“My mother…had learned to cook when a girl…She learned the feel of foods, such as the lightness of brioche dough when ready for the oven…she knew how foods should look…she could tell freshness by smell…she learned to taste with discrimination…The way a French housewife does use her senses instead of depending entirely upon recipes and mechanical aids is, I think one reason why women like my mother thought of cooking as a creative art, never a tiresome chore.” (from Louis Diat’s French Cooking for Americans, 1946)
There is no recipe or piece of kitchen equipment that can ensure foolproof results. A recipe may be a good guide, but, as everyone knows who uses them or writes one down to give to a friend, behind the steps outlined on the printed page is the human element which can’t be reduced to measures and directions. How things look and feel and taste are all judgement calls that depend on who is doing the cooking–not what the cook is doing it with.
This point is nicely expressed by Mr. Diat in the quote from the introductory essay to his French cookbook for an American audience in which he describes the kitchen of his childhood home and the person who presided over it–his mother.
Making Lemon Curd and a Coconut Crust lend practical culinary substance to the point. Each begins with a good recipe. Neither chains a cook to a strict set of instructions–in fact, just the opposite. They are easy and interesting opportunities for developing “cooking senses”.
Lemon Curd Tart with Coconut Crust (1 11-inch tart serving 6 – 8 people)
Note: To print this recipe, or any other diplomatickitchen recipe, go to the bottom of the page, at the end of the post, and click on the icon: Print & PDF.
Part I: Making the Lemon Curd (for about 1 and 1/2 cups)
- 8 Tablespoons of Lemon Juice
- 3 Tablespoons of grated Lemon Zest (or the grated zest of 2 large Lemons)
- 3 ounces of Butter, cut in pieces
- 7 ounces of granulated Sugar
- 3 Large Eggs: the eggs in the photos are from a local Farmer’s Market held every Saturday morning, beginning at 9, in Arivaca, Arizona. These eggs have personality. They are interesting–of varying sizes, shell textures and shades of color and…They are fresh–laid by hens whom you can meet if you want to.
- a Double Boiler or a homemade one using a pot and a heatproof bowl that will fit comfortably in the rim of the pot without moving around or touching its bottom. Add water to the pot so that it almost reaches the bottom of the bowl. Click here to see a photo of a homemade double boiler in another diplomatickitchen post.
- a Whisk
- one or two Jars with Lids for storing the curd in the refrigerator
1. Crack the eggs into a bowl , beat them well, and set them aside.
2. Put the lemon juice, zest, sugar and butter in the top of the double boiler:
4. Pour in the eggs, now whisking all the while, and cook the mixture, whisking it continuously, over the simmering water without letting it boil:
5. Continue stirring. Presently, steam will begin rising from the curd, and little bubbles will form on the surface. At first the curd will leave only a film on a spoon. It will taste thin. Gradually, you will see a change in its consistency as you continue to stir and cook it. The curd thickens and forms an opaque coating on the spoon…
6. Remove the curd from the heat and put it in one or a couple of jars. Wait until it cools to cap and refrigerate the curd. If you erred on the side of caution and cooked the curd a little less than the optimum, it will thicken more after being refrigerated. It should be well chilled before putting it into the tart shell.
Part II: Making the Coconut Crust (for an 11-inch Tart) and Putting the Tart Together
- 3 cups of grated Coconut, sweetened or fresh or a mixture of both, plus about 1/2 cup additional Coconut in reserve to add as needed if the egg whites are generously sized and thin the crust mixture more than is good for it
- 3/4 cup of Sugar
- 3 Egg Whites
- 1 teaspoon of Vanilla
- 1 Tablespoon of Butter, softened, for buttering the Tart Pan
- 3 or 4 Kiwis, sliced in rounds are an optional form of decoration for the finished tart
- a Tart Pan with a removable bottom: the photographed tart was baked in a pan measuring 11-inches across the top and 1-inch deep
- a Blender or Food Processor
- a Measuring Cup or Bowl with a flat bottom to provide a stable base for the tart as you slip the ring of the pan down off of the baked crust
- an Icing Spatula or Knife with a long blade to loosen the crust from the base of the tart pan
- a Cooling Rack
- a piece of Parchment Paper, placed on the Cooling Rack (to prevent the crust from sticking to the rack)
1. Preheat the oven to 325 F. Grease the tart pan very well with the softened butter. With your fingers, run butter vertically up into the ridges of the sides of the pan.
2. Put the coconut and the sugar in the blender or processor and mix until the coconut is finely chopped.
3. Blend in the egg whites and vanilla.
4. Test the consistency of the crust mixture. Put a handful of it on a large spoon or on a saucer. The crust should hold its shape. It should look and feel like it holds together loosely. If it doesn’t, add some more coconut, process the mixture again briefly, and check the consistency again:
Then return it to the oven for another 20 minutes, or until it has turned a golden brown:
7. When the tart shell is done, remove it from the oven and place it on a stable base (such as a large, flat-bottomed measuring cup or bowl turned upside down) and slide the metal ring of the tart pan down from the sides of the crust. Run the icing spatula or knife under the crust to loosen it from the bottom of the pan:
8. Slide the crust onto the Parchment paper on the cooling rack. (The paper prevents the crust from sticking to the wires of the rack.)
9. Cool the tart shell and fill it with the cold lemon curd:
…And if you find that your first batch of Lemon Curd is still on the thin side after it has been refrigerated, there is a remedy: Do not fill the tart shell. Instead, cut the Coconut Crust into wedges, place one on each plate, and spoon the curd onto each piece of crust. Decorate the desserts with kiwi slices…and all turns out well.
A Second Note: The Dessert in the Lunch Menu: Lunch from the Grill in the Congo is Lemon Curd Tart with Coconut Crust.
A Second Note: Jane Grigson’s English Food is an excellent source on the subject and provides the basis for the diplomatickitchen’s version of Lemon Curd.
A Final Note: You can join openlibrary.org for free and read Louis Diat’s “My Mother’s Kitchen” online in his book French Cooking for Americans.
© Elizabeth Laeuchli, the diplomatickitchen, 2011-2012