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.
Tom Tall Clover Farm says:
This is a recipe for a rainy day, which I know I will have plenty of in the weeks to come. For now it is sunny in Seattle, and I’m outdoors enjoying my garden, while painting. But make no mistake, this tart looks too amazingly delicious not to make. So I’ll check back in when I have the courage and time to tackle it.
On October 5, 2012 at 1:31 pm
Georine Rechholtz says:
This looks so good and i would love to try it 🙂
On October 5, 2012 at 1:48 pm
I’ll bet we all have some old McCall’s, Redbook or BH&G clippings tucked away in our cookbooks. This looks beautiful.
On October 5, 2012 at 2:07 pm
Splendid! This tart looks exquisite. I really have to try that recipe…
On October 5, 2012 at 2:12 pm
Semra Kulin says:
İ definitely would like to make this tart,how can İ get the recipe?
On October 5, 2012 at 3:27 pm
This looks beautiful and so delicious (I love lemon and almond) but I believe it is too difficult for me right now! It’s gorgeous though.
On October 5, 2012 at 4:32 pm
3 days to prepare the lemon pie? Joumana, as tempting as it looks (I do confess to a sweet tooth) and even though I’m familiar with Ducasse’s “poetry”, I think it’ll be easier for me to hop on a plane to Paris and savour it sur place.
Really fine posting.
Have a great one, Eileen 🙂
On October 5, 2012 at 5:16 pm
This lemon tart looks and sounds worth the extra effort – I would be very interested in your directions, insights and experience making this. Thank you so much!
On October 5, 2012 at 6:31 pm
You are right the French tart and the American Lemon meringue are two very different pies- which one would win…It would depend on the atomsphere in which you served them. I think they are both equally good.
On October 5, 2012 at 7:13 pm
The lemon tart looks awesome!
On October 5, 2012 at 11:11 pm
T.W. Barritt says:
I’m not sure I would invest three days in anything in the kitchen — although I did that for a wedding cake once — but you sure got a beautiful result. It’s gorgeous, and is making my mouth water just looking at it.
On October 6, 2012 at 5:10 am
O-o, it’s looks as real treasure! And , of course , divine taste.
On October 6, 2012 at 5:11 am
Alicia (foodycat) says:
That tart looks like an epic undertaking! I think the bit I’d skip is the meringue top.
On October 6, 2012 at 8:54 am
Of course you know I will have to make it one day so I’d love to hear your ‘pitfalls’. I would likely follow your side note recommendations and not make the lemon marmalade and use a traditional lemon curd. I think the stars of the show are the crust and the almond cream!
On October 6, 2012 at 10:56 am
Sarah G says:
That is a labour of love! I think it would be great even without the meringue. Interesting layers. I will have to try it.
On October 6, 2012 at 3:15 pm
oum rukia says:
your tart looks so delicious!!!!! and a part of it will make me happy for sure!!
thanks a lot for sharing
have a nice day
On October 7, 2012 at 6:53 am
Belinda @zomppa says:
Man, that is gorgeous! I adore the tartness of lemons.
On October 7, 2012 at 1:01 pm
Banana Wonder says:
3 days! It looks like a lot of work but sounds incredible! Was it worth it? I love everything it’s made of – almonds, lemon, basil and meringue!
On October 7, 2012 at 7:24 pm
Yasmeen @ Wandering says:
It looks like it was worth the effort – absolutely sublime flavors! I’m hosting Thanksgiving this year, so I’d love to try this out. Will definitely make note of the difficulties with the meringue. What do you mean by softball stage?
On October 8, 2012 at 2:22 am
@Yasmeen: it is when the sugar syrup has reached a density making it possible to drop a little tiny bit of it in water and it will turn into a ball; easier if you use the thermometer because it is written on it when the temperature is right. Just remove it and start mixing it into the egg whites slowly.
On October 8, 2012 at 5:06 am
Nuts about food says:
Sounds too complicated, will never have three days to make it. But love the idea of the almond custard and the lemon curd… could put that into a simplified version. Yours is beautiful, by the way.
On October 8, 2012 at 2:42 am
This tart looks amazing, the amond and lemon must be heaven together.
On October 8, 2012 at 7:55 am
Oui, Chef says:
Look at you cooking Ducasse, I am so impressed. This tart looks just perfect, I would give anything for a bite.
On October 8, 2012 at 1:19 pm
Baltic Maid says:
This is one perfect looking lemon tart. It looks really tasty!
On October 8, 2012 at 7:48 pm
Hélène (Cannes) says:
La tarte au citron est un incontournable, dans la région ! ;o) Tu l’as parfaitement réussie ! ;o)
On October 9, 2012 at 12:37 am
Kitchen Butterfly says:
It is a gorgeous tart – I love the second photo the most. And yes, I concur about Italian meringues, they are a nightmare to make! I used them for my very first macarons…..but mastering the art of getting them just right is tricky. Well done
On October 10, 2012 at 2:54 pm
I admire a lot Alain Ducasse cooking, however I admit that I do not like to make pastries (my husband does). The Italian meringue look tricky to prepare, as you wrote.
On October 11, 2012 at 3:57 pm