Whole Lemon Tart

What will I do now Great British Bake Off 2014 is over? No longer can I plonk myself in front of a screen every Wednesday evening, mesmerised by an alterate reality dusted with flour and icing sugar. Of course, I carry on baking.

I really was gunning for Nancy in the final, so I’m so pleased that she won. Of course Richard wowed consistently throughout the series, and Luis’ creations were stunning, but it’s so lovely to actually have an grandmother baking tasty treats for her children and grandkids winning the show. I also enjoyed the fact that the technical challenge reintroduced the basics again. I would love it if all the contestants were pitted against one another on the simplest of recipes, to really challenge them against one another. There’s nowhere to hide with them, after all!

Now in the Great British Bake Off final, the contestants were tasked with making a so-called simple tart au citron. I had a lot of pastry ends to use up, so I thought I’d give it a go. I’ve never made a tart au citron before, so it was a bit of a new adventure!

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Well, this tarte au citron was kinda different from Mary Berry’s version. I used the recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets. This recipe involves blitzing an entire lemon into a purée, and enfolding it into a mixture of sugar, eggs, butter and a little cornflour.

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It looks very different from the versions I’ve been used to seeing! The pastry case encloses a bubbly sticky lemon filling that’s like chewy toffees in texture. You only need a thin sliver – it’s rich stuff. The pastry looks very dark in the photos but I promise it isn’t burnt.

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I looked online afterwards to see that a lot of people had problems with this lemon tart recipe. Issues included the filling not setting, being too sweet, too sour, cooking too fast, spilling over and separating out so the butter ended up floating on top. Hmmm, unappealling.

My lemon had a thick layer of white pith, so I followed the advice online and cut some of this away, making up the weight with a small piece of a second lemon. This seemed to work pretty well. Would I make this tart again? I’m not completely sure. I think Dorie Greenspan’s recipe needs a few alterations to make it workable in my kitchen. Here’s my version below.

Whole Lemon Tart

Adapted from Paris Sweets by Dorie Greenspan

  • shortcrust pastry
  • 130g lemon
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 yolk
  • 1 heaped tbsp cornflour
  • 115g unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Line a 24cm tart case with shortcrust pastry and pop into the fridge to chill. Prick the base with a fork, then bake in the oven for 15 minutes until lightly golden. Leave to cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 160˚C.

Cut the lemon(s) into thin slices, removing the seeds. If there is a lot of white pith, remove half of this. Blitz the lemon in a blender with the sugar until puréed. Then pour into a bowl and whisk lightly with the eggs and cornflour. Slowly pour in the melted cooled butter and whisk into combine.

Pour the lemon filling into the tart case, making sure you leave a lip of pastry around the edge to allow for the filling bubbling up when it is cooking. Pop the tart into the oven and bake for 35 minutes or until bubbling and slightly browned. Leave to cool to room temperature before slicing and eating.

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A Little Opéra

The Great British Bake Off has been compelling me to bake bake bake! Perhaps not in the direction I was expecting though. After watching last week’s episode, you’d think that I’d have fougasse on the brain, or perhaps a chicken tikka stromboli (british-indian-italian fusion anyone?) but instead I baked this:

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Oh Gâteau L’Opéra, I thought I was done with you last time.

I totally blame Paul and Mary.

I was surprised at how smoothly it went this time. I had planned to break the making down into manageable chunks spread over several days. Thursday – concoting the coffee syrup and the coffee extract. Friday – buttercream and ganache. Saturday – assembling everything and finishing off the glaze.

Then I got impatient, and decided I couldn’t wait any longer. So come Friday evening, I’d used up every single mixing bowl in the kitchen, and there was an absolutely enormous scrumptious coffee-flavoured confection chilling merrily in the fridge. Excellent!

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First time round, I used the recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets. On this occasion, I replaced the joconde sponge recipe with the one in Christophe Felder’s PatisserieI also doubled the quantity of coffee syrup by accident, but somehow managed to use all of it up anyway!

Despite the gigantic 30cm x 30cm cake this produces, and the many eggs you consume along the way, Dorie Greenspan recommends you do not halve the cake ingredients, and now I can see her point. When you put so much time and energy into making a complex cake like this one, why not bake a big one, and freeze half of it for another time?

I cut a large rectangle from the cake, and squeezed this into my tiny freezer. The remaining pieces I cut into slices and photographed. The sun kept popping out and retreating, so it was a bit of a challenge shooting this with manual settings as I had to keep changing the shutter speed and aperture settings.

Visually, I’m really pleased with how the cake turned out. The sponges and layers of filling stayed nicely level, and I had just the right quantity of ingredients for every step. More importantly, it tasted just as lovely as I had remembered. Buzzing on a caffeine high now!

Tartes aux Fraises

Picture this – it’s a balmy summer day, early afternoon. There’s a faint breeze. It’s warm, fragrant. You’re relaxed against the tickly long grass, your feet bathing in the sunshine. And packed in your bag, a picnic lunch. Cold cuts, a crusty loaf of bread, crunchy salads. And to finish off, these little tartlets. Crisp pastry, cool creamy créme mousseline, and the juiciest of the season’s strawberries.

