Tag Archives: lemon

The Lemon Meringue Tart from Hell

We interrupt your regularly scheduled chocolate programming to bring you this story from my early days in culinary school. For the most part, I really enjoyed culinary school. However, there were a few points when I felt like throwing my hands up, chucking a copper bowl across the kitchen and leaving. This was, quite possibly, the worst of those times.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…

The Lemon Meringue Tart From Hell

Lemon tart

This is not the Lemon Meringue Tart from Hell. This is what the lemon tart was supposed to look like. Mine (the one from Hell) did not look like this.

French lemon tart is, naturally, more complicated than your average lemon tart. It’s a four-component dessert: sweet dough, almond cream, lemon custard, Italian meringue. It happened to be the focus of the fourth lesson in culinary school, and my first opportunity to show that I could put the pieces together to make something lovely.

Well, as you might have guessed, it was anything but.

First. Sweet dough.

Oh, sweet dough. There’s something lovely and methodical about making pastry: the need for cold hands, the reverence for butter, the balance of structure and tenderness. I think it’s therapeutic; others think it’s terrifying. In any case, this part of the class went fine. I had visions of the beautiful pastry shop that I would open. People would come from miles to visit and lie prostrate at my feet when they tasted my creations.

Second. Almond cream.

Sometimes called frangipane cream, almond cream is a fluffy, butter-based almond filling. It’s sort of airy and melty and is really delicious with pears and apples. The lemon tart called for a delicate spiral of almond cream to be piped on top of the sweet dough, the two layers baked until they were golden brown.

Piping? Erm, okay. Despite my hours of practice at home (covering the kitchen table with tinfoil and piping rosettes out of cheap margarine does not make you popular with roommates), I was still pretty sketchy with a piping bag. The spiral, if it had a face, would have had a face that only its mother could love. No matter, I thought. There will be a layer of lemon custard to cover this up, and I’m sure that everything will taste great.

The sweet dough and almond cream went into the oven, and I turned my attention to the lemon custard.

Third. Lemon custard.

I love lemon custard. If it’s lemony with a pudding-like consistency, I’m all over it.

I made my lemon custard and it turned out well. I checked on the oven, only to find that my already sad-looking tart had turned into a volcanic pimple. Suddenly, Chef’s voice sounded in my head: “If you do not fill ze pan wit ze pastry prop-air-ly, you will ‘ave hair underzneeth it and it will expand.” Shoot. I took it out, pressed it down with a large spatula, and popped it back in. Whew.

When the now-deflated tart was done, I took it out and put it in the freezer to cool it down. I was running out of time, and I still had to make Italian meringue.

Fourth. Italian meringue.

Italian meringue is a mixture of egg whites and sugar syrup. To make Italian meringue, whisk egg whites to a soft peak. A little bit of cream of tartar will help keep the egg whites from separating. Meanwhile, prepare a mixture of sugar and water and heat it until it’s 120°C. Then, stream the sugar syrup into the egg whites and whisk until they’re shiny, glossy and hold their shape.

It all sounds so simple, except that we weren’t allowed to use any machines. Suddenly, this very simple procedure is the world’s best workout. And how to figure out that the sugar syrup was at the correct temperature? Oh, that’s simple. You put your fingers in a bowl of ice water, pop them into the bubbling sugar mixture to get a little bit, and then put your fingers back in the ice water. Uh huh.

Several burnt fingers later, red-faced and exhausted, I felt as lame as my Italian meringue looked. It was gloopy and gloppy and certainly did not hold its shape. However, I didn’t have the time or the strength to start again, so I went with it. Visions of the cute pastry shop were getting dim.

Putting it all together (or, where it goes horribly wrong)

I took the almond cream base out of the freezer, but it clearly hadn’t been in there long enough. It was still slightly warm, but I didn’t have time to wait. I filled it with lemon custard and felt a wave of horror sweep over me. “If ze cream is too ‘ot, you will melt ze lemon custard,” I heard in the back of my head. Yup. Ze lemon custard was turning to liquid at the edges where it met the still-warm tart shell and almond cream. I put it back in the freezer for a harrowing five minutes, and pulled it back out. It looked okay. I pushed ahead.

I was supposed to pipe the Italian meringue on top of the lemon custard, creating a pattern of delicate petals. One look at my gloopy, gloppy meringue and I knew that wasn’t going to happen. I spread it onto the custard and tried to make it look pretty. It did not look pretty.

Finally, I put it back in the oven to caramelize the meringue. Suddenly, I heard another tidbit in my brain: “If you do not cover ze custard wiz ze meringue compl-ait-lay, ze ‘eat of ze oven will melt it. And you will FAIL.”

I watched in horror as the lemon custard began to bubble out from beneath the meringue, threatening to escape the tart and tarnish my academic record. I pulled it out of the oven in a panic. Just then, Chef walked by. “Chef, what do I do?” I wailed. He shrugged and said “Ah, you are done. Iz nussing you can do.”

