Lemon desserts: Love 'em or leave 'em for real fans

The Happy Eater

April 10, 1996|By ROB KASPER

IN THE FIERCELY partisan world of desserts, I am pro-lemon.

I like lemon juice. I like lemon pulp. I even like the yellow part of the skin, known in upscale circles as zest. It doesn't bother me that the lemon flavor is occasionally what its detractors would call "bitter." I call it "tart," and am more than willing to claim the slices of dessert that the anti-lemon forces abandon.

Take, for example, what recently happened at a Sunday dinner at our house. The occasion was a gathering of the clan. In attendance were various cousins who originally hailed from Boston and Chicago. As happens in the world, these kinfolk had moved away from their hometowns. They found themselves living in Washington, close enough to be invited up to Baltimore for a Sunday feast.

This was a big-deal meal. We were using a tablecloth, and we were eating in the dining room, not the kitchen. As the assembled diners worked our way through the baked ham, oven-roasted potatoes, carrots, and Caesar salad, a lot of us kept glancing at the sideboard. That was where the desserts, a )) lemon and an apple tart, were waiting. We knew that, according to family custom, if we ate our vegetables and didn't spill anything, these desserts-in-waiting would be ours.

The big eaters in the group, four lads ranging in age from 10 to 15, opted for the apple tart. Its ingredients, apples on crust, looked familiar. The guys made quick work of the tart and were soon headed out the door to resume a basketball game that had been interrupted by a summons to the table. The lads even invited their elders, the dads, to join them in the fray. The dads demurred. We had lemon tart to eat. The game ended up being rained out, but the tart was terrific, at least to adult palates.

In the evening, shortly after the visitors had headed back to Washington, our kids attacked the leftovers. They ate more ham, and searched for more potatoes. One even ventured into the lemon tart. The tart contained whole slices of lemon. The slices gave the tart its pungency.

The kid wasn't looking for pungency, he was looking for sugar. He took one bite and made a face. He was about to toss the slice of tart in the trash, when he was stopped by his mother, who promptly finished off the partially eaten piece.

How, the kid wanted to know, do people eat that stuff? I told him that people have different opinions of what tastes good. And, I told him, that as you get older, you are increasingly suspicious of simple sweetness, and increasingly appreciative of artful bitterness. He looked puzzled.

Lemon tarts aren't for everyone. That is good news for sour sorts. It means we get bigger portions.

Lemon tart

Makes 1 9-inch tart

pastry shell for 9-inch tart

6 lemons

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup water

2 eggs

1/2 cup cream

pinch of salt

1/2 cup apricot jam

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Line a 9-inch tart pan with pastry. Bake until browned and crisp. Cool completely.

Grate zest from two lemons and juice them; you need about 1/3 cup juice. Set aside. Using a knife, peel the remaining four lemons, cutting deeply enough to remove all the white pith and expose the flesh all around. Slice lemons crosswise, about 1/4 inch thick. Pick out any seeds.

Combine 1 1/2 cups of the sugar with water in a saucepan. Stir over low heat until the sugar dissolves, then increase the heat and boil to the soft-ball stage, 238 degrees. Add lemon slices and bring back to a simmer. Remove from heat, set aside for at least one hour.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Beat together the reserved lemon juice and lemon zest, the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and the eggs. Stir in the cream and salt. Pour into the cooled tart shell and bake until just set, about 20 minutes. Cool to room temperature.

Carefully lift the lemon slices from the syrup and lay them on the filling. Two forks are useful for this. In a small saucepan, pour 1/4 cup of the syrup, combine with apricot jam and boil for several minutes until thick. Strain to remove pulp. Brush the glaze over the lemon slices. Serve as soon as possible.

From "Pies and Tarts" by Chuck Williams and John Phillip Carroll (Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Library, $18)

Pub Date: 4/10/96

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