Spring has arrived in most parts of the country and as the weather warms, we start to find our comfort in a lighter style of food. Our cravings for those warm, comforting soups and stews of winter have been temporarily set aside for dishes that are cool, smooth and creamy. This applies to desserts as well. I find that during the spring and summer months, cool and refreshing desserts are tops on my list. The Meyer Lemon Tart is a great example of that – the rich and creaminess of the Mascarpone Cheese offsets the tart, lemon-orange flavor of the Meyer lemons. All of this floating on a tart crust that is reminiscent of a shortbread cookie. What’s not to like about that?
You might ask, “What are Meyer lemons?” A few years ago it seemed like every recipe I picked up specified Meyer lemons. I recall thinking, “what the heck are Meyer lemons?”. At the time, I was really busy with career, kids and all the associated tasks, so I put the Meyer lemon question aside and never looked into what all the culinary fuss was about. Now, several years later, I’ve had the opportunity to look into what’s so special about these lemons. What I have found out is that indeed, Meyer lemons are special! They originated in China and were named after Frank Meyer, a U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hunter, who discovered them near Peking (now Beijing) in 1908. It is believed that the Meyer lemon is a hybrid between a lemon and the mandarin orange. They are not nearly as tart as the conventional lemon, more fragrant and their peel is slightly sweet.
For a long time, Meyer lemons were exclusive to those who had the ability to have a Meyer lemon tree in their backyard. However, as more and more chefs began to use them in their cooking during the mid-90’s, demand grew for these “beauties” and now speciality grocery stores and even some chain supermarkets offer them to their customers.
ML’s are very versatile and can be used in vinaigrette’s, marinates, desserts, salad dressings, lemonades, teas and most any other recipe that calls for lemons. They will provide a more subtle flavoring than your traditional lemon in your cooking or baking and add a slightly tangy and fragrant dimension.
MEYER LEMON TART
4 cups all purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups unsalted butter, chilled (4 sticks)
2 cups Mascarpone cheese
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
2/3 cup Meyer lemon juice (or regular lemon juice)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
Pastry: Combine flour, salt, sugar and vanilla into the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Cut the chilled butter into small pieces and add to the flour mixture in the food processor. Pulse until the mixture is crumbly and the butter is the size of small peas. Note: If your food processor bowl is small, do this step in 2 batches. Press the mixture firmly into an 11 inch or 12 inch tart pan.
Cover the dough with parchment paper and add about 1-½ cups dried beans or pie weights to hold the dough in place. Bake the tart shell for about 10-15 minutes or until set. Remove the dried beans and parchment paper and continue baking the tart shell for another 10-15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely on a wire rack.
Meyers Lemon Filling: Combine the Mascarpone Cheese, heavy cream, confectioner’s sugar and lemon juice in an electric mixer using the whisk or paddle attachment. Whip until the mixture is thick and smooth (the consistency should be like thick whipped cream). Taste and add more sugar or lemon juice to your taste. When the tart shell is completely cool, fill with the Mascarpone filling. Garnish with finely grated lemon zest. Chill well before serving.