Presentation

I unmolded my sad, lame, un-caramelized tart and presented it to Chef. He looked at me, confused. “Why you present zis? Zis is not fin-aished.” I sputtered something about him telling me that it was done, and he shook his head. “You cannot serve zis. Zis is not fin-aished. You use ze torch.”

He handed me a blowtorch and proceeded to grade someone else’s pristine, gorgeous, artfully presented tart. In the time it took him to do that, I lit my meringue on fire.

Adding insult to injury

I passed, but just barely. The last one out of the classroom, I packed up my things, put my sad, burnt tart into a Tupperware container and trudged down every single step from the second-floor classroom to the basement locker room.

On the last step, I tripped. And, just like in the movies, my life went into slow motion as the Tupperware container slipped from my hands and tumbled, ever-so-slowly, to the ground. There was a distinct ka-chunk as the container hit the floor, followed by a softer, squishier psshhhhhhh as the momentum of the fall propelled the tart into one corner of the container.

I stopped. I stared. And, just before I burst into tears, two raucous friends from the cuisine program came running down the stairs. I told them my story, presented them with the tart and then sat with them in the student lounge as we dug into the decrepit tart with plastic spoons.

It tasted just fine.

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Seth Ellis Chocolatier lemon truffles

I love lemons. Lemon juice is a lot like salt – used properly, you don’t taste it, but it makes a huge difference to a finished dish. Also, the masochist in me likes the sour-tart thing that lemons have.

seth-ellis-candied-lemon

Photo credit: Rick Levine

Plus, they go so well with sweets. Seth Ellis Chocolatier makes their own candied lemons, and enrobes them in two layers of dark chocolate. The resulting confection is chocolatey, bitter, sweet and tart – all at once. It’s quite lovely.

Like any good food producer, they don’t let anything go to waste. The delicious lemon syrup that’s left over makes its way into their lemon truffles. Inside a dark chocolate shell is a lemon-kissed dark chocolate ganache that hints at the bitterness of lemon pith, but stops short of actually getting there. There are wee bits of lemon zest dispersed in the ganache, and while I’d normally complain about it, this time I like the textural interest of the zest.

seth-ellis-lemon-truffle

Photo credit: Rick Levine

And since we eat with our eyes, I think one of the best parts of this truffle is that they look like little art deco buttons. It’s like eating a chocolatey version of a vintage Chanel suit. And how often do you get to do that?

Seth Ellis chocolates are available at select locations in the Denver/Boulder area, and that page will soon be updated to reflect the five NYC Whole Foods that now carries them. You can also buy them online through It’s Only Natural Gifts or through Foodzie.

Frasca: food, wine, and chocolate

“I always pick the second least expensive wine on the menu.”

I went with my friend Mark to Frasca, and he picked the bottle of wine. As you can see, Mark is a very discerning wine drinker. Lest you he’s a total plebe, he picked a lovely Cotes du Rhone that tasted like blackberries, smoke and spice. Nom.

Frasca’s beautiful. Once you get past the slightly confusing black curtain in the entrance, you find yourself in a wood-panelled room full of beautiful people and delirious smells. Aside from that, you might want to eat there because of the restaurant’s, for lack of a better word, pedigree. Among other accolades, co-owner Chef Lachlan MacKinnon-Patterson won the 2008 James Beard award for best chef in the southwestern US. Co-owner and wine director Bobby Stuckey is a Master Sommelier. Oh, and they met while working at The French Laundry. Huh.

Anyway, back to food. The market salad was clean and bright, with nice acidity. Garnished with two kinds of cheese and beauitfully salty salami, it was a great start to the meal. I’ll admit, though, that Mark’s braised lamb dish was exceptional.

Mark’s next course was a duck thigh ravioli, which was as delicious as it sounds. I had a lobster pasta alla guitara, thin noodles (think angel hair pasta, but with a fancier name) tossed with lobster and lemon. Rich, redolent and succulent, this dish could have been the end of the night and I would have gone home happy.

Of course, I kept going. We both got the Colorado beef shoulder, which was so. freaking. good. Enrobed in a salty, sweet, rich and acidic jus, the beef was cooked to exactly medium, all seared and crusty on the outside. Served on a ricotta cream with meaty mushrooms that soaked up all the jus, it was tasty. And then some.

For dessert, I had the house special bombolini, otherwise known as warm, deep-friend pillows of delicious. With a passionfruit centre in the middle and dusted with icing sugar, the bombolini looked a bit like doughy eggs. Served with homemade vanilla ice cream, the hot-cold combination was beautiful. Mark’s chocolate peanut butter torta was a peanut butter mousse on luscious chocolate cake, with banana ice cream.

And because that wasn’t enough, I insisted on getting a plate of house chocolates. More on those tomorrow.

