High Country Baking: lemon tart
Vail CO, Colorado
Editor’s note: Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
A lemon bias … that’s what my husband has. He likes almost anything made with lemon. I learned of it early in our relationship and have been collecting recipes for these citrus desserts ever since. I now have a large and ever-growing repertoire.
This tart is one I turn to often because it is relatively easy to make, versatile and pretty to serve. Only the crust is baked; the filling, which is actually a pudding, is made on the stovetop in about 10 minutes, poured into the crust, and refrigerated until set. You’d never guess that it contains no cream for each bite rewards you with a creamy, rich texture and a decidedly lemon taste.
The slight crunch of the nut crust contrasts nicely with the smoothness of the filling. If you’re in a hurry, you can get the same effect with a graham cracker crust, even a commercial one. So, feel free to substitute.
The tart, which is lovely served alone, can be accompanied with a variety of embellishments: a lattice of sweetened whipped cream, a blueberry, raspberry or strawberry sauce, a sprinkle of finely chopped nuts, or any combination of these works well with it. The piece in the photograph carries a drizzle of blueberry sauce and a topping of sweetened whipped cream.
Make in a 9-inch tart or pie pan
Adjusted for altitudes between 8,000 and 10,000 feet
21⁄4 cups of almonds, toasted
1⁄4 cup of granulated sugar
1⁄2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon of almond extract
6 tablespoons of unsalted butter, melted
1 cup of sugar
1⁄4 cup of cornstarch
1⁄4 teaspoon of salt
21⁄4 cups of evaporated milk
4 egg yolks
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter (half of a stick), at room temperature, cut into small pieces
1⁄2 cup of fresh lemon juice
Make the crust: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees with a rack in the center position. Grease the tart or pie pan with a flour-vegetable oil spray. Put the toasted almonds and the granulated sugar in a food processor and pulse until the nuts are finely ground. Pour the mixture into a bowl, add the cinnamon and almond extract and stir to combine. Add the melted butter and toss with a fork or your fingers until the mixture is uniformly moistened. Squeeze a bit; it should hold together. If it doesn’t, add a little more melted butter until it does. Pour the crust mixture into the prepared pan, press it into the sides, then across the bottom. Bake until it is firm and golden; start checking at about 15 minutes. Remove the crust from the oven and cool completely.
Make the filling: Whisk the sugar, cornstarch and salt in a medium saucepan until combined. Add the evaporated milk and whisk again until smooth. Place on the stove and cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and comes to a low boil. Continue the low boil for about two minutes, whisking constantly. Take the pan off the heat, add the egg yolks and whisk until they are completely blended. Return the pan to the stove and bring the mixture back to a low boil, reduce the heat and cook for another two minutes, whisking the whole time. The filling should be thick and without lumps. Remove the pan from the heat, add the butter and lemon juice and whisk until the filling is very smooth. Set the pan aside to cool for about 10 minutes, stirring several times.
Pour the filling into the cooled crust. If there are any lumps in it, pour it through a strainer to eliminate them. Don’t scrape the bottom of the pan for the same reason; you don’t want any hardened bits of the pudding that may be there to interfere with the filling’s lush smoothness. Refrigerate the dessert until the filling is chilled and firm (at least three hours or up to overnight). If you’re using a tart pan, release the dessert from the pan just before serving. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator.
This recipe is a variation of one in “Pie, Pie, Pie” by John Phillip Carroll.
Vera Dawson lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact Vera Dawson with your comments about this column and/or your baking questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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