Saturday, April 26, 2008

Lemon Tartletts

In 2004 I had a grand vision of growing lemons in the back yard of my apartment building, and producing so much fruit, I’d be able to put the lemons in a big basket at the front steps and share them with everyone that lived around me.

So I went to the plant nursery near my mother’s house and bought myself a young lemon tree. The tag said it would fruit three seasons of the year. This was very exciting news! I took the tree home and planted it on a mound of dirt in the corner of the back yard, which was theoretically communal, but which was only used by me.

Each morning I came out onto my balcony and surveyed my fledgling lemon tree, and was overjoyed when it sprouted some blossoms. My dream of an abundance of lemons was on its way to coming true!

Some weeks later I was entertaining friends from France. As I pointed proudly to where my lemon tree should have been, I was horrified to discover there was nothing left of it but a stick of a stump. Some person had cut my lemon tree off below the graft, unceremoniously ending my dream of a fruiting lemon tree, not just for myself, but everyone in my building.

Of course I overflowed with outrage. How could such a thing happen? I had left the lemon tree name tag on it so it couldn’t be mistaken for some noxious weed. In a place that was relatively barren, my attempt at nurturing life had been prematurely and maliciously cut short. It never fails to astound me how stupid and senseless people can be sometimes.

I never found out who committed that despicable act, although I have my suspicions. I reported the crime to my best friend and her parents, who surprised me at my wedding by delivering a beautiful dwarf lemon tree to my husband and I when we returned home from our honey moon. They were clever enough to plant it in a massive pot so our new lemon tree could sit protected on our balcony, and be transported with us where ever we go. I’m yet to supply the new building I live in with lemons from that tree – but I treasure it all the more for having seen its predecessor cut down before reaching prime. When you live in a city, it’s good to grow things and to nurture them, and to remember that even if your dream does get cut down, you simply plant it again and grow it until it comes true.

1 sheet frozen sweet shortcrust pastry
3 eggs yolks
200ml sweetened condensed milk
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
½ cup caster sugar
12 curls of lemon zest

1. Cut the shortcrust pastry into rounds with a 6cm fluted cookie cutter. Gently press each round into a 12 hole gem scone pan. If it’s Teflon coated you shouldn’t need to grease the pan.

2. Cook the pastry in an oven pre-heated to 180 degrees for 6 minutes. They’ll look a little blonde, but don’t worry, there’s more cooking later.

3. Separate the egg yolks from the whites and set the whites aside. Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl until blended. Add the condensed milk and lemon juice, then mix thoroughly until all ingredients are combined.

4. Place a heaped teaspoonful of mix into each pastry case. Do not overfill! It expands slightly during cooking. Set aside.

5. Put the egg whites in the small bowl of an electric mixer and beat on heat until stiff peaks form. Gradually add the caster sugar and mix for a further three minutes to dissolve the sugar. Mixture should look silky and a little stringy (if it doesn't look like this it will shrink after baking).

6. Place heaped teaspoonfuls of the meringue over the lemon filling. Use the tip of the teaspoon to create a gentle swirl effect. Do not flatten or push the meringue – however it sits naturally is good.

7. Place the tartlets back in the oven and cook for a further six minutes or until the meringue goes a very light golden brown.

8. Allow to cool then decorate with a single strip of lemon zest and serve.

Note: this recipe actually makes enough lemon filling for 24 tartletts so if you feel like making double the number of pastry cases, go right ahead. Alternately, you can use a 12 hole patty cake pan to make your pastry cases a little bigger (so that they hold more filling).