caramelized lemon tart and the story of our lemon tree

This lemon tart has been two years in the making. Not to scare you, you will be able to make yours in one afternoon, but ours began when we brought a lemon tree home more than two years ago.

Caramelized Lemon Tart | Pass the Cookies |

Caramelized Lemon Tart | Pass the Cookies |

We got the tree when we found out we were going to move and would have more of a backyard area and the tag promised “huge, juicy lemons,” which didn’t seem likely for such a small, scrawny tree. Nevertheless, we defended and supported our baby lemon tree when family doubted it’s abilities to grow any lemons at all, much less huge, juicy ones. Shortly after we got it, the tree began to bloom. If you have never smelled citrus tree blooms, I encourage you to find some. They smell so wonderful, almost like a gardenia or magnolia flower. A few blooms produced promising green citrus fruit, but the small tree only had enough energy for one of them to continue growing.

Caramelized Lemon Tart | Pass the Cookies |

Caramelized Lemon Tart | Pass the Cookies |

Caramelized Lemon Tart | Pass the Cookies |

The seasons changed and we carefully brought our lemon tree inside for the fall and winter, where we watched the lemon grow bigger and bigger. It continued to grow, all while staying dark green, for almost a year. For a while I thought, maybe they put the wrong tag on the tree, maybe this is actually a huge, juicy lime tree, maybe it is actually ripe and we don’t know it. We did some reading about lemon trees online and this seemed like the typical progression of a lemon, albeit slower than we expected.

The lemon stayed huge (about the size of a softball!) and green for months before it finally began to turn yellow, about a year after it started growing. Once it turned yellow we thought it was finally time to pick it, but didn’t want to pick it too soon, so back to our internet resources we turned. Most advice we read said the best way to know if the lemon was ripe was to let it fall off on it’s own. The waiting game continued, seasons changed, and once again we brought the lemon inside for the fall and winter. In case you are counting, the lemon turned yellow in September 2017 and was still holding onto that tree throughout the entire fall and (longggg) winter of 2017-2018.

Caramelized Lemon Tart | Pass the Cookies |

Caramelized Lemon Tart | Pass the Cookies |

While lemon trees adjust their leaves for the amount of sunlight they get (which is so cool), the tree still did visibly better when it was outside in the warm sunshine, so when warmer temperatures came around this month we put it back outside, with the hope that maybe, just maybe it would perk up and realize that it was time to fall off already! Late last week, Will was clearing leaves off of our back patio area and moved the tree to clean up the area behind it. We have moved that tree a hundred times over the course of the past two years and the lemon held on, but this time – bloop – it fell right off! Two years of caring for and cultivating this one piece of fruit and we finally had our very own homegrown huge, juicy lemon! With such a special lemon, we knew we needed to showcase it in all of it’s glory and use every part of it that we could so after some deliberation we landed on this caramelized lemon tart. We used the zest in the crust and juice in the filling to really make the most of our two-year project. It was such a fun, exciting, and meaningful project that it almost seemed too sentimental to eat, but better to enjoy it than have all of our hard work rot!

Caramelized Lemon Tart | Pass the Cookies |

Caramelized Lemon Tart | Pass the Cookies |

You certainly don’t need a homegrown huge, juicy lemon to make this tart, store-bought lemons will work just fine, but if you happen to have one waiting to fall off of your lemon tree, I encourage you to use it for this recipe. :)

The tart dough stands up on it’s own after you slice it and the crumbly, subtly sweet crust pairs perfectly with the smooth, sweet and tart lemon filling. The caramelized sugar on top is optional, but such a fun touch that adds even more flavor to the already delicious tart. It tastes like the perfect celebration of spring!

Caramelized Lemon Tart | Pass the Cookies |

Caramelized Lemon Tart | Pass the Cookies |

I wish I could reach out through the internet and hand each of you a plate of caramelized lemon tart. I can’t wait to share this recipe with you, from my garden and kitchen to yours.

Caramelized Lemon Tart with Lemon Pastry Crust
Lemon Pâte Sucrée
1¾ cup + 2 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons sugar
¾ cup cold butter, cut into small pieces
2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
2 to 4 teaspoons cold heavy cream or ice water
2½ teaspoons lemon zest

Caramelized Lemon Tart
6 large egg yolks
Zest of 2 lemons (or 1 huge, juicy lemon and ½ a grocery-store lemon ;) )
½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 2 lemons, or see note above)
1 cup + 2 to 5 tablespoons sugar
½ cup cold butter, cut into small pieces

To make lemon pâte sucrée
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the flour, sugar, salt, and lemon zest until combined. Add the butter pieces and pulse again just until the butter is about the size of small peas. Add the egg yolks and 2 tablespoons of cold cream or water. Pulse just until the dough comes together. Do not over mix. If the dough is too dry after 30 seconds, add more cream/water, 1 tablespoon at a time and pulse to incorporate. Pat your dough into a ball and press it into the bottom and up the sides of a 10-inch tart or springform pan. Use a fork to poke holes all over the bottom of the tart dough. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 hour, or until firm.

To make caramelized lemon tart
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

When your crust is firm, line it with parchment paper and fill with weights or dried beans. Bake the shell for about 15-20 minutes, or until the edges begin to turn golden. Remove the parchment paper and continue to bake until it is golden brown, about 10-15 more minutes. Let it cool completely before filling.

To make the tart filling, in a small saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the egg yolks, lemon zest and juice, and 1 cup + 2 tablespoons of sugar. While whisking constantly, bring the mixture to a simmer. Continue to cook until the filling is thick and bubbles appear around the edges of the pan. On medium heat this too, me about 15 minutes, but as long as you watch the pan, you can turn up the heat to medium high to speed up this process. Continue to whisk constantly. Once the mixture is thick enough, strain it through a sieve into a heatproof bowl. Whisk in the butter, one piece at a time until the filling is smooth and all of the butter has melted. Pour it into your cooled crust and refrigerate uncovered for about 2 hours, or until the filling is set and not jiggly.

Right before you serve the tart, sift 2 to 3 tablespoons of sugar evenly over the top of the tart. Caramelize the sugar with a handheld torch (I got one like this for Christmas!) or carefully under a broiler until the sugar is deep amber in some places and golden in others. If you do this under a broiler, be very alert – the sugar caramelizes quickly! Caramelizing the tart is optional, but oh so fun and makes your tart seem extra sophisticated :)

Adapted from Martha Stewart Pies and Tarts Cookbook

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