I've mentioned this in passing before, but back in the mid 90's and 2000's, I was a professional ballet dancer. I lived in a world of pointe shoes, barres (that is not the drink-y kind), Chopin, and Tchaikovsky. I performed many styles and in many productions... Cinderella, Peter & the Wolf, and in-numerous contemporary ballet pieces. Through all of this, the perpetual, the constant, the "mark your calendars every December" production, was always & ever, The Nutcracker Suite.
I can honestly say that I have either performed or learned every single adult role in this saccharine-styled children's dance treat. The effervescent Dew Drop Fairy, the sparkling Snow Queen, and the sultry Arabian Dancer... these were my favorites to perform. There was always plenty of backstage hijinks to go with it as well: Mother Ginger & her Gingerbread kids getting stuck in her hoop-skirt as the waltz started, or a stagehand's stray ketchup packet from a quick lunch pelting me on the head during the Snow Scene, falling from the snowflake bag above. As much magic as there is onstage, there is an equal amount of hectic wackiness backstage!
But, the one sort of 'character' that never makes an appearance in the sea of Candy Cane children and festive chocolate dancers, is the bright, spunky, lemon tart. No lemon drop fairy? No spiky-footed sprite to lend a biting, yet sweet dance of her own?
Well this year I'm fixing that. This citrusy yellow Lemon Tart with Pecan & Graham Cracker Crust, is just the sweet character that the season is missing. Bright lemon juice is melded with eggs and butter to create a deliciously silky curd, hugged by a pecan, graham cracker, and vanilla-wafer crust. Top it with whipped cream & a side of fresh berries, and this is the dessert that needs to have a standing ovation!
Lemon Tart with Pecan Graham Cracker Crust
makes one 9 inch pie or tart pan
For the Crust
1 individual package (or 1/3 of a box) of plain graham crackers
1 1/2 cups vanilla wafers
1/2 cup raw pecans
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
generous pinch of kosher salt
Preheat your oven to 350F and reserve a 9 inch tart plate or pie plate.
Combine all of the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor with the dough blade. Pulse several times, until the mixture reaches a fine crumb with some remaining texture. Long pulses are best. If a food processor isn't available, you can also crush by hand.
Once crushed, place the crumb mixture into a large bowl. Melt the butter either in a microwave safe bowl or in a saucepan on the stove top. Add to the crumbs and mix with a fork, and then get in there with your hands, until completely incorporated. The crust will resemble wet sand at this point.
Taking your 9 inch pie or tart pan, dump the cookie crumb mix into the dish. Gently push to spread out in an even layer around the plate. Press up to the sides of the pan.
Bake in a preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, or until slightly browned and dry looking. Allow to cool completely before filling.
For the Lemon Curd
slightly modified from taming of the spoon
3/4 cup sugar, divided into 1/4 cup & 1/2 cup
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 teaspoons lemon zest
3 eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into chunks, room temperature
In a small saucepan, combine the lemon juice, lemon zest & 1/2 cup of sugar and whisk to combine. Set over medium heat, and bring to a boil while whisking occasionally. Once the syrup has reached a boil, remove from the heat and reserve.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the eggs & 1/4 cup of sugar. Whisk to thoroughly combine. You want the eggs and sugar completely incorporated and almost smooth in texture.
Next, you'll temper the egg mixture. Using a ladle, slowly pour one scoop of the lemon syrup into the egg mixture, while whisking continuously. This action will warm the eggs slowly, and avoid getting lemon scrambled eggs!
Continue to pour in the lemon syrup, one ladle full at a time, until 1/3 of the syrup is transferred. Whisk continuously & briskly!
After whisking together, pour back into the saucepan and bring to a slow boil on medium heat. Whisking the entire time. The liquid will begin to thicken. Once at a low boil, keep whisking for 1 minute. The curd will begin to look like a viscous hollandaise sauce.
Transfer the curd to a medium sized mixing bowl and cool for 1 minute. Slowly mix in the butter, 1 chunk at a time, using a spatula. Completely blend.
Pour the slightly cooled lemon curd into the completely cooled shell. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 90 minutes (best overnight). This dish should be served chilled.
I like to finish this tart with piped whipped cream* just before serving.
* Fresh Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons powdered sugar
30 minutes or so, before serving, place a large mixing bowl or stand mixer bowl and whipping attachment into the freezer.
If piping, prepare your piping bag and preferred tip. I like to use a Wilton #1 star-tip.
Once cold, add the cream, vanilla, and powdered sugar to the chilled bowl. Whip on high until firm peaks can form.
Carefully transfer the whipped cream to your piping bag. Fold the bag over and do a few 'test' pipes on a clean plate.
Pipe around the edge of the tart, or design of your choice. Have fun!
* I highly recommend not adding the whipped cream until right before serving. If you choose to use a stabilizer like gelatin or agar agar, you can pipe several hours in advance.