Baked Sunday Mornings: Lemon-Almond Meringue Tarts

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Finally– the cover shot. We are so close to the end of baking through BAKED: New Frontiers in Baking, and therefore the end of Baked Sunday Mornings. (So many tears!!) And finally we are making the iconic cover recipe: Lemon-Almond Meringue Tarts! I’ve never made this recipe, as I have a profound disdain for any almond products that taste like almond extract (marzipan, amaretto, etc.), but here it is, and I’m so glad! I love that we’re ending with some of the book’s most celebrated recipes, and this one happens to be one of the prettiest as well. While I was very happy with the final result, the tarts were not without their challenges…

There are three components to these: crust, lemon curd, and meringue topping. Each was  a bit of a struggle. To be perfectly frank, the crust dough was a royal pain to work with. It’s made by mixing confectioners’ sugar and butter, adding an egg yolk, then adding a pre-mixed combination of flour, amaretti cookie crumbs, and ground blanched almonds (almond flour in my case). You then add a bit of heavy cream and amaretto liqueur to form a very soft dough– it is not stiff enough to form into a ball. I did make a couple of slight dough modifications, which I don’t believe would’ve contributed to the textural challenges of the dough: I omitted the amaretto because I had no interest in purchasing a bottle of liqueur that I wouldn’t use for anything else. I was going to use the amaretti cookies, but couldn’t easily find them, so for the few tablespoons’ worth, I just subbed graham cracker crumbs.

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The recipe warns that the dough is “sticky”, which was an understatement. Even though I had chilled the dough, it warmed up quickly and became sticky almost immediately. Nevertheless, I managed to get it into my tart molds with a not-insignificant amount of patching. I wanted to update the look of these (the book photo shows them in the typical fluted tart pan shape), so I used my Valrhona perforated tart molds in small and large squares with straight sides. I like the more modern look of these, so I tend to use them nowadays for tart recipes. Unfortunately the dough was disappointing– it simultaneously puffed in the middle, while the sides slumped way down in the ring molds; no clean edges and no deep cavity for the filling. I was initially surprised that the recipe did not call for blind-baking, but I went with it as written. Next time I would definitely blind-bake, as I think it would help the tart shells retain their shape. Also, they were overly browned, though not burned by any means, in about 17 minutes (recommended baking time is 20 minutes). I had some extra dough because I was in a hurry and didn’t use it all, which I meant to try blind-baking, but sadly I didn’t have time that week to get to it…

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On to the lemon curd! I’m always nervous to make lemon curd because more often than not, it hasn’t turned out great for me. However, in recent attempts it’s been pretty successful, so I probably can relax with it and start to feel a little more confident. After softening the lemon zest in the lemon juice for 10 minutes, you’ll whisk together eggs, a ton of egg yolks, and sugar, then add the zest and juice. This bowl goes over a pot of simmering water, and then you stir… stir until the cows come home. This batch had me very worried because I stirred and stirred for a whopping 20 minutes, though the book says it should take about 6 minutes for the mixture to thicken! Fortunately it finally thickened up, after which I added butter and strained it into a gorgeous, silky surd. And all was well with the world.

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Finally the meringue… This was largely uneventful, except that I couldn’t quite get it to thicken to stiff peaks. I’d say at best the peaks were medium, but it was serviceable enough to swirl the meringue on top of the tarts without collapse. This is a Swiss meringue, wherein you whisk egg whites with sugar over a pot of simmering water until it reaches 140°F, then remove it from the heat and whip at high speed. I used a hand mixer, adding cream of tartar once it started to thicken, and it took forever just to achieve medium peaks. I wonder if I would’ve had better luck using the stand mixer? At any rate, it was totally usable, so I dropped a fluffy dollop onto each tart filled with lemon curd. Oh, and I omitted the amaretto here as well. (By the way, the recipe makes a huge amount of meringue, I presume because they were trying to use up all 7 egg whites that remained after separating the eggs for the lemon curd. I decided to basically halve the recipe and freeze the rest of the egg whites. There was still quite a bit left over, but this was a good call.)

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The last step is toasting the meringue, which I did easily with my handy-dandy kitchen torch rather than using the broiler. Am I the only one who gets giddy when I bust out the torch??

It’s rare that I jump for joy over lemon desserts, but these tarts were outstanding despite their challenges. The lemon curd is nicely balanced between sweet and tart, and I enjoyed the textural contrast of the crisp crust, silky lemon, and creamy meringue. They are like personal lemon meringue pies, though even better in my opinion because I happen to prefer tarts over pies. Find the recipe for Lemon-Almond Meringue Tarts at Baked Sunday Mornings— the lemon-lovers in your life will be eternally grateful if you make these on any day ending in ‘y’,  plus they’re elegant enough to serve for a dinner party or other nice occasion. Enjoy! 🙂

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© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2020.

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