When I knew that I wasn’t going to see my Mom for Thanksgiving, I decided I wanted to do something special for her. I had all the ingredients to make chocolate tartlets for Thanksgiving weekend, but then Thanksgiving wore me out, and we had dinner and dessert out with the family. So I decided I would make some tartlets for my mom, and asked her what was her favorite kind of pie. She said, “lemon meringue,” and I was set: I would make my Mom some lemon meringue tartlets.
I have made Alton Brown’s recipe for lemon curd (adapted below) many times, so that part of it was no problem. But there were two issues to be conquered. In the past when I have made tartlets, I have had issues with them exploding, resulting in there being more tart filling splattered all over the tart pan and the bottom of the oven than in the actual tarts. I researched, and found various suggestions. Some said use a cooler oven. Others said use less filling. And then a couple people said to prick holes in the tart shells. So I went for broke and did all three of these, and sure enough, that worked pretty well.
The other issue was with the meringue. I have used meringue in a lot of different ways, but never as topping on a pie or tart. The recipe, as you’ll see below, suggests piping the meringue onto the top of the tarts. At the end of this post, I will describe the two ways I handled the meringue, and how that worked out each time.
Lemon Meringue Tartlets Recipe
(Makes 24 mini tarts)
If you’re like me, you have only one mini muffin tin. That’s ok: you can easily make this recipe in two batches, a day or two apart. The only part that won’t survive in the refrigerator is the un-cooked meringue, so if you want to do this in two batches, save two of the egg whites for the second batch (or just have extra egg whites on hand).
5 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
4 lemons, zested and juiced
1 stick Earth Balance, cut into pats and chilled
5 egg whites, at room temperature (the egg whites need to be at room temperature to meringue well)
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon [caster] sugar
pinch of cream of tartar
2 puff pastry sheets (I use Pepperidge Farm)
Lemon curd method:
(Adapted from Alton Brown’s lemon curd recipe)
Bring about an inch of water in a medium sauce pan to a simmer over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks and sugar in a medium size metal bowl until smooth, about 1 minute. Measure lemon juice and if needed, add enough cold water to reach 1/3 cup. Add juice and zest to egg mixture and whisk smooth (if you want to cut down on the lemoniness of the curd, only add half the zest). Once water reaches a simmer, reduce heat a bit and put the bowl on top of the open sauce pan. (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water.) Whisk until thickened, approximately 20 minutes, or until mixture coats the back of a spoon (as you go, keep your eye on the water – if it stops simmering, you may need to raise the heat a bit). Remove the bowl of curd promptly from the heat and stir in Earth Balance a piece at a time, allowing each pad to melt before adding the next. Cover the curd with plastic wrap so that it doesn’t develop a skin, and lay aside to cool. (If you want to use it on a future day, it will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks).
Meringue method (prepare once the lemon tarts are cooked):
(Adapted from a Fisher Paykel recipe)
Beat the whites in an electric beater until stiff. Add the cream of tartar, beat, then gradually add the sugar and continue beating for a few more minutes.
To assemble and cook the tarts: Remove your puff pastry from the freezer, and preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Defrost your puff pastry on a cutting board for 20-30 minutes, or just until it is un-frozen enough to spread out – if you let it get all the way to room temperature, it may stick to itself and be hard to handle. Unfold the pastry and slice it in half lengthwise. Lay the one half on top of the other, roll it up the short way, and slice it first into four, then each of those into three, leaving you with a dozen little pillows of puff pastry.
Lightly spray your mini muffin tin(s) with cooking spray, using a pastry brush to make sure that the cups are thoroughly coated. One at a time, take your disks of puff pastry, and flatten them out into a round disk, shaping it to fit into a muffin shell shape. Put the shell-to-be into an empty spot on the muffin tin and press it lightly, bringing the sides a little high up.
When you have done the same with the other 11 tart shells, blind bake them for 15 minutes.
For my blind baking, I took aluminum foil, shaping the foil into a mirror of the tart shells and placing them inside the tart shells. Then I filled each open aluminum shell with some split peas to weight it down. This prevented the shells from flattening out too much while baking – i.e., they were left upon baking with a dip in the center that was perfect for the lemon curd.
Fill each tart with a generous tablespoon of lemon curd and bake for a further 5-7 minutes at 300 (if the oven is too hot the lemon curd will boil over).
Pipe the meringue mix onto the lemon tarts, raise the oven temperature to 400 and bake for a further 5 minutes. If you want to get the meringue nicely browned, put the tarts under the broiler for an additional 30 to 45 seconds.
Okay, so the piping of the meringue. You’d think since I work at a first-rate kitchenware store that I would have lots of tools for piping and lots of experience. Well, I have neither. So the first time I made the tartlets, I took a Ziploc bag and snipped a corner off of it, filled the bag up with meringue, and zipped it closed.
Little did I know that the bag’s bottom was pleated, and so the hole was much larger than I intended. So I had little control over the meringue in piping, and it was messy. I used a spatula to try to get it under control a little before doing the final step of baking. The key point here is that I ended up using a lot of meringue per tartlet.
The second time I made the tartlets, I found a bag without a pleated bottom, and cut a nice small hole. This resulted in a more controlled effort, a more aesthetically pleasing effort, but substantially less meringue per tartlet. Here is a side-by-side of examples from each batch of tartlets to show you what I mean.
So the upshot of it is that the batch number two was better constructed, but batch number one tasted better! Lesson learned: next time I will use more meringue per tartlet, and maybe not use the full portion of lemon zest to cut down on the strong lemon flavor. So aesthetics aren’t everything. And the most important thing is that Mom, who got batch number one, was very happy.