While most people probably think of crème brulée and macarons when they think of French desserts, I immediately imagine a beautiful French lemon tart, also known as a tarte au citron. The French lemon tart is probably my favorite dessert to order in France.
Lemon Tart Recipe
Growing up, I never really had desserts like my lemon ricotta cake, lemon meringue pie, or even lemon curd. It’s ironic because I was born and raised in California, which is home to many, many lemon trees.
It’s a shame I didn’t enjoy delicious lemon desserts like this French lemon tart until my first trip to Paris.
Because une tarte au citron is a very, very beautiful thing.
Lemon Curd Filling
There are a few different ways to make a lemon tart. Some are made with a custard-like batter that’s poured into a pre-baked tart shell and baked in the oven, while others are filled with lemon curd and either placed in the fridge to set or briefly baked.
In a way, you could think of this as a lemon curd tart because that’s what this French lemon tart really is.
I love the creamy, almost pudding-like consistency of the lemon filling, but that it’s also stable enough to be cut into neat slices.
Getting those neat slices from a tarte au citron can prove to be a tricky thing, which is mostly due to the lemon curd filling. But when you do get it right, it’s heaven.
This lemon filling is deliciously sweet and tangy. I love that this filling has real lemon flavor and isn’t just pure sugar.
Easy Lemon Tart Recipe
If you don’t make the lemon tart filling properly, your tarte au citron will fall apart when you try to slice it. It’s very disappointing and can be a waste of perfectly good lemon curd.
This easy lemon tart recipe is one of the simplest I’ve tried and it yields a beautiful tart with a tangy filling that actually sets well enough to get clean slices.
All the lemon filling ingredients are tossed into a saucepan at once, then warmed over low heat until a smooth batter is created. The filling continues to cook over low heat until it thickens into a pudding/custard-like consistency.
The filling is then poured into a pre-baked tart shell (pâte sucrée recipe), which has been prepared in a tart pan with a removable bottom.
This French lemon tart is then baked for about 20 minutes until the filling is mostly set with just a wobble in the center of the tart.
Lemon Meringue Tart
In France, I’ve seen the most beautiful tarte au citron desserts you could ever see. The creativity that the pastry chefs there execute with their tarts is absolutely stunning.
I particularly enjoy seeing the meringue toppings the chefs design on their lemon tarts.
I’ve had mini lemon tarts with just a simple st. honore piping to more elaborate, modern designs that I don’t know whether I’d be able to replicate.
I typically dust my lemon tart with powdered sugar for simplicity and stability. A meringue topping needs to be enjoyed soon after it’s made as it begins to break down the longer it sits.
I cool the lemon tart down to room temperature, then I like to set the lemon tart in the fridge too to chill since I like my tarte au citron cold. When I’m ready to serve, I’ll dust it with powdered sugar and serve it as is, or with a side of sweetened whipped cream for guests.
for the pâte sucrée (pastry dough)
- 1 cup + 1 tbsp all-purpose flour (175 g)
- 7 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cubed (100 g) (plus more for greasing pan if not using baking spray)
- 4 tbsp + 1 tsp powdered sugar (25 grams)
- 1 tbsp cold water
- 1 egg yolk
for the lemon filling
- 1 cup lemon juice, (250 ml) typically about 6 large lemons
- grated zest of 2 lemons
- 13 tbsp sugar, or 3/4 cup + 1 tbsp, (163 grams)
- 12 tbsp unsalted butter, (170 grams) cubed
- 4 eggs
- 4 egg yolks
- powdered sugar, for dusting the tart with at the end
For the tart shell
- To a food processor, add the flour, unsalted butter, and icing sugar. Pulse until you get a crumbled mixture similar to bread crumbs. Add the egg yolk and cold water, then pulse until the mixture resembles a dough and pulls away from the sides of the food processor bowl.
- Brush a 9" tart pan (with a removable bottom) with about a tablespoon of softened butter. Grab the pastry dough out of the food processor bowl and use your hands to quickly shape the dough into a compact ball. Transfer the dough to your greased tart pan and use your fingers to press the dough flat against the bottom and sides of the tart pan. Alternatively, you can roll the tart dough out a bit first using a rolling pin, then transfer the dough to your pan and use your fingers to finish molding the dough inside the tart pan.
- Grab a rolling pin and slide it across the top of the tart pan to trim off excess dough from the top edges of the pan. Use a fork to prick the dough all over the bottom of the pan. Place the tart pan in the freezer to chill for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Once the oven is ready, place a sheet of parchment paper on the inside of the tart pan and pour dried beans or pie weights into the parchment paper. Blind-bake the pastry dough for 12 minutes. Remove the parchment paper and weights, then continue baking for another 12 minutes, until the dough is slightly golden and baked throughout.
- Remove the tart shell from the oven and allow it to rest on the counter while you prepare the lemon filling. Lower the oven heat to 350°F.
For the lemon filling
- Add all of the lemon filling ingredients to a medium saucepan. Whisk over low heat until the butter is melted and the mixture is completely smooth.
- Continue cooking the lemon filling over medium-low heat (closer to the low end than the medium end), patiently whisking the entire time. Cook until the lemon filling has completely thickened and has a pudding like consistency. This can take up to 20 minutes. When you give the filling a stir with a wooden spoon, it should easily coat the spoon and clearly mound up when it falls off the spoon back into the saucepan. --- Please see notes.
- Pour the lemon filling into your prepared tart pan. Bake the tart for approximately 20 minutes. The edges of the lemon tart should be set and the center should have a wobble.
- Remove the tart from the oven and let it rest in the pan until room temperature. Place the lemon tart on top of a wide-rimmed cup, removing the fluted edge from the tart. Set the tart in the fridge to chill, then dust with powdered sugar before serving.
It's important that your lemon filling cook long enough over the stove. When you give the filling a stir with a wooden spoon and lift the spoon up, the filling should look thick and custard-like. When the filling falls off the spoon back into the saucepan, it should pile up on top of each other in a ribbon-like fashion before slowly blending in with the rest of the filling again. If it doesn't display any mounding or ribboning when it falls back into the saucepan, your filling needs to cook longer.
Also, make sure you whisk the filling the entire time to ensure you don't form any clumps in the filling. Be patient with the filling and don't be tempted to raise the heat as you risk scrambling your eggs!
lemon filling recipe adapted from davidlebovitz.com
Nutrition Information:Yield: 12 Serving Size: 12 Servings
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 321