Incredibly Edible

By Beacon Staff

There is a legend that I’ve been attempting to track down that says the number of folds on a chef’s toque (hat) is equal to the number of ways an egg can be cooked.

The chef’s toque is a carryover from medieval times, when trade guilds had very specific uniforms and headwear. To be sure, there are many different styles of toques, but it’s the original that had more than 50 intricate folds in it, meaning there were more than 50 different ways to prepare an egg.

Eggs are arguably one of the most versatile of ingredients in the kitchen, from the most basic of breakfasts, to the most intricate of sauces; the egg is what makes angel food cakes and soufflés rise and lemon curds thicken, among other things.

My diners, whether they’ve paid for the meal or they’ve come to my home as my guest, have come to know me for, among other things, my lemon tart because the curd I make is outrageously rich, yet still brings through the tang of the lemon. It took me the better part of a year to get the formula just right.

Lemon curd is one of those things that you can make with two eggs or 10 (as I do). It all depends on what you hope to achieve when using it as the centerpiece of a dessert or something as mundane as a spread. You also must use care when incorporating the eggs into your other ingredients because the application of heat will get you scrambled eggs in a heartbeat if your mixture becomes too hot.

You need patience to make a fine lemon curd for a lemon tart. And you need nine egg yolks and one whole egg. The addition of sugar, freshly squeezed lemon juice, salt, butter and cream, all cooked slowly in a double boiler over barely simmering water will give you a taste sensation that will stay with you. Herewith, my recipe for lemon tart:

Make your favorite pie crust recipe and blind bake it in a nine-inch tart pan (the kind with a removable bottom) in a 450-degree oven for 9 to 11 minutes, until the pastry is a pale golden brown. I use pie weights on top of aluminum foil, then remove those and let the crust continue to bake until it reaches the desired color and texture. Remove from the oven and set on a rack to cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 325.

In a bowl, mix together 9 egg yolks, one whole egg, 2/3 cup sugar, 1/4 teaspoon of salt and a half cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice. Do not, under any circumstance, use bottled lemon juice. Mix it together well. Add 1-1/2 tablespoons of cold unsalted butter to the mixture.

Place the bowl on top of a pot of simmering water. Do not let the water come to a boil at any time during the process. Keep the mixture moving while over the heat with a whisk, making sure to incorporate any of the soon-to-be curd that may begin to stick to the sides of the bowl. Continue whisking until the butter pieces melt and the mixture thickens. Your curd is ready when it’s as thick as ketchup (sorry for that comparison). If you’d like, you can use an instant read thermometer, which should read 160 degrees. Pull the curd off the pan of water and immediately add two tablespoons of heavy cream and mix until there are no streaks.

Pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into another bowl. This helps cool the curd and to filter out any curdled egg bits. Then pour the strained curd into the cooled tart shell and bake it in the oven for about six or seven minutes until set and the crust is a deep golden brown.

Once again, let the tart cool on a rack.

This lemon tart is fantastic all by itself. Or you can serve it with freshly whipped cream. Sometimes, if I have fresh berries, I’ll make a topping by heating the berries with some sugar and cornstarch until they release their liquid. After the berries and liquid thicken, I’ll cool them and carefully spread on top of the lemon tart.

And by the way, those nine egg whites that you didn’t use in this recipe should be stored in a tightly covered container or zip-lock bag. Egg whites freeze well and can be used at a later date.

Like when it’s time to make angel food cake.

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