We were the lucky beneficiaries of a big bag of beautifully fresh and fragrant homegrown lemons last weekend. Courtesy of my father’s garden. When life gives you lemons, what better excuse than to bake little lemon meringue tarts?
Of course it also provides the perfect excuse to make a big batch of lemon curd, and truth be told these tarts are the answer to using up any jars of curd that may be languishing in the back of your pantry or freezer. Personally, I like to make my curd, one lemon at a time. In small batches. Using a foolproof one pot, ten lazy minutes method that effortlessly transforms a sugar, butter, egg and lemon into a smooth and silky curd. Every single time. No double boilers. No tempering of eggs. No curdling or catching of the mixture on the bottom of the pan.
These little tarts may look impressive but, believe it or not, involve no rolling of pastry or fiddly assembly. Just the forming of well rested shortbread dough into tablespoon sized balls which are gently pressed into a greased patty cake tin. A quick blast in the freezer prior to baking ensures this very short, crumbly tart base holds its shape in a hot oven. I like to bake the tart bases blind for ten minutes or so before filling with lemon curd and finishing with a flourish of meringue. All they need is a final five minutes in the oven to set the meringue and ensure the shortbread case is crisp and golden.
Finding it difficult to source patty pans? I do realise those old-fashioned shallow muffin style tins may not quite be the de riguer at the moment, just use mini muffin tins instead. The quantities provided will make about 36 mini tartlets so you will need to use two tins. Roll heaped teaspoons (rather than level tablespoons) of the shortbread dough for the tart shells and fill each with up to 2 teaspoons of curd. They’re just as delicious, if not impossibly cuter, in miniature.
Little Lemon Meringue Tarts
Makes 12 tarts.
For The Shortbread
125g unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup icing sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup plain flour
2 tablespoons corn flour
generous pinch of salt
For the Lemon Curd Filling
50g butter, cubed
1/2 cup (100g) caster sugar
1 egg, whisked
2 tsp finely grated lemon rind
1/4 cup (60ml) lemon juice
For the Meringue Topping
3 egg whites
3/4 cup caster sugar
generous pinch of cream of tartar
LIGHTLY grease a 12 hole patty cake pan.
PLACE softened butter and sugar into a large bowl and beat together until smooth and creamy.
ADD the vanilla extract. Beat until just incorporated.
SIFT together the flour, cornstarch and salt. Add to the butter mixture, mixing until just combined.
FORM the soft shortbread dough into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
MEANWHILE MAKE LEMON CURD, whisk together sugar, egg, lemon rind and juice in a small saucepan. Add butter cubes and place the pan over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for 5 minutes or until mixture boils and thickens. Remove from heat. Strain through a fine sieve into a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge to chill and thicken for about half an hour.
REMOVE the dough from the refrigerator, unwrap and working quickly take level tablespoons of dough, roll into balls and place in the centre of each patty pan hole.
WITH clean fingertips, press each shortbread ball onto the bottom and up the sides of each hole to form tart cases.
COVER tray with plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 10 -15 minutes. This will firm up the shortbread before baking and help prevent shrinkage.
PREHEAT oven to 170C.
REMOVE the tray from the freezer and bake the shortbread tart cases,unfilled, for an initial 10 minutes. The pastry should just be beginning to colour. Return to the oven for another few minutes if pastry looks soggy or undercooked.
MEANWHILE MAKE MERINGUE TOPPING, whisk the egg whites in a small bowl until soft peaks form. Add sugar, one tablespoonful at a time until the mixture is thick and glossy. Fold through a generous pinch of cream of tartar to stabilize the meringue.
REMOVE tray from oven. The shortbread will have puffed up a little, use the back of a tablespoon to press down gently in the centre of each tart case. Allow to cool a little then gently twist each tart shell to check that it will easily release from the tin after it has filled. The tart shell will crisp as it cools, making it easier to twist without crumbling or breaking.
FILL each shortbread tart shell with a tablespoon of lemon curd. Pipe a swirl of meringue on top.
RETURN the trays to the hot 170C oven and bake for a further 5 minutes until the tarts are nicely golden around the edges and meringue just beginning to colour .
REMOVE from oven, allow the tarts to cool in their tins for 15 minutes before placing on a wire rack to cool.