When preparing our menu for Easter dinner this year, Brandon and I consulted several sources and found ourselves drawn to recipes that highlight the green freshness of spring. I think it had something to do with the LONG, GRAY winter we had this year; it left us both chomping at the bit for the grass to grow, the daffodils to sprout, and the spring produce to show up at the market.
Starting with a pea and parsley soup, followed by a pea shoot salad, and continuing with asparagus in the main course, I knew that I needed to find something verdantly sweet for dessert. I recalled having made Ina Garten’s lime curd tart last year while I was expectantly waiting for the mild days of spring and decided to cap off our paschal feast with this sweet and tart, uhh, tart.
The recipe begins with lime zest. Until I began cooking for real, all citrus peels found their way into the trash. Now, I really try to incorporate orange, lime and lemon zest into anything in which I use their juice since it is true that the zest contains the essence of the citrus flavor. When zesting the limes for this recipe, Brandon and I both closed our eyes and imagined we were on a beach with margaritas in our hands – it really filled the kitchen with the scent of lime.
The trick to making this recipe is that nothing looks, at first, the way you think it should. Lime curd as a finished product is smooth and sweet with a hint of green offered by the lime itself. When the lime juice is first combined with the butter and eggs, however, the mixture produces curds, which I can assure you I was NOT expecting the first time I made this recipe! I learned from this British Food History blog that these curds were initially separated from the liquid whey. Heating the curds and whey, however, allows them to integrate and thicken the mixture (essentially producing a custard) so it can be stored, spread or (as in our case) poured into a tart shell.
This deception continues as you prepare the tart dough. When mixed, the dough itself BARELY sticks together, and looks more like a sandbox than a smooth pastry dough. However, once patted into the dish in which it will be baked (I used a spring-form pan instead of a false-bottom tart pan), it holds it’s form and provides a stable and tasty foundation for the smooth lime curd.
The shell does, however, need to be pre-baked. It is lined with a piece of buttered aluminum foil and is filled with dry beans. The beans serve as a weight so the shell does not puff up too much. I keep a jar of beans on the pantry cart that I use specifically for this purpose since they can be reused over and over again.
The shell, once given the opportunity to cool a bit, is filled with the cooked lime curd. I made a few very thin lime slices on the mandolin and floated them on top of the tart as a garnish before it had a chance to harden at all (it does not become very hard, but does not remain liquid). I made some sweetened vanilla whipped cream for serving which adds a different kind of richness as you take each bite.
Here’s to spring produce, short sleeves and margaritas!
LIME CURD TART (from Ina Garten’s The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook)
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- Pinch salt
- 4 limes at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1/4 pound unsalted butter at room temperature
- 4 extra-large eggs at room temperature
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- Pre-heat the oven to 350°F.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix the butter and sugar together until they are just combined. Add the vanilla. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together.
- Dump onto a surface dusted with flour and shape into a flat disk. Press the dough into a 10-inch-round or 9-inch-square false-bottom tart pan, making sure that the finished edge is flat. Chill until firm.
- Butter 1 side of a square of aluminum foil to fit inside the tart and place it, buttered side down, on the pastry. Fill with beans or rice. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and beans, prick the tart all over with the tines of a fork, and bake again for 20 to 25 minutes more, or until lightly browned. Allow to cool to room temperature.
- Remove the zest of 4 limes with a vegetable peeler or zester, being careful to avoid the white pith.
- Squeeze the limes to make 1/2 cup of juice and set the juice aside. Put the zest in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the sugar and process for 2 to 3 minutes, until the zest is very finely minced. (Alternatively, you can just chop the zest very finely on a board and mix it with the sugar in the electric mixer until thoroughly mixed.)
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter with the sugar and lime zest. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and then add the lime juice and salt. Mix until combined.
- Pour the mixture into a 2-quart saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 10 minutes. The lime curd will thicken at about 175 degrees F, or just below a simmer. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- Fill the tart shell with warm lime curd and allow to set at room temperature. Once set, serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.