The hot Mediterranean climate of Provence is more favorable to savory dishes and breads than to the egg and cream-based desserts found in the north. Notable exceptions include the amazing array of candied fruits in pâtisseries and specialty stores, the nougat of Montélimar, sweet fritters such as Bugnes that stand up well to the heat, and this quintessentially simple lemon tart.

Serves 8

Pâte sucrée

  • 1 1/2 cups/185 grams/6 1/2 ounces flour
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup/75 grams/2 1/2 ounces sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 6 tablespoons/90 grams/3 ounces butter, more for the pan

Lemon filling

  • 1 cup/150 grams/5 1/2 ounces whole blanched almonds
  • 3/4 cup/150 grams/5 1/2 ounces sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • Grated zest of 2 lemons
  • 1/4 cup/60 milliliters/2 fluid ounces fresh lemon juice
  • 2/3 cup/140 grams/5 ounces butter, melted
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for sprinkling
  • 10-inch/25-centimeter tart pan with removable base

To make the pâte sucrée, sift the flour onto the counter and make a well in the center. Put the salt, sugar, egg yolks, and vanilla in the well. Pound the butter with a rolling pin to soften it, add it to the other ingredients in the well, and work with the fingers of one hand until thoroughly mixed and the sugar is partially dissolved. Using a pastry scraper, gradually draw in the flour from the sides of the well and continue working with both hands until coarse crumbs form. If the crumbs seem dry, sprinkle with another tablespoon of water; the crumbs should be soft but not sticky. Press the dough gently together into a ball; it will be uneven and unblended at this point.

To blend (fraiser) the dough, sprinkle the counter with flour and put the dough on it. With the heel of your hand, push the dough away from you, flattening it against the counter. Gather it up, press it into a rough ball, and flatten it again. This flattening motion evenly blends the butter with the other ingredients without overworking the dough. Work quickly so the butter doesn’t get too warm. Continue until the dough is as pliable as putty and pulls away from the counter in one piece, 1 to 2 minutes. Shape it into a ball, wrap, and chill until firm, 15 to 30 minutes.  Butter the tart pan. Roll out the dough, line the pan, and chill 30 minutes. Heat the oven to 375˚F/190˚C/Gas 5 and set a baking sheet to heat on a rack low down in the oven.

To blind bake the tart shell, crumple a large sheet of aluminum foil, flatten it, and line the pastry shell with it, pressing it well into the corners. Fill the shell with dried beans or rice to hold the dough in place. (The beans or rice can be kept and used again.) Bake until the edges of the dough are set and starting to brown, l5 to 20 minutes. Remove the weights and foil and continue baking until the base is firm and dry, 4 to 5 minutes longer. Let the tart shell cool, leaving the baking sheet in the oven.

For the filling, work the almonds with 2 tablespoons of the sugar in a food processor until finely ground, using the pulse button. Set aside. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs and remaining sugar until light and thick enough to leave a ribbon trail when the whisk is lifted, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the lemon zest and juice, followed by the melted butter. Using a spoon, stir in the ground almond mixture.

Set the tart shell on the heated baking sheet in the oven, then carefully pour in the filling so it does not spill. Bake until the filling is set and golden brown and a skewer inserted in the middle of the tart comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool, then unmold the tart onto a platter. Serve it at room temperature, sprinkling with confectioners’ sugar at the last minute.  The tart keeps well up to 2 days in an airtight container but will not be as light as on the day of baking.

photo by France Ruffenach
by Anne Willan, Chronicle Books, 2007.