Best Ever Lemon Tart

When I was in college, I ate my fair share of junk food, or, to use the more fun Italian word, schifezze. The consumption of things like ramen noodles, PopTarts, and Easy Mac is after all part of the college experience, the lack of home cooking reminding you that you're off on your own now, fending for yourself and thus making a few questionable food choices, because you can. My roommate and I periodically bought and shared large boxes of Peanut Butter Crunch cereal; the dining hall's most popular dishes were tacos and chicken parmesan; the campus Lobby Shop kept students stocked with candy bars, potato chips, ice cream, and my personal favorite, Golden Graham Treats. You're probably not familiar, so let me explain: the Golden Graham Treat was a large bar of golden graham cereal, held together by melted marshmallows and chocolate, decorated with milk chocolate chips. It was sugary, chewy, and crunchy, all at the same time, and I loved them. They were perfect fuel during exams and paper writing, but when I graduated college and moved to Italy, we lost touch.

I crossed paths again with my beloved GGTs not long ago, during a recent trip to the States. Delighted at our reunion, I bought two, one to enjoy right away and the other to snack on later. As I bit in to my Treat and chewed, I decided the recipe must have changed -- what I was eating was stodgy, too sweet, and artificial tasting, nothing like the GGT of my college days. I wrapped up the rest of the Treat, realizing, as I have more than once, that the recipe for Golden Grahams have not changed, but rather, my taste buds have. My diet in Italy, unlike my college years, consists of lots of fresh vegetables and fruit, pasta, and cheese, and as a result my taste for sugar has waned; I'm no longer used to things are that are processed, packaged, or generally overly sweet. When it comes to desserts in particular, I have found a new appreciation for things that are subdued, on the simple side, and just sweet enough. 

So, what is the connection between Golden Graham Treats and this Lemon Tart?! It is a perfect example of a dessert that I would never have appreciated before, back in my sugar-high days; in fact, the pre-Italy Francesca would pick a milk chocolate-y or frosting-laden dessert over a lemon one any day, finding the flavor too sour and sharp. I only began to notice the beauty of a tangy, citrus-y dessert in the past few years -- discovering things like Lemon Squares and Lemon Poppy seed Cake -- and oh how I've been missing out! 

Now, to today's post! This lemon tart is The Lemon Tart, or rather the lemon tart to beat all other lemon tarts, a tart possessing all of the qualities befitting of a perfect lemon dessert: here we've got a silky smooth, tangy filling, with just enough sweetness to let all the citrus flavor shine, vibrant and sunshine-y and happy (if a dessert could have moods and emotions). The tart crust, so often an afterthought, is crisp and  shortbread-like, capable of complementing but not overwhelming the A+ filling. This tart is a splendid way to celebrate the start of Spring, or to ward off any remaining Winter gloom if temperatures are still chilly where you are (sorry, Rhode Island). It is a lovely end to a fancy meal or just as an afternoon treat with tea. I loved it and I think you will too.

A couple of notes: I find that tarts with a liquid filling such as this can be a bit tricky, as you pour it in to the crust, then have to transport the whole thing to the oven. Learn from my mistakes: place the tart shell and pan on a baking sheet, transport that baking sheet to the oven rack, and pour the filling in directly, then close the oven. I found that the crust here shrinks a bit down the sides of the tart pan when baking, so make sure that it goes all the way up the sides of the tart pan to anticipate this. I found I had a pastry and extra filling (indeed, just pour enough filling up to fill the sides of the tart crust). As you can see in the photos below, I used the excess pastry and filling to make two mini lemon tarts (tiny tart pans purchased at Tiger). You could probably also do this in greased muffin tins.

