan who writes about how she learned the recipe from master French pastry Chef Pierre Herme. And of course my name is Claire so, even though I am Irish, I can pretend to be French when I make this. Oui, oui!!.
It is absolutely divine and these tarts are a huge hit every time I make them. The only ingredients in the filling are sugar, lemon juice and zest, eggs and butter so, even with the tart dough, this dessert only costs about $5 to make and maybe less, depending on your cost for the butter, lemons and eggs.
Once the zest is grated and added to the sugar in a heat proof bowl, I like to rub the zest and sugar granules together between my fingers for a minute which really permeates the sugar with the lemon.
After whisking in the eggs and the lemon juice, the mixture is then placed over a few inches of boiling water. At this point, it takes a little bit of muscle since it must be whisked for 10 straight minutes to ensure that the eggs don’t scramble.
That’s probably the hardest part of the whole recipe and not really that hard. Besides – I like to imagine that I am burning off the calories I will be consuming with these tarts. 😉 It just takes patience because you definitely don’t want the eggs to cook. After whisking for 2-3 minutes you can see how it becomes light and foamy.
After about 5-6 minutes of whisking, the mixture will begin to thicken and turn a deeper yellow.
Stick with the whisking for the full 10 minutes, though! Once the mixture has reached 180* on a candy thermometer remove it from the heat. After letting it cool for a few minutes pour it through a small strainer into a blender and discard the zest.
After letting it cool another 5 minutes or so, cover the blender lightly allowing steam to escape (this is really important when working with hot food in a blender – leave a gap and place your hand lightly on the lid to avoid a steamy blow-out!!) and turn the blender on high adding in the softened butter a little at a time. Once the butter is all added it will blend for another three minutes until the mixture is perfectly fluffy and beautiful.
Placing the lemon cream in a bowl, allow it to cool for another 15 minutes or so on the counter and then press a cling wrap seal right against the surface of the filling so that it will not form a “skin” over the top while chilling.
At this point the filling is refrigerated for at least 4 hours or overnight. And that’s when I make the tarts! This sweet tart dough is super easy and is a Martha Stewart recipe that I have made for years. I like making mini tarts but you could also make a large tart to cut into slices. The dough recipe will actually make two pie crusts but I only get 12 mini tarts out of it since I like the sides thicker. Yum. More crust.
Once the dough is rolled out and chilled again for a bit, I cut it and place it into the tart forms.
After the tart shells bake and cool, they can be stored in an airtight container on the counter for a few days. The filling will last in the fridge in a sealed container for up to 4 days as well. As if. It certainly won’t last that long around here!
These are just fantastic when the crust is at room temperature and the filling is cold, so I like to fill the tarts just before serving if possible. Otherwise, you can fill the tarts and chill (again, in an airtight container) until serving and they are still amazingly delicious. I garnished with a bit of lemon zest this time but blueberries or raspberries are a great addition as well.
I hope you will try these out and also be sure to let me know about any other lemon desserts that you love as well!
Recipe: French Lemon Tarts
- For The Filling:
- 1 cup sugar
- Finely grated zest of 3 lemons
- 4 large eggs
- 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (from 4-5 lemons)
- 2 sticks plus 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces, at room temperature
- For The Tart Dough:
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1/4 cup ice water
- For The Filling:
- Place a few inches of water in a medium saucepan or lower part of a double boiler and bring to a boil.
- Put the sugar and zest in a large heatproof bowl.
- Off the heat, rub the sugar and zest together between your fingers until the sugar is moist, grainy and very aromatic. Whisk in the eggs, followed by the lemon juice.
- Set the bowl over the pan, and start stirring with the whisk as soon as the mixture feels tepid to the touch.
- Cook the lemon cream until it reaches 180 degrees F.
- As you whisk—you must whisk constantly to keep the eggs from scrambling—you’ll see that the cream will start out light and foamy, then the bubbles will get bigger, and then, as it gets closer to 180 degrees F, it will start to thicken and the whisk will leave tracks.
- Heads up at this point—the tracks mean the cream is almost ready.
- Don’t stop whisking or checking the temperature, and have patience—depending on how much heat you’re giving the cream, getting to temp can take as long as 10 minutes.
- As soon as it reaches 180 degrees F, remove the cream from the heat.
- Strain it into the container of the blender.
- Discard the zest. Let the cream stand, stirring occasionally, until it cools to 140 degrees F, about 10 minutes.
- Turn the blender to high and, with the machine going, add the butter about 5 pieces at a time.
- Scrape down the sides of the container as needed as you incorporate the butter.
- Once the butter is in, keep the machine going—to get the perfect light, airy texture, you must continue to blend the cream for another 3 minutes.
- If your blender gets a bit too hot, work in 1-minute intervals, giving a little rest in between.
- Pour the cream into a non reactive bowl.
- Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface to create an airtight seal and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
- The cream will keep in the fridge for 4 days and, or tightly sealed, in the freezer for up to 2 months; thaw it overnight in the refrigerator.
- For The Tart:
- In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour and sugar. Add butter, and process until mixture resembles pea sized crumbs. 10 to 20 seconds.
- Do not over mix!
- In a small bowl, lightly beat egg yolks and add ice water. With machine running, add the egg mixture in a slow, steady stream through the feed tube.
- Pulse until dough holds together without being wet or sticky.
- Be careful not to process more than 30 seconds.
- To test, squeeze a small amount together: If it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time.
- Divide dough into two equal balls. Flatten each ball into a disk, and wrap in plastic.
- Transfer to the refrigerator, and chill at least 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 425*
- Roll out the dough one disc at a time and cut to it into mini tart pans (if using a large tart pan, this will make two crusts)
- Bake the tart(s) for 10 minutes and then reduce the heat to 375*; Continue baking for another 8-12 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbly;
- Set aside and allow to cool completely
- Once cooled, I carefully remove the mini tarts from the pans; If using a springform or bottom insert tart form you can fill first and then release.
- When you are ready to assemble the tart, whisk the lemon cream to loosen it.
- Spoon it into the tart shell(s).
- Serve the tart, or refrigerate ‘until needed.
Preparation time: 25 minute(s)
Cooking time: 4 hour(s)
Number of servings (yield): 12
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