Oh, Tart!

Notes: Thumbs up for the lemon tart at our Treme-watching party last night. Very, very lemony (desired effect) but a bit too puddingy (hello? SIX eggs! what did I expect?). A bit like lemon meringue without the meringue. More American than French. Want French.

So all my life I’ve had a difficult relationship with pie crusts. My stepdad made the best. He was a pastry chef long before he met my mother and me, and never lost the touch. His cheese and ham pies were miracles of fluffy egg and flaky crust. He had enormous hands that could pinch a dough together in seconds.

When I moved to America, I almost stopped making pie crusts. American flour can be like plaster and the butter seemed watery compared to the European butters I grew up with. When I rolled out my pie dough, it would either break or become a sticky mess—never perfect. I eventually settled for the sticky mess, but didn’t bother rolling it out; I just spread and pushed the dough over the pie pan with floured fingers.

This morning, I made a pie crust for a lemon tart that I was fairly happy with. I’ve always made the mistake of not letting the dough rest in the refrigerator long enough. My stepdad would let it rest for at least one hour, wrapped in wax paper, before rolling it out, and then again (for 30 minutes) after “dressing” the pie pan. I learned three other tricks from him: 1. Do not use water; use vodka from the freezer. Since the alcohol evaporates in the oven, you get all the benefits of liquid without compromising the flakiness. 2. Always keep the dough cold. 3. Roll the dough out on wax paper or a pastry sheet so you can easily pick it up and drape it over your pie pan.

This is my recipe:

1 stick salted butter, from the freezer (I’m not a fanatic about unsalted butter. In Sweden, we always used salted butter and were somehow never punished.)

180 grams flour

1 tablespoon confectioners sugar (only for sweet recipes)

4 tablespoons unflavored vodka, from the freezer

Grate frozen/cold butter and mix with flour (and sugar) using a fork. Add vodka, one tablespoon at a time, until the dough starts coming together. Use your hands at the very end, and as little as possible, eliminating butter clumps and shaping the dough into one thick disk. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the refrigerator for at least one hour, or overnight. Roll dough out on top of a piece of wax paper or pastry cloth, remembering to flour the rolling pin. Shape into a circle slightly larger than your pie pan. Drape dough over pan, covering pan completely. Cut off excess with a knife, or pinch edge in place. Prick bottom with a fork several times and let rest again, in the refrigerator, for 30 minutes. Bake crust in the oven at 400 degrees for 12 minutes. Fill.

For the lemon tart you’ll also need:

5 lemons

150 grams sugar

6 eggs

2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons half-and-half

Zest and juice lemons. Warm zest and juice in a sauce pan with sugar until sugar dissolves (do not simmer/boil). In another sauce pan, whisk eggs until even, then add half-and-half. Warm slowly (do not simmer/boil) while whisking constantly, then add lemon syrup while continuing to whisk constantly. Whisk and warm this mixture until it begins to thicken. Remove from heat and pour immediately into the pie shell. Bake at 325 degrees for 30-40 minutes. Cool completely. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour. Before serving, dust with confectioners sugar.