Looking for other not too sweet desserts? I've also got: Lemon Squares, Lemon Ricotta Olive Cake, Lemon Poppy seed Cake, Chocolate Souffle Cake, Red Wine Chocolate Truffles, Bittersweet Chocolate Pear Cake, or Chocolate Loaf Cake. In search of other tarts? Check out this Dark Chocolate Tart, this Pear and Chocolate Custard Tart, these Berry Tartlets, this this Honey Pinenut TartStrawberry Jam Tart, or these savory ZucchiniCherry Tomato, or Butternut Squash tarts. Want some more recipes for my picks for the best of the best of their kind? Check out this perfect apple cake, these magnificent brownies, and these spot-on chocolate chip cookies


Ingredients for the tart crust:
2 cups (250 grams) flour
1/2 cup (70 grams) powdered sugar
8 tablespoons (125 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 egg yolks

Ingredients for the filling:
5 eggs
3/4 cup (140 grams) sugar
2/3 cup (150ml, 11 tablespoons) heavy cream
Juice from 2-3 lemons (3 1/2 ounces of liquid, or 98 grams)
2 tablespoons lemon zest

To make the tart crust: Mix the flour and powdered sugar in a bowl. Rub the butter into the flour with your fingers until crumbly (you can also use a food processor for this if you want -- pulse the flour and butter together a few times). Mix in the egg yolks. If the pastry is still too dry, add 1-2 tbsp water until it comes together. Roll into a ball and flatten out the pastry with your hands. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap or aluminium foil, then chill for at least 30 minutes.

While the tart dough is chilling, make the filling: Beat all the ingredients, except for the zest, together. Sieve the mixture (though if you don’t do this step because you don’t have a sieve that’s probably fine) then stir in the zest.
Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface (to about the thickness of a 1 euro coin, if that helps) then lift into a 23cm tart pan that is lightly buttered. Press down gently on the bottom and sides, then trim off any excess pastry. Stab a few holes in the bottom with a fork and put back in the fridge for 30 mins.
Heat oven the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (160 degrees Celsius). Line the tart crust with foil and fill with rice or dried beans. Bake for 10 mins, then remove the tart pan from the oven, discard the foil, and bake for another 15 or so minutes. 
When the pastry is ready, remove it from the oven, pour in the lemon mixture and bake again for 30-35 mins until just set. 
Leave to cool, then remove the tart from the tart pan and serve at room temperature or chilled, dusted with powdered sugar. Serves 10-12.
Recipe from

Carciofi alla giudia

A few things well within my culinary comfort zone: dessert, especially unadorned, every day-type cakes; pasta; bread; breakfast; roasting, definitely. I gravitate towards these things every time I look for new recipes.

A few things slightly outside my culinary comfort zone: fish and shellfish; the Thanksgiving turkey; crepes (that flipping technique!); grilling; rhubarb; artichokes. I tend to overlook recipes with these things, but I'm working on it!

For the purposes of today's post, let's go back to that last one, artichokes. Don't get me wrong - I'm a big fan! - but I'd decided long ago that artichokes, or carciofi, were too cumbersome and complicated to prepare at home. They were beautiful to look at (like overgrown purple green flowers!) but seemed, well, a bit unfriendly, spiky and tough, almost defiant, if a vegetable can be so. I got my fill of the Roman carciofi alla romana and carciofi alla giudia in restaurants, paying a few euros more, yes, but preferring to leave the heavy-lifting to the restaurant chef.

I covered my former hesitations around frying in this post (turns out that huge pot of bubbling oil was a big old softie in the end). Encouraged, I'd thought I'd challenge myself again with some artichokes, but not just any artichokes! I'd also fry them, thus combining two culinary hurdles in one and taking a leap outside my comfort zone. The result were these carciofi alla giudia, a specialty of la cucina ebraica romana, or rather, Roman-Jewish cuisine (indeed, though Catholicism has always been the dominant force in Rome, the city also has a long history of Judaism -- Jewish communities in Rome have been recorded as far back as the second century BC). Roman-Jewish cuisine, like most of Italian cuisine, was born out of poverty and availability (artichokes were abundant and cheap) and a good dose of creativity. 

So, the verdict? In the end, with the help of a good knife and a YouTube tutorial or two, I found that artichokes are quite easy to clean and pare down, and once you get the hang of it, kind of fun, bound to make you feel professional and chef-y. And when you fry them in abundant amounts of oil, they become tender on the inside and gloriously crispy on the outside, akin to a potato chip, luxuriously olive-oily, and perfectly addictive with a sprinkle of salt. They're almost too pretty to eat, rose-like before frying and then bright and sunflower-like after (I'd pick a bouquet of these over a bouquet of roses any day). Make these this Spring when artichokes are at their very best and thank me later.

