march 6, 2015
updated march 2, 2021
Lemon bars were one of the first things I cooked as a kiddie baker, and when the call was put out for school bake sale goods, I delivered. Yep, I was the kid who cooked homemade lemon bars for the bake sale. My parents both worked and I could never imagine burdening them with baking tasks, much less taking something store-bought to the sale.
Of course, I trimmed a little off the edges to make them pretty, and of course, those trimmings had to be consumed, and then I had to taste a few bars to make sure they were fit for sale, of course, so you can imagine the paltry offerings on my little plate. I am still taste-testing my baked goods, and the only time I don’t eat the trimmings and bits is when I cook for a Good Eats Company client.
Today’s recipe is no different, and you can bet I took a good size piece or two before passing it on to some of my neighborhood official tasters, Soapmaster Mike and his lovely wife, Sharon. I became intrigued by a recent New York Times article in Melissa Clark’s column “A Good Appetite” describing a grownup version of lemon bars, with a silky interior enhanced by fruity extra virgin olive oil and topped at serving time with a scattering of sea salt flakes. My love affair with citrus continues, and I made this tart because I wanted it, not because a bake sale deadline loomed.
Transforming bars into a pretty tart ramps up the grownup factor and makes a fancier presentation for a dinner gathering. Use a nicely assertive extra virgin olive oil, to lend vibrant color and flavor, and don’t be afraid of the salty garnish; its presence will enhance the sweetness and balance the tartness. Any flaky or chunky sea salt will do, but if you can score some English Maldon flakes, the clean taste will please your palate and make your salads sing. This easy dessert can be made a week ahead and may also be frozen; just be sure to garnish with confectioner’s sugar and flaky salt right before serving, so these adornments don’t melt into the filling.
Lemon Tart with Olive Oil and Flaky Sea Salt
recipe adapted from Melissa Clark
makes eight to ten servings
for the shortbread crust
1 ¼ cup all purpose flour, or gluten free flour *
¼ cup sugar
3 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt ( I like La Baleine)
10 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
for the filling
1 ½ cups sugar
1 ½ teaspoons cornstarch
pinch of fine sea salt
2 large eggs plus 3 egg yolks
¾ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus 2 teaspoons lemon zest **
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, best quality
for garnishing at serving time
flaky sea salt (I like Maldon)
*I made a gluten free crust for the photos, with Bob’s Red Mill gluten free flour and ¾ teaspoon xanthan gum added – there are other products available that are ready to use, like Cup-4-Cup
**Use a zester or grater to remove lemon zest before juicing your lemons, or else you will be working with a flabby lemon shell, hard to hold while zesting
update 3/2/21: I now use all purpose gluten free flour, mostly Bob’s Red Mill 1-for-1 but please note that regular wheat flour works great for this recipe, too
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
- For crust, add flour, sugar, confectioner’s sugar and salt to bowl of large food processor and pulse until combined.
- Scatter butter pieces over flour mixture and pulse just until crust resembles a shaggy, crumbly dough.
- Press this on the bottom and up the sides of a 10 inch ceramic or glass pie plate, being sure to push dough well up the sides since it may shrink a little with baking.
- Bake until crust is lightly golden, about 20-30 minutes.
- While crust bakes, prepare the filling by whisking together sugar, salt and cornstarch in a small nonreactive stainless steel saucepan (stainless steel pans prevent metal leaching as with aluminum pans, and also prevent a muddy appearance), then adding eggs and egg yolks, then adding lemon juice and zest last, whisking until just combined.
- Whisk this mixture over medium heat until you notice bubbles as it begins to boil after several minutes, then let mixture boil gently over lowered heat about one minute for cornstarch to activate and lose its starchy taste.
- Off heat, whisk in butter and olive oil.
- Pour this mixture carefully into the baked crust shell, avoiding splattering, and bake until the mixture is set, another 15-20 minutes.
- After tart cools to room temperature, refrigerate at least several hours and up to one week.
- The tart cuts well in the chilled state, but tastes best if allowed to sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes to soften the crust.
- After cutting servings, garnish them lightly with a sprinkle of confectioner’s sugar and a few flakes of sea salt, serving immediately so garnishes don’t melt into the tart filling.