recipe

Credit: EARL CARTER

Delicious lime and vanilla bean tart

The lemon tart has been considered a classic for 20 years – which is not really long enough to be properly called a classic, except in cafes. 

The lemon tart we now know is more often a set custard than a curd, although originally it would have been curd. Those lemon curd bases are pretty much a single texture – a soft, one-dimensional sensation. What I like about the texture of this lime and vanilla bean tart is it is firm but also soft and giving.

But I don’t want to beat up on lemon curd. It has a place in most pantries, as a spread or something to serve with a dessert. But it should never be the hero. It’s too rich.

The curd is not a preserve as such. It doesn’t keep as well as jams, for example. It evolved in the 19th century as a simple mix of lemon juice, sugar, butter and eggs. It was English to begin with, and also called lemon cheese.

The first time I had lemon curd was in the country. It was put in the middle of the table after dinner and eaten on bread. A great use for it, and the correct one. It’s not for tarts.

What I consider most attractive about the custard for this recipe is that while the lime is an important element, it just supports the purity of the vanilla flavour. The vanilla is quite pronounced, where elsewhere it is usually the supporting act. The lime is sharp but it opens up for the vanilla, which has great “length” – more of a wine term, to be honest, but it has crossed over with some chefs.

After whisking together all the ingredients, I let the custard sit for half an hour to let any bubbles or foam come to the surface, which I skim off before pouring it into the tart. This ensures a smooth and glimmering surface. Otherwise it can end up pockmarked.

I believe in pouring the custard into the warm tart form, which continues the cooking, but there are cooks who say the tart base should cool first. 

After the custard, the base is pivotal to the success of the tart. If it’s not cooked enough it will be sodden and contribute nothing. The biggest mistake is a pastry that is not cooked enough. I suggest that, when you think the pastry is cooked, cook it a little further. It should be beyond golden, more a dark golden brown.

Taking the pastry that far ensures that even after it has been filled with the custard it will maintain a crisp biscuit finish. Cracks and holes can be plugged with more pastry. And some people go as far as to whisk an egg and brush the inside of the hot tart crust to create a sealed membrane.

Lime and vanilla bean tart

This tart is best served at room temperature on the day it’s made. The pastry recipe will make enough for two 25-centimetre shells. Any excess can be frozen for later use.

Pastry

– 180g butter, softened

– 75g icing sugar

– 2 egg yolks

– 1 tbsp cold water

– 250g plain flour

Filling

– 6 eggs

– 200g sugar

– finely grated zest of 2 limes

– 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped 

– 200ml lime juice (about 3 limes) 

– 200ml thickened cream

For the pastry

Place the butter in an electric mixer and beat it until smooth but not aerated. Add the icing sugar and mix until it is just combined.

In a separate bowl, mix the egg yolks and water, then pour this bit by bit into the butter mixture. Add the flour and mix until everything is just combined and crumbly.

Turn the pastry onto the bench. Using the heel of your hand, knead just enough to bring it together into a cohesive mass.

Form this pastry into two discs, wrap each in cling film and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.

Roll the pastry out to five millimetres thick and line a greased tart tin.

Blind bake the tart shell at 180ºC for about 20 minutes, until it’s golden and cooked through.

For the filling

Set your oven temperature to 120ºC.

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, zest and vanilla seeds. Stir in the lime juice, then the cream. Strain the filling into a jug through a fine sieve. 

Place the cooked tart base in the oven, then pour the custard in, filling the case to the brim. 

Cook for about 20 minutes, checking from time to time by gently knocking or shaking the tray to assess if the filling has set. Be vigilant, for once it sets it will very quickly overcook and curdle if not removed from the oven.

Wine pairing:

2011 Domaine Plageoles Loin de L’Oeil, Gaillac, France ($35) – Campbell Burton, sommelier, Builders Arms Hotel

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 2, 2014 as "All tarted up". Subscribe here.

Andrew McConnell
is the executive chef and co-owner of Cutler & Co and Cumulus Inc.

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