A welcome ray of sunshine at a very grey time of year, this elegant French dessert was popularised in the UK by the late Roux brothers, whose famously rich, nine-eggs-to-four-lemons recipe has spawned a thousand imitations. While my sharper, zestier version may not come garlanded with Michelin stars, it’s not exactly fast food, either, but I promise it’ll brighten your day.
Prep 10 min
Chill 1 hr 20 min+
Cook 45 min
Set 30 min+ Serves 6-8
For the pastry
180g plain flour, plus extra to dust
90g caster sugar
¼ tsp fine salt
90g cold unsalted butter, plus extra to grease
3 egg yolks and 1 egg white
For the filling
275g caster sugar
5 unwaxed lemons (NB organic fruit isn’t waxed)
4 eggs, beaten
300g unsalted butter, diced
1 Homemade or bought pastry?
You could, at a pinch, just buy in some shortcrust, but it’s a poor substitute for the crisp richness of a proper pâte sucrée. This is best made in a food processor, but it can be done manually, if need be, using just a bowl and your hands; either way, don’t overwork it.
2 Make the pastry
Put the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor or large bowl. Dice in the butter, then pulse or use your fingertips to combine. Beat the egg yolks, then incorporate into the mix in the same way, pulsing or kneading just until you have a soft, smooth dough – if you’re using a processor, keep an eye on it, because too much mixing will make the pastry tough.
3 Chill and rest
Wrap the dough and put it in the fridge for about an hour, until it’s firm to the touch, then get it out and leave it at room temperature for five minutes before you begin to work it. (If you need to make it further ahead of time, get it out of the fridge 15 minutes early instead, to give it a chance to soften slightly.)
4 Line the tart tin
Grease a 22cm fluted tart tin. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface to about 5mm thick, then fold up, transfer to the tin and unroll, pressing the pastry right into the sides. Chill for at least 20 minutes (or freeze the tart shell at this point). When you’re ready to bake, heat the oven to 180C (160C fan)/350F/gas 4.
5 Blind bake the tart shell
Trim any overhang, then line the pastry case with greaseproof paper and fill with baking beans, rice, dried beans or similar, making sure they come right up the sides. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the top begins to colour, then remove the paper and beans, and bake for five minutes more. Meanwhile, beat the egg white to loosen it.
6 Brush with egg white and bake again
Brush the base of the pastry case with the egg white, and put back in the oven for a final three or four minutes, until the base is golden all over but not browned. Leave to cool in the tin while you prepare the filling – if you’re working ahead, the shell should now stay crisp for a couple of days, so long as it’s kept in an airtight container.
7 Start on the filling
Quarter-fill a medium saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, put 225g sugar into a heatproof bowl that will happily sit over the pan, and finely zest the lemons on top. Rub in with your fingertips, then cut the lemons in half and add the juice of three and a half of them to the bowl, straining out any pips or flesh as you go.
8 Fill the tart shell
Stir the eggs into the bowl, then set it over, but not touching, the simmering water. Heat, stirring, until the mix thickens to the consistency of lemon curd, which should take about 20 minutes. Lift off the bowl – keep the water pan on the stove for now – leave the filling to cool for 10 minutes, then beat or blend in the butter. Spoon the filling into the case, and smooth and level out the top.
9 Finishing touches
Thinly slice the remaining half-lemon, and remove and discard any pips. Put the lemon slices in the pan of simmering water and leave to soften for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a second small pan, mix the last 50g sugar with 50ml water, and bring to a boil. Drain the lemon slices, add them to the syrup, and leave to simmer for 10 minutes. Arrange the glazed lemon slices on top of the tart, brush them all over with the remaining syrup, and leave to set in a cool place (not the fridge, ideally, because I find that spoils the pastry) for at least an hour before slicing and serving.