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I used my favourite rich buttery pastry recipe. Pierre Hermé, Christophe Felder, and Dorie Greenspan in Paris Sweets all have a recipe for this, in startlingly similar proportions, so there must be something to it.

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Aside from this, I used the créme mousseline recipe from Paris Sweets, and finished off with some beautifully sweet local strawberries from the market. Finally, I garnished the tarts with a sprinkling of chopped green pistachios, and a lick of raspberry glaze for extra shine.

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These tarts are best assembled just before eating. As there were only a few mouths this week, I only made 3 tarts. Despite Dorie advising us not to reduce the quantity of créme mousseline, I reduced it by one-third because I didn’t have enough milk anyways, and it turned out fine.

Strawberry tarts are an excellent recipe to assemble in parts. I made up the pastry on Sunday, and popped it into the fridge to chill. On Monday I made up the créme patissière, and lined my tart tins with pastry. On Tuesday, I baked up the tarts, added the extra butter into the créme patissière to turn it into a créme mousseline, and voila.

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The créme mousseline caused me a little angst because when I first beat in the butter, it looked curdled and yellow – not the light cream I had envisaged. However, turns out it’s just like crème au beurre, and just requires a lot of patience, and hard work from your electric whisk. Eventually, the curdled mixture metamorphosised into the lightest of pale silky creams.

I also didn’t have any redcurrant jelly handy for the glaze, so did this instead: mixed a spoonful of raspberry jam with a spoonful of liquid glucose. Heated it until liquid, added a squeeze of lemon juice, and then sieved through a fine mesh sieve to get rid of the lumpy bits.

I’ve made many a strawberry tart before in my lifetime, but these were officially the best ever. It was unbelieveable how light the créme mousseline was, and it beautifully enhanced the crispness of the pastry, and sweetness of the strawberries. The pistachios, as well as adding a little sprinkle of greenery, also added extra flavour and textural contrast. A true taste of summer holidays in France, in the form of these very summery sweet tarts to enjoy!

Gateau L’Opéra

There’s something so enticing about fancy, fancy Parisian style desserts. This opera cake had all the makings of a showstopping creation – three layers of syrup-soaked joconde sponge, coffee buttercream, chocolate ganache, and the final layer of chocolate glaze.

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This cake is not for the faint-hearted baker. After making it, I realise I could never be a contestant on the Great British Bake Off. You know when you see them panicking about techniques they’ve never practised, and the cake tins and bowls start piling up, and Mel and Sue start counting down….

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The making of this Gateau L’Opera was kinda like that.

I used the recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweetshaving heard many a good thing about both author and cookbook.

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The coffee syrup was easy, just boiling together water, sugar and coffee in a pan. Next, the coffee buttercream. This required the makings of a sugar syrup that is then beaten into whisked eggs, before mixing in softened room-temperature butter. Room temperature is a funny thing to gauge – I mean, is your kitchen the same steady temperature the whole year round? Anyway, needless to say, I added the butter when it was decidedly not room temperature. The buttercream immediately curdled, and required about 20 minutes solid beating with the electric whisk before it relaxed into something softer and more cohesive.

Next, the joconde. It looked similar to the process of making a swiss roll, but with the addition of ground almonds and melted butter. I might add that I have never successfully made a non-eggy swiss roll, but nevertheless, continued on. The mixtures were whisked, combined, and I carefully poured in one-third of the batter into my prepared cake tin.

Then horror of horrors, realisation struck that I had forgotten to add the melted butter. In a panic, I scraped the batter back into the bowl, threw in the melted butter, gave it a stir and hoped for the best. At long last, into the oven went sponge numero un.

Things seemed to be going ok at this point. The first sponge came out of the oven. It looked alright, though to my nose I could still detect that eggy undertone. Sponge two went in. I scraped up the batter for sponge 3, and there to my disgust, was a large clot of solidified butter floating at the bottom of the bowl. The butter hadn’t mixed into the batter after all.

I’d all but given up now, but used up so much ingredients-wise, that I thought I might as well carry on and assemble the whole thing. The ganache went on, the sponges were brushed with syrup, and finally I glazed, trimmed, and chilled the whole thing.

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Finally, the taste test. Luckily, I had plenty of cut-offs to choose from. Unfortunately, I’ve never eaten a true Gateau L’Opéra before, so I didn’t have a source for comparison. However, this was really delicious. The cake had a light, delicately melty texture. The coffee and chocolate flavours are strong, and meld perfectly together. Despite my fears, the joconde wasn’t eggy at all, and the liberal lashings of coffee syrup kept it from being dry.

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The cake was enormous (I used 13 eggs!) and probably large enough to feed at least 30 people! I cut out 8 fingers, and put the remaining rectangle into the freezer for another occasion.

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Given the difficulty, and level of faff required making this, I don’t think I’ll be repeating it anytime soon, not without at least practising the individual skills required for making the joconde and the buttercream. Given the size, I’d want to halve the recipe too, although Dorie advised you not to, as it throws the proportions of the ingredients off.

If you want to have a go at making this cake too, Edd Kimber has adapted the recipe I used, and it can be found here.