Some clever pie-baking bloggers have come up with the "You Want Pies With That?" blog event. For this month, the theme was "Pies as a Fashion Statement." When I read this to my husband, he frowned in disapproval and said, "Pie is its own statement." (This is the man who always asks for a pie on his birthday. He knows good pie!)
In keeping with that idea, I present the Shaker Meyer Lemon Tart. The simple, beautiful lines of Shaker furniture have "been their own statement" for many years. Shaker lemon pie is also very simple, uses every bit of the lemon, and is intensely and wonderfully lemon-flavored. My twist is to make it as an open-faced tart using Meyer lemons.
I first came across a Shaker lemon pie recipe in Bernard Clayton's "Complete Book of Pastry," then again in Rose Levy Beranbaum's "The Pie and Pastry Bible." (Two wonderful books, by the way.) Then I discovered Meyer lemons. Oh my, what a wonderful flavor! But here in Wisconsin, they are expensive, and available only during a limited season. I hated to waste even a bit of them -- aha! Shaker lemon pie! It uses the entire lemon, only the seeds are discarded.
I decided to make it as an open-faced tart instead, because the filling is very intense and is best in a thin layer. I was thrilled with myself for creating a new recipe! Imagine my chagrin when I discovered Martha Stewart and her crew had gotten there first. (Sigh.) Still, it's a great recipe and I have made it many times since.
Recipe for a 13 by 4-inch tart pan:
Filling (must be started at least 24 hours in advance):
1 1/4 cups / 190 grams Meyer lemon slices
15 tablespoons / 188 grams granulated sugar (increase to 1 1/4 cup / 250 grams for regular lemons)
1/4 tsp salt
When ready to bake:
1 1/4 teaspoons potato starch or cornstarch
2 1/2 large eggs (125 grams)
For a 9-inch round tart pan, use 1 1/2 cups lemon slices (228 gm), 1 cup + 2 Tbsp. sugar (225 gm), 3/8 tsp. salt, 1 1/2 tsp. potato starch, 3 eggs (150 gm).
Start with two Meyer lemons, preferably organic, well washed to remove all wax coating. (Note, you may also use regular lemons, but be