Saturday, March 13, 2010

Shaker Lemon Tart

I’ve been itching to make a Shaker Lemon Tart for some time. For the uninitiated, a Shaker Lemon Tart (or pie) includes whole lemons, sliced very thin, that have been macerated in sugar and combined with eggs before being poured into pie crust and baked.

Because one uses the whole lemon, it seems advisable to use organic lemons, and those can be kind of hard to come by – although they are less so now that we finally have a local Whole Foods.

I tried to resist its allure.  Last time I lived near a Whole Foods, when I was a grad student in Houston, I was too broke to make it a shopping destination.  This time, I have succumbed by deluding myself their produce isn’t expensive in moderate quantities.

Where were we before my Whole Foods apologetics? Ah, Shaker Lemon Tart. This is usually a pie rather than an actual tart, as most recipes call for the lemon-sugar-egg mixture to be baked in a double crust. I have always cared much more for fruit pie fillings than their shells. Not believing this dish really necessitated the double crust treatment, I decided to make it an actual tart rather than a pie masquerading as such.

Of course, I don’t plan ahead and hadn’t realized, when I shuffled downstairs in my pajamas last Saturday morning, that one is supposed to macerate sliced lemons and sugar together overnight before making the tart.  Presumably, this softens the lemon and makes the lemon flavor less sour and aggressive. The recipe that I used as inspiration instructs one to briefly blanch the lemons before slicing and blending with sugar. I decided that if I blanched them for several minutes, it might render the lemons soft enough to make a good tart without prolonged maceration.

I ended up letting the lemons and sugar sit for about an hour before my impatience got the best of me.  The tart tasted fine – even great – but some of the thicker lemon pieces were kind of chewy, so I would advise that you plan ahead and actually do give the lemons an overnight (or several hour) sugar soak. However, if you don’t mind a bit of chew, my strategy seems to have done the trick. Husband and I ate the whole thing in four days, slightly stringy pieces and all.

Now, a word about lemons. Making this with Meyer lemons seems to be all the rage these years, and if you are a Meyer lemon devotee, don’t let me stop you. But I hate Meyer lemons. To me, they taste like Mandarin oranges and possess none of the sharpness that I find appealing in a plain, old-fashioned lemon. I’ve never shied away from sour flavors and don’t understand the point of a lemon whose chief virtue is in tasting insufficiently lemony.

This is by way of saying that this particular recipe might be a bit tart for some palates.  If anything, it was a bit sweet for mine. Husband, who likes tart but is not given to random lemon grazing like me, thought it was perfect.

Shaker Lemon Tart
Heavily adapted from Epicurious
Also incorporates some tips from this Smitten Kitchen recipe

Tart Crust:
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons water

Whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar. Cut the butter into the flour mixture until it’s incorporated in pea-sized lumps – you can use your fingers, two knives, a pastry cutter, a fork, or whatever to accomplish this.

In a small cup, whisk together the egg yolk and the water. Add slowly to the flour/butter mixture and stir just until combined. You might need slightly more water to get the dough to adhere; if you do, add it a tablespoon at a time (and use cold water).

Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Shaker Lemon filling:
2 lemons, preferably organic
1 ¾ cup sugar (lots of recipes call for 2 cups, so if you prefer sweet to tart, you might want to go up to 2 cups. I used vanilla sugar and thought it added something)
4 eggs
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons melted butter
¼ teaspoon salt

Blanch the lemons in boiling water for 1-2 minutes if macerating overnight or about 5 minutes if, like me, you don’t plan ahead. Remove from water, dry, and slice very thinly – I used my food processor’s slicing attachment; a mandolin would probably have worked even better. Pick out as many seeds as you can. I would sort of give the macerating lemons and sugar a stir ever so often and would always come across more seed bits to remove; the final tart seemed relatively seed-free.

Combine lemon slices with sugar and salt and let sit for at least an hour – ideally, let it sit for several hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 425. Roll out tart dough into 11” circle and press into 9” tart pan. Combine lemons and eggs thoroughly, stir in flour and melted butter, then pour into the prepared shell.

Bake for 25-35 minutes or until lightly brown on top. It might take slightly longer in most ovens – my oven runs very hot. Serves 8 pretty comfortably.

This is another recipe that’s appealing in its simplicity. I’m starting to enjoy these baked goods that seem decadent but that include ingredients almost always at hand.

Next up is a raspberry custard tart that I hope will be a close approximation to one I had in France. This French food fixation clearly hasn’t burned itself out yet.

Printable recipe here.


  1. That is a beautiful tart, Becky. Your photo has really magical light too.
    And I love lemon!

  2. Thanks! Sometimes you get lucky with the lighting. It seems to have to do with the angle of the sun in the back bedroom (where I take most of the pictures). :)

  3. looks wonderful! I'm creating my own version as I write this, trying a combination of all the versions I found online but removing the rind and seeing what happens...I'll be posting my outcome on my blog, come see later!

  4. I'll check that out -- hope you enjoy it as much as we did!