Make lemon tarts for school charity fundraiser
Lordy, doesn’t that heading make me sound wholesome? It’s true, you know. I am.
Anyway, my son’s school was having an Activitython and hosted an Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea event for the Cancer Council at the same time. Cool!, I thought. I can make some sweet treats for charity while setting this week’s cooking task! And all without the temptation of bottom-expanding goodies lurking around at home afterwards! Win win win!
After combing the internet, I decided to make some little lemon tarts. Inspired by Masterchef, I’ve wanted to attempt making pastry that requires more skill than prising one frozen layer away from another without cracking it into several pieces. Plus, I looooove a lemon tart, as does my husband (except, being half French, he prefers to call it tarte au citron, which sounds even more impressive).
So I armed myself with two separate recipes, one for sweet shortcrust pastry and another for lemon curd. (Clever or what?!) The shortcrust pastry recipe called for the use of a food processor. I almost bypassed the whole idea, thinking I didn’t have one, but then I remembered that my lovely mother had handed me down a humungous, archaic beast of a thing that was so huge it had to live underneath the stairs, Harry Potter style. And as Harry Potter taught us, things that live under the stairs have feelings too, so I decided to name my food processor Big Bertha (because that’s going to make her feel better about life).
With BB locked and loaded (which took several minutes of frustrated fiddling, thank goodness I wasn’t in a Masterchef pressure test), all I needed to do was process together some flour, icing sugar and cubed butter until it resembled fine breadcrumbs, then add iced water. (I’m rather proud to say that I planned ahead and, realising that I had no ice in the freezer, put a small glass of water in there to chill. This is the kind of skilled cook I’m now becoming. Just sayin’.) I then had to process (aka press a button) until the mixture formed a ball. And, like magic, said ball appeared. Big Bertha, you rock. This is much more fun than frozen pastry. I put it in the fridge to chill, feeling more Mastercheffian by the minute.
Putting the kids to bed while my pastry chilled, by the time they were asleep I was ready to roll. (Haha, see what I did there? Ahem…) Rolling was actually damn hard work. That pastry was CHILLED, y’all. It was quite happy in its solid state and didn’t want to be encouraged into thinness. Much like several parts of my anatomy. After several minutes of rolling that seemed to have no effect, I eventually found it more effective to actually push my rolling pin outwards rather than roll it. A little handy hint for you, free of charge.
Finally my pastry was rolled and I needed to cut it into rounds. The recipe I was following was for one large pie, so I was winging it. Rather brilliantly, if I don’t mind myself saying. No, I don’t. I decided to use my egg ring, which was not only the perfect size, but its blunt edge gave an aesthetically-pleasing curved edge to the outside of my pastry. (I know, right? On fire.)
I put my pastry rounds into lightly-oiled muffin trays, and well, they really looked rather divine.
The recipe told me to prick my bottoms (ohhh, behaaave!) and put in some pie weights. I didn’t exactly have those, but I did have some mystery beans lurking in the pantry that would suffice, so I bunged them in.
After the bunging was complete, I noticed the recipe suggested I first put some baking paper between pastry and pie weight/mystery bean. Bugger. Ah well, as they say on Masterchef, it was too late to change it now (ie I couldn’t be bothered). I just had to hope the pastry wouldn’t take on the taste of the mystery bean. (Pinto? Azuki? Lima? Who knew! And where on earth had they come from?!)
With pastry in oven, it was time to commence operation lemon curd. I had to place butter, lemon juice, lemon zest and (rather a lot of) caster sugar in a ‘heavy bottomed saucepan’. Not sure how heavy my saucepan’s bottom was, but it was comforting to know that a world existed where heavy bottoms were appreciated. I had to stir until the sugar dissolved/butter melted, before taking it off the stove and adding three eggs. The recipe was a bit vague and didn’t mention if I should beat the eggs first, so I hedged my bets and just gave them a quick vague stir before throwing them in and stirring away, waiting for my sauce to thicken slightly. ‘Don’t let it boil, or your sauce will curdle’, warned the notes, so I watched it like a hawk. Listen up sauce, I want curd, not curdle, capisce?!
After several minutes of nothing much happening, my sauce suddenly thickened and a strange white substance suddenly floated up. ‘No, not the dreaded curdle!’ shrieked my inner domestic goddess. (I’m stealing from a wealth of pop culture influences today..) I yanked it off the stove to survey the damage. It was thick, a lovely yellow colour and it tasted quite delicious, but there were definitely some… chunks. Was it curdle, or just bits of lemon rind or something? And what could I do about it?
It was at this point that I remembered the pastry. Argh! I got it out a couple of minutes late and it was looking perfectly golden. Except I still had to take out the beans and put the pastry back in for another 10 minutes. Taking out the beans was a very challenging exercise which resulted in mystery beans in every crevice of my kitchen and a couple of rather toasty fingers. I then put the pastry back in the oven and went back to readdress the potentially curdled curd situation. Talk about multi-tasking.
A little voice came to me. ‘What would a Masterchef do?’ it said.
I stared blankly into space for several minutes, before a lightbulb went off. ‘Strain it through a sieve!’ I replied (to myself). Out came the sieve, which annoyingly, had to first be cleaned of the flour that was sifted earlier, and I pushed through my lumpy curd.
Lo and behold, a delectable glossy sauce oozed out the other side. Result! I spent several minutes gazing at it lovingly, priding myself on my tenacity and ingenuity, when I remembered the pastry again.
Crap. Crappity crap. It was looking very dark. In fact, one might perhaps say it was ‘burnt’. But today I was channelling Masterchef, so I will use a Masterchef term and say I ‘pushed my pastry too far’. Some were pushed further than others, but on the whole it was like that part of Masterchef when the camera pans from the judges looking at each other and screwing up their faces a bit, to me, sitting in that back room, staring mournfully into the middle distance.
Summoning all of my inner resources, I grabbed the hunk of excess pastry that I had put in the freezer because I was too lazy to roll it out a second time and started working it between my hands. I wouldn’t give up! I would make another batch! I manage to eke six more pastry rounds out of the remaining pastry and while they were slightly more flimsy and misshapen than the first batch, they at least didn’t burn – possibly because I used the baking paper under my beans this time around.
Finally it was time to fill my cases. I gave my husband the ‘furthest pushed’ (ie most burnt) one to try and he gave it the thumbs up. My pastry was good – burnt, but good – and my curd rocked. I took them to the stall with my head held high and skulking around the table ten minutes later, I couldn’t help but notice that they were getting snapped up at a rapid rate. If I’d been on Masterchef, I would have been the contestant that everyone thought was going home but scraped in because, at the end of the day, ‘the flavours were there’. I’ll take that as a win.
Verdict: Success! (or close enough)
Lessons learnt: When things start going wrong in the kitchen, think to yourself, ‘What would they do on Masterchef?’
Do you love a lemon tart?