The sensational Felicity Cloake’s definitive version of some classic traditional dishes
They are the ultimate recipes for some of the world’s classic dishes, and over the next three weeks you can enjoy Felicity Cloake’s unbeatable creations in our delicious new series. She’s rigorously tested recipes from all the greats – from Elizabeth David and Delia to Nigel Slater and Jamie Oliver – then pulled together the best bits from each to create her own perfect versions. Now try them yourself
I make no apologies for the name – this isn’t some homely thing, generously filled with sticky lemon curd, but a proper piece of Parisian pâtisserie, with all the airs and graces that suggests. Crisp, wafer-thin pastry filled with a wobbly, delicate yellow custard, it’s a restaurant classic that’s surprisingly easy to recreate at home.
The Roux brothers are said to have popularised the dish outside France, but I find their version, as passed to Marco Pierre White, slightly disappointing: the richness of the lemon custard filling, with its egg yolks, sugar and double cream, seems to mute the pure, sharp flavour of the fruit itself. Jane Grigson gives a recipe in her Fruit Book supplied by the local doctor in the Loire village where she and her husband owned a ‘cave-cottage’, with an unusual fluffy, ground almond filling. The sweetness of the nuts works well with the sour fruit, but it has too much of a whiff of the Bakewell about it for me.
Much more to my taste is the lemon curd used by macaron man Pierre Hermé, made by rubbing together sugar and zest into an unusually fragrant pile of yellow snow, then adding eggs and lemon juice and cooking the lot slowly over a pan of simmering water until it’s as thick as Bird’s custard. He then beats in a ridiculous amount of butter, but the results are worth it: silky smooth, and intensely, shockingly citric, it’s the kind of dessert best served in elegant slivers. All I had to do to make it perfect was to tone down the sugar slightly, to further accentuate the lemon flavour.
Making your own pastry is a worthwhile enterprise here: you need a crisp, delicate pâte sucrée rather than a crumbly shortcrust for this most refined of desserts, and that’s not easy to buy in. It’s pretty easy to make, though – and perfectly complemented by Grigson’s topping of candied lemon slices, which are both utterly delicious and make the tart look even prettier on the table. Almost too good to eat – but not quite. Put the flour, sugar and a pinch of salt into a food processor and pulse briefly. Dice the butter, add to the processor and pulse until combined. With the motor still running, add the yolks, and pulse until the mixture comes together into a dough. Shape into a disc, wrap in clingfilm and chill for about an hour, until it’s pliable but not sticky to the touch.
Grease a 22cm (8½in) fluted tart tin. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface until it’s about 5mm (¼in) thick, and use to line the tin. Chill until firm.
Preheat the oven to 190°C/fan 170°C/gas 5. Line with greaseproof paper and baking beans, and blind bake for 15 minutes, until the edges are golden. Remove the paper and beans and brush the base with egg white. Bake for a further 8 minutes, remove and set aside to cool.
Bring a small pan of water to the boil. Finely zest 5 of the lemons into a heatproof bowl which will sit over but not touch the water, then add 225g (8oz) of the sugar and rub the two together with your fingers.
Stir the eggs and juice of 3½ lemons into the sugar, then put the bowl over the pan. Heat, whisking gently but continuously, until it thickens to the consistency of lemon curd. Take off the heat, leaving the pan of water where it is. Allow the filling to cool for 10 minutes, then stir in the butter and either whizz with a hand blender or beat with a wooden spoon until smooth. Pour into the tart case, flatten the top and allow to cool completely.
Cut the remaining unzested lemon into delicate slices and remove any pips. Soften the slices in the pan of simmering water for 10 minutes. At the same time, put the remaining 50g (1¾oz) of sugar into a wide pan with 50ml (2fl oz) water, stir to dissolve then bring to the boil. Add the drained lemon slices and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and arrange them on top of the cooled tart. Brush the lemon slices with more syrup, and chill to set before serving.
For the pastry 180g (6¼oz) plain flour 90g (3¼oz) caster sugar 90g (3¼oz) unsalted butter, plus extra to grease 3 egg yolks and 1 egg white
For the filling 6 unwaxed lemons 275g (9¾oz) caster sugar 4 eggs, beaten 300g (10½oz) unsalted butter, diced