Meyer Lemon Meringue Tart
Long ago, I hated meringue. It wasn't that I had anything against it -- I realize that now -- it was that I hadn't ever had it the right way, primarily because I'd been making it the wrong way. And you really can't blame me: There's French meringue. There's Swiss meringue. There's Italian meringue.
And then there are soft peaks.
What is this? How is it possible to overcomplicate something as simple as a few egg whites and a little bit of sugar? And, perhaps a better question: How is it so easy to mess up?
If we think of egg whites as the precious, delicate things that they are, we can understand how meringue goes so awry so quickly. In fact, all we need to do is consider macarons, which are perhaps the most infamous treats in the world of baking, and then it clicks. Once you've separated the whites from the yolks, you've asked for trouble -- unless of course you're making an egg white omelet. Yolks can be finicky things, too (pudding! Crème anglaise!), but they're nothing compared to their sensitive counterparts. I remember making my first meringue and carrying out my research before starting the recipe, as one does, and reading the "recommended" steps before beginning the process, and noticing how impeccable everything had to be before so much as touching an egg white. If there's a fleck or crumb of ANY KIND in your bowl or on your whisk, you're screwed. And if you make a mistake of ANY KIND while whipping your meringue, well, you're probably going to have to start over. AND, if your egg whites aren't at room temperature, can you REALLY even call yourself a baker?
Honestly. Who has the time to take out their eggs and place them in a warm bath, like a spa, and fret over reaching the perfect temperature before starting a meringue? I'll let you in on a little secret: Meringue is now one of my absolute favorite things to make, and I've used egg whites straight from the fridge. Every time. Would my former pastry chef brother condone this kind of reckless behavior? Probably not, no. But I've achieved the silkiest, smoothest, fluffiest meringue even so, and I almost ate this entire thing by myself so I'm sticking with my reckless methods. Sue me.
Many of us have tasted bad meringue. In fact, if you don't like meringue, it's probably because you've only had bad meringue. This was the case with myself and with my husband, and I've decided that bad meringue happens most often because of two reasons: first, it's over-whipped, which leads to a "broken" meringue (very sad, indeed); and second, it's toasted in the oven rather than with a kitchen torch, which might be personal preference (but I truly don't know anyone who enjoys a crunchy meringue). We circumvent these two disasters in this recipe by using the Swiss meringue method, which slowly cooks the egg whites while dissolving the sugar over a lightly-simmering water bath. This is opposed to the Italian method, which involves cooking a sugar syrup until hot, which is then frantically, dangerously poured into the egg whites and, in my experience, results in broken, overcooked meringue and burnt fingers and sometimes even a burnt face. Thanks Italy, but no.
The second disaster is one that I realize is only avoided by having the luxury of a kitchen torch. If you enjoy baking and if you enjoy meringue, I highly recommend getting one, but if not -- use the low setting on your broiler to toast your meringue and watch it carefully. Since we've already cooked the egg whites using the Swiss method, there's no need to bake the meringue, and even if we hadn't cooked the egg whites I would still hesitate to bake a meringue because it comes out like a giant cookie on top of a tart, which is just... weird. But I won't cramp your style if you like your meringue like that.
Either way, what we really need to agree on here has nothing to do with meringue at all: How tart do you take your lemon tarts? I saw a recipe once for a Meyer lemon tart that called for melted white chocolate to be mixed in with the lemon curd. That's not....... no. That's not a traditional lemon tart and that's not how we're going to do it. I may be a little lax with my meringue, but when it comes to citrus, I'm staunch. We MUST be STAUNCH when it comes to citrus. Because if we're not, we're doing two elements a disservice: the citrus and the meringue. Maybe even the crust, too. I suppose what you really should know about this tart is that it is, in fact, quite tart.
And that, folks, is why we have meringue.
Meyer Lemon Meringue Tart
Prep Time: 30 minutes, plus 1-hr chill time for crust | Bake time: 50 minutes |
Servings: 8 slices
* You can bake this in a traditional 9-inch tart pan, or you can bake in a rectangular tart pan, like I did. The crust will be slightly thinner if using the latter.
For the crust:
1 stick unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 egg yolk
2-3 tablespoons cream or milk
For the curd:
1 pound Meyer lemons, about 6 or fewer
1 cup granulated sugar
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
Pinch of salt
7 egg yolks (reserve whites for meringue!)
For the meringue:
7 egg whites
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
Make the crust: In a large bowl, whisk sugar, salt, and flour. Add cubed butter, and using a pastry cutter, a fork, or your hands, work butter into flour until you're left with a sandy mixture of coarse crumbs, with some larger pieces throughout. Add egg yolk, then add one tablespoon of cream or milk. Continue mixing until dough is cohesive, but not wet. Add additional tablespoons of milk or cream to reach the right consistency. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let chill for at least an hour, or overnight.
Make the lemon curd: Zest all lemons. Juice lemons to extract 1 cup of fresh lemon juice. In a saucepan, combine juice and zest. Add sugar, butter, and salt. Heat on medium, giving it a little stir, and let sit until sugar is dissolved and butter is melted.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, combine eggs and egg yolks until blended. Slowly pour hot lemon mixture to eggs with the mixer on low speed. Return to saucepan, and heat on medium-low. Whisk constantly until mixture reaches a pudding-like consistency; if this is taking a long time, turn up the heat a little bit and whisk like crazy. Do not allow the mixture to boil, or the eggs will curdle. Cover the top of the curd with plastic wrap (this prevents a skin from forming), and let cool while you bake the crust.
Bake the crust: Remove dough from the freezer and roll out to a 1/4-inch thick round (or rectangle depending on your pan shape). Place in pan, making sure to press into edges, and use your rolling pin to press out the excess dough for a pristine edge. Prick the bottom with a fork, and set in the freezer while the oven preheats.
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Lightly grease a 9-inch tart pan or a rectangular tart pan with a removable bottom. Fill the crust with pie weights or beans, and bake for 20-25 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly, then spoon curd filling into tart shell, smoothing the top. Bake until filling edges are puffy and crust is a deep golden brown, about 30 minutes. Let cool completely before topping with meringue.
Make the meringue:
Set a saucepan filled with a few inches of water over low heat. In the bowl of a stand mixer, add your egg whites, sugar, and pinch of salt. Place mixing bowl over the saucepan with simmering water, and whisk constantly, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn't touch the water. The mixture is ready when you dip your fingers into the bowl, rub them together, and don't feel any sugar. If it's grainy, keep cooking until it's not.
Once sugar is dissolved, return the mixer to the stand fitted with a whisk. Beat on low speed for about a minute or so, then turn mixer on medium-high. Beat until stiff peaks form, meringue is glossy, and the bowl is no longer warm.
Top the tart with the meringue:
Carefully place the tart over one or two smaller but steady objects (I usually use cans or glasses), or be a daredevil and use one of your hands, and gently let the edges of the pan separate from the bottom. (You may lose a little bit of crust here, but that's okay - you're about to smother it with meringue.) Use a spatula to dollop meringue all over the tart, being sure to "seal" the edges. Use the back of a spoon to make decorative swirls. Toast using a kitchen torch, or set under a broiler at low heat and watch carefully. Slice and serve immediately!