A couple of notes: A few things I learned frying artichokes for the first time! I would recommend using a thermometer here to measure the oil temperature, if you can; on my guinea pig round, I found I needed to cook the artichokes longer on their second round to achieve the desired deeply brown crispiness rather than the recommended one minute, probably due to the fact that the oil temperature had been off on both the first and second fry (no matter though, in the end!) Note as well that I did not have enough oil on hand when I took these photographs (just 1 liter). This worked out fine, as I just turned the artichokes periodically with a slotted soon to get them fried; if you find yourself in this same situation, be sure to let the artichokes fry, unsettled, for a bit on each side to get them nice and brown -- don't move them around too much! You can strain your leftover oil into a jar and keep, with the lid screwed on tightly, in a cool dry place for your next round of frying -- check out this article on Serious Eats for the details. Check this post for more tips on frying.

For more fried fun, check out these suppli' all'amatriciana and these castagnole di ricotta. Looking for other super Roman recipes? I've got bucatini all'amatriciana, spaghetti alla gricia, tonnarelli cacio e pepecicoria alla romana, and these maritozzi, to name just a few. Looking for other Spring-y recipes? How about these prosciutto wrapped asparagus?


4 globe artichokes (called mammole if you're in Italy)
1.5 liters extra virgin olive oil
2 lemons

Paper towels or wax paper, to absorb the extra oil

Fill a large bowl with cold water. Add to it the juice of two lemons, and then the lemon halves themselves, being sure to rub a little lemon juice on your hands as well -- artichokes have the tendency to turn black when their leaves are removed, and can make the skin on your hands a little black too. Set aside the water and get to cleaning up your artichokes. Start by tearing off the tough outer leaves; you'll know you've reached the more tender ones when the color goes from purple green to pinkish green. Using a sharp knife, remove the tough bases of the leaves you've torn off.

Next, use your same sharp knife to remove any leaves and the tough outer layer of skin on the stem of the artichoke. Don't cut too deeply here; you want the stem to still be fairly sturdy so it holds up when it is fried. 
Once this is done, take your knife and carefully, in a circular motion (rotating the artichoke as you go) cut off the tips of the top leaves. This might take a little time as you have to go through the various leaf layers. After all this: this video here is helpful for understanding how to cut the artichokes, if my explanation above is not sufficient. It is in Italian, but just watch what the demonstrator does and you should get it regardless of whether or not you speak the language!
The artichoke should at this point look somewhat rose-like. Place your cleaned artichoke in the bowl with the lemon water so it doesn't turn black as you prepare your other artichokes. 
When your ready to fry, remove the artichokes from the lemon water and let them drain a minute on a paper towel; then dry them thoroughly and give them each a few knocks on the counter (or knock them against each other) to remove and water stuck in the leaves and get the leaves to open a little.
Your artichokes are now clean and ready to be fried! In a large pot, heat your olive oil over medium heat until it reaches about 145 degrees Celsius. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, place your artichokes in the oil. Let them fry for about 10-15 minutes, or until a fork can easily pierce the base of the artichoke (right above the step). Remove the artichokes to a plate lined with paper towels or wax paper, stems up, and let them sit for 20 minutes to let the extra oil drain off and turn off the heat on your pot.
When the 20 minutes are up, take each artichoke and, using a fork, open up all of the leaves so it looks even more rose-like. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper, and let them sit for about a minute.
While your artichokes are being fluffed and seasoned, heat up the oil in the pot again, this time to about 150 degrees Celsius. When the oil is hot enough, put your artichokes back in the pot, one at a time, and let them fry for another minute or so, or until the leaves are very crispy and brown and potato-chip like. Remove them to a plate to drain again, sprinkle with a little more salt, and enjoy while they're still hot. Makes 4 artichokes.