With its minimal interplay of ingredients and straightforward style, the lemon tart achieves a near-transcendent simplicity of form and content. Light, refreshing, and beautiful, when lemon tart is good it is very, very good—but when it’s bad you wish you’d made lemonade instead.
A lemon tart can slip over the edge of sweet into cloying; its tartness can grab at your throat; it can be gluey or eggy or, even worse, metallic tasting. The best way to get bracing lemon flavor—but not too much—is to make your own lemon curd. But lemon curd is fickle in its own right. When you’re cooking it, it’s important to use nonreactive cookware and bowls—that means stainless steel or glass, or cookware with nonstick or enameled surfaces. Reactive cookware such as cast iron or aluminum will react with the metal and your sauce will wind up tasting metallic, which, last we checked, is far from transcendent.
How to Make a Lemon Tart
1. Fully bake the tart shell: Bake the tart shell, lined with foil and filled with pie weights, for 30 minutes, rotating halfway through baking to ensure even browning. Then remove the foil and weights and continue to bake until the shell is deep golden brown, 5 to 10 minutes. Because the filling only takes 10 to 15 minutes in the oven to be fully set, the tart shell must be fully baked first.
2. Make the curd on the stovetop: Combine all of the curd ingredients, except the cream, in a medium saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened to a sauce-like consistency.
3. Strain the curd: Strain the hot curd immediately through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean bowl. By straining the curd, you can ensure the silkiest filling, free of clumps of curdled egg or zest. Stir in the cream. Adding the cold cream to the finished curd tempers the acidity of the lemon and lightens the texture of the curd.
4. Fill and bake the tart: Pour the curd into the baked tart shell while still warm and bake until the center jiggles slightly when shaken, 10 to 15 minutes. When baked, the color of the curd deepens and it “sets up,” remaining supple and creamy, yet firm enough to be sliceable.
5. Remove the outer metal ring: Before serving, remove the outer metal ring by supporting the tart from the bottom and gently taking the ring off, letting it slide onto your arm. The tart will be easier to slice without the sides of the pan on.
6. Slide the tart onto a plate: Slide a thin metal spatula between the bottom crust and the tart pan bottom to release the tart and then slide the tart onto a cutting board or serving platter. Alternatively, if the tart seems stuck or fragile, leave it on the tart pan bottom, and set it on a cutting board or serving platter.