Monday, March 28, 2011

Get Springy

I'm sure I speak for the entire Northeast when I say that I am done, done, done with this cold weather. At least today it's sunny outside. Last week was just obnoxious—rain, wind, biting cold—and as I trudged through the unforgiving remnants of winter I felt a bottomless black hole in my soul.

I begrudgingly climbed out of my weather-induced funk (because, let's face it, sometimes it's just easier—and secretly more fulfilling—to wallow down there in the darkness) by cultivating the opposite. Baby, it may be as cold as the Arctic tundra outside but gosh darn-it I was determined to make it warm and springy in my heart. Craving something fresh, I dove into the creation of a lemon curd tart. The recipe is easy but promises to wow a crowd; your guests will say, "Wait, you made this?" You'll need the following tools: a false-bottom tart pan, a food processor, and a zester.

I love the tart shell recipe because it's basically shortbread cookie dough that you press into the bottom of a tart pan with your fingers. Cream 1 1/2 sticks of room temperature, unsalted butter with 1/2 cup of sugar and then add 1/2 t of vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine 1 3/4 c of flour with a pinch of sea salt. Slowly add the flour mixture to the butter/sugar, using your hands to mush it all together. Note: You can use a mixer but I find it exorbitantly more satisfying to do it with my hands (plus it allows you to work out your winter aggression). Once the dough has formed, press it into a flat disk using the palm of your hand. Transfer the dough to the tart pan and mold it to the inside of the pan using your fingers. Remember, you're basically making a shortbread cookie so you don't want it to be too thick or you'll have to eat the tart with a steak knife. Stick the tart pan in the fridge to chill, then preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Once chilled, butter one side of aluminum foil and place the foil (buttered side down) into the tart shell. Fill the shell with beans (I keep a tin of beans in my cupboard for just this purpose.) Bake for 20 minutes and then remove the beans and bake for another 20 minutes (or until the tart shell is lightly browned). Set it aside to cool and meanwhile get crackin' on the lemon curd.

In a food processor, combine 1 1/2 c of sugar with the zest of four lemons. Mix 1 stick of room temperature, unsalted butter with your homemade lemon sugar until smooth. Add four eggs (one at a time) until combined. Then add 1/2 c lemon juice (which you extracted from your zested lemons) and a pinch of salt.

At this point you will look down at your lemon concoction and see a curdled mess, which will send you into a state of panic that I must advice you to rise above. You have not messed it up. Take a deep breath and transfer your sad, curdled batter to a sauce pan where you need to slowly cook it over medium-low heat for upwards of ten minutes. You must man the stove and stand there stirring the pot. It will start to thicken (enough to coat a wooden spoon). I admit I've grown impatient from time to time and turned up the heat when I don't see anything happening. I ended up with scrambled eggs. So again, I must advice you to hold tight and breathe (you can turn up the heat a little bit, but don't get too greedy).

Pour your lemon curd into your homemade tart shell ("Why yes, I made this from scratch"). Let it set at room temperature for a few hours. It's beautiful as it is but you can also get creative by decorating the top with berries. The taste is divinely fresh and zingy. It may be chilly outside folks, but it'll be warm and springy in your soul.