I was spending a few days in Nice and in the Var region last month and decided to check out cookbooks in the local bookstore. Found a small one by the famed chef Alain Ducasse called L’Ecole de Cuisine-Les Essentiels. The book contains only TEN recipes which are taken out of his cooking school. Explained in detail with photos and brief directions. The lemon tart (with basil) recipe has eight pages of photos.
To give you a quick scoop, this tart is made up of: A crispy crust. An almond custard baked with the crust. A lemon marmelade (very tart) with basil leaves. A lemon curd (lemony and creamy and rich). An Italian meringue with lemon rind.
Took me 3 days to prepare it.
Had some technical difficulties with it and I won’t get into the minutiae of it. Leave a comment if you are planning to make this, I will point out the pitfalls.
Got to tell you I started my baking in France at sixteen making a lemon meringue pie from a recipe from McCalls Magazine.
Verdict: This pie or tarte is pure pleasure on the palate; the bottom layer which is the almond custard tasted like a pain de gênes, a rich and moist almond pound cake. Then the lemon curd over the lemon marmelade was such a lilting citrusy contrast to the almond.
Which of the two wins? the American Lemon Meringue Pie or the French Tarte by Alain Ducasse? Vote is out. Two very different pies.
Recipe for the crust (sorry it is in grams, don’t have time to make the conversions).
Recipe for the crust:
150 g. unsalted butter, room temperature
95 g. of powdered sugar
30 g. of almond flour
65 g. of eggs
2 g. of salt
1 vanilla bean
250 g. of all-purpose flour
Recipe for the almond cream:
125 g. of almond flour
125 g. of sugar
125 g. of unsalted butter, room temp
5 g. of rum
100 g. of eggs (2 large eggs)
Recipe for the lemon marmelade:
250 g. of lemon
1 vanilla bean
85 g. of sugar
1/2 bunch of basil (did not use any)
Recipe for the lemon curd:
200 g. of lemon juice
rind of 2 lemons
125 g. of sugar
125 g. of unsalted butter
2 sheets of gelatin (can substitute powdered gelatin)
200 g. of eggs (4 large eggs)
Recipe for the lemon meringue:
100 g. of egg whites
175 g. of sugar
50 g. of water
rind of a lime, rind of a lemon
NOTE: Let me know if you wish to make this, I will post all the directions. The tart is not difficult to make but the tricky part was making the Italian meringue, which consists of cooking a sugar syrup to a softball stage and incorporating it into a meringue. The dimensions for the tart pan were not given and I estimate that a 9-inch standard pie plate should be fine (with leftover dough to make cookies with), better yet, a springform pan is ideal. He makes the tart with high edges, which is needed to enclose all of the almond and lemon curd and meringue.
The lemon marmelade was a bit redundant here; I only had lemons with a tough skin at my disposal so ended up discarding them; only tackle this with lemons with a very fine skin, since they get included in the marmelade.
The idea to include basil in the marmelade is fun but you can also skip it, as I did, and did not miss it!
OK, here are the directions for the tart:
First off, you need to have a candy thermometer and a springform pan (9 inch or even 10 inch).
Make the crust first:
The directions say to mix the ingredients delicately (less the flour) then add the flour; I say throw everything in the food processor and mix a few seconds until a dough is formed, starting with the butter and sugar, add the egg, salt, vanilla, almond flour then flour. Now gather into a ball; place two large pieces of baking paper in front of you, place the dough in the middle and roll out to about 1/4 inch thickness and place in the fridge for 30 minutes. Afterwards, grease and flour your mold and place a round sheet of baking paper in the bottom of it; roll the dough more until it is even thinner and cut out 2 wide bands of dough (to fit all around as the edges). Fit the dough into the pan and fit the bands all around. Prick all over with a fork and place in the fridge for 20 minutes more.
To bake the crust: Line the tart with oven-proof plastic wrap; fill with flour to the top; bake the pie crust for 15 minutes in a 300F oven until the crust is light golden in color. (I just lined it with baking paper and filled it with beans).
Make the almond cream:
Have your eggs at room temperature. Mix the almond flour, sugar and butter; add the eggs and the rum. Mix delicately and keep in the fridge (covered). When the crust is prebaked, add the almond cream to 1/3 of the height; finish baking at 325F until the almond cream turns light brown. Cool.
Make the lemon marmalade:
Slice the lemons very thin and place in a saucepan; (if you only have access to thick-skinned lemons, do not make this!). Open the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds and add to the lemons (in my opinion, skip it, the taste of the lemons overpowers the taste of vanilla!). Add the sugar and cover; simmer for 15 minutes. Uncover and simmer for 15 minutes longer. Smash the lemons with a fork and cool. (I did it in the food processor, more effective). Add the fresh basil, chopped and keep 10 basil leaves for garnish. Transfer to a bowl, cover and keep in the fridge till needed.
Make the lemon cream:
If using gelatin in sheets, place them in cold water to soften them. If using powder, place them in a bowl with 1/4 cup of water to bloom. Beat the eggs and sugar. Add lemon juice and zest. Bring to a boil and set aside; add gelatin (if sheets, squeeze to drain and if powder, place the bowl in the microwave for 10 seconds to melt the gelatin and throw the bowl with the water in the mixture; stir constantly and let it cool to about 40C. (I did not check the temp, worked fine).Transfer to a bowl and add the butter, cut in small pieces. Mix till smooth with an immersion blender or in a food processor (I used a wire whisk).
Make the Italian meringue:
Bring the whites to room temperature; place in a stand-in mixer and beat till soft peaks form (add a pinch of salt), while you cook the sugar and water to 121C (240F, softball stage); when the syrup is ready, start drizzling it onto the meringue while the beater is on, until it is incorporated and keep beating for 5 minutes or longer until the meringue cools a bit, adding the lemon and lime zest if desired (I skipped adding the lemon rind).
Once the crust and almond cream are cooked, slather the lemon marmalade over the almond cream. Add the lemon cream and spread evenly with a long spatula. Place in the fridge for two hours. Prepare a decorating bag and fill with meringue; squirt small mounds of meringue all over the tart and add some basil leaves and some lemon rind for garnish if desired. Serve at room temperature. OK, here I baked the tart for 5 minutes in a hot oven. I noticed in the book the photo shows that the meringue tips were colored with a handheld gas burner which can be bought at kitchen supply stores. I then placed the tart in the fridge and served it cold. Enjoy!
While the lemon marmalade adds a nice sour kick to all that sweetness, I would skip it; when adding the lemon cream on top and subsequently baking it to cook the meringue a bit, the marmalade turns into water which defeats the purpose!
The lemon cream is firmed up by gelatin; while the gelatin does not add an unpleasant texture, I would simply stick to a good reliable lemon curd recipe (I posted one in the blog when I made passion fruit curd) or an American lemon cream with cornstarch as the one made in Lemon Meringue Pie. Again, when baked the curd falls apart and needs to set again in the fridge before being served.
Meringue: I would definitely use a torch instead of the oven! A torch would not bake the filling, which is what added extra technical problems to that tart.