Frasca Food & Wine
1738 Pearl St
Boulder, CO
303-442-6966
Frasca Food & Wine on Urbanspoon

Voya’s petits fours: coffee chocolates

I’m rounding out my discussion of the petits fours plate at Voya, which features six bites of deliciousness. The selection changes frequently, and I got to sample lemon spritz cookies, sparkly coffee cookies, pineapple pate de fruit, cherry cordials, hazelnut praline chocolates, and coffee chocolates.

While tasting, I saved the coffee chocolate for last because I expected it to have the most punch. It was a beautifully shiny chocolate shell surrounding a great ganache: dark, rich, perfectly smooth, with just the right level of denseness. I think I wanted it to have a bit more coffee punch, but maybe I was spoiled by the sparkly coffee cookie I had eaten earlier. In any event, it was a great way to end the night, and paired perfectly with the freshly brewed decaf Americano that I ordered.

Voya (in the Loden Hotel)
1177 Melville Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 639-8692
Voya Restaurant & Lounge on Urbanspoon

Voya’s petits fours: hazelnut praline chocolates

We’re almost there, kids! The petits fours plate at Voya features six tasty little things, and I got to sample lemon spritz cookies, sparkly coffee cookies, pineapple pate de fruit, cherry cordials, hazelnut praline chocolates, and coffee chocolates.

Now, here’s the thing with hazelnut praline and chocolate. It’s one of those combinations that 99% of the population loves, and the 1% that doesn’t love it is weird because they don’t like hazelnuts. Think about Nutella, Purdy’s hedgehogs, and Ferrero Rocher – they’re all based on hazelnut praline and chocolate.

Now, just so everyone’s on the same page here, hazelnut praline is a very particular concoction. It’s shelled, peeled, toasted hazelnuts that are incorporated into caramelized sugar. The entire mixture is spread on a sheet and allowed to cool into, for lack of a better term, hazelnut brittle. The mixture is then broken into pieces and whizzed around a food processor until it forms a paste. This paste includes the best of both worlds: the toastiness and nuttiness of the hazelnuts, and the sweetness and caramel notes of the sugar.

Hazelnut praline is usually combined with milk chocolate for a deadly combination that few people can resist. For this reason, I’m a little bit skeptical when I see it on chocolate menus, because people like it regardless of how well it’s done.

Well, this hazelnut praline chocolate at Voya is impressive. It has clean hazelnut flavour, and isn’t too heavy or rich. Even better, there are little bits of praligrain inside. These toasted, caramelized pieces of hazelnuts give a sugary, caramel-y snap as you bite into them. It’s a great contrast to the otherwise creamy and smooth inside of the chocolate.

Voya (in the Loden Hotel)
1177 Melville Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 639-8692

Voya’s petits fours: cherry cordials

Well, I’m halfway through talking about the petits fours plate at Voya. While the specific items change quite often, I’m hoping you’ll have a chance to try some of what I had: lemon spritz cookies, sparkly coffee cookies, pineapple pate de fruit, cherry cordials, hazelnut praline chocolates, and coffee chocolates.

When I think of cherry cordials, I think of those gross things that came in cheap boxes of chocolate at Christmas. They were cloyingly sweet, the chocolate was cheap and waxy, and the cherry tasted like anything but a cherry.

Well, cross your fingers and hope that you get to try pastry chef Maurizio Persichino’s cherry cordials. Encased in the thinnest possible dark chocolate shell, the cherry cordial puts emphasis on the “cherry” rather than the “cordial” part of the name. The cherry is plump, succulent and just boozy enough, and the surrounding syrup is pleasantly sweet.

One of these days I’ll have to tell you the magic behind making cherry cordials. But that’s another story for another time.

Voya (in the Loden Hotel)
1177 Melville Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 639-8692

Voya’s petits fours: pineapple pate de fruit

If you’ve just joined us, I’m dissecting the petits fours plate at Voya. It’s a delicious assortment of beautiful little things, and the plate I had featured lemon spritz cookies, sparkly coffee cookies, pineapple pate de fruit, cherry cordials, hazelnut praline chocolates, and coffee chocolates.

I love pate de fruit. Directly translated, it means “fruit paste” and that’s exactly what it is.  Just think about it: delicate little squares of fruit puree, concentrated and slightly sweetened, and rolled in sugar so it sparkles. Slightly sticky, tangy and tart, it’s like candy for grown-ups.

Voya’s petits fours plate came with pineapple pate de fruit, and it surprised me. I was expecting tart, brash pineapple that would make my tongue pucker a little bit. Instead, it was a kinder, gentler pineapple that started out a little bit shy, and then became bolder as it melted on my tongue. The flavour developed even further on the back of my tongue and throat.

Not what I expected at all, but lovely nonetheless.

Voya (in the Loden Hotel)
1177 Melville Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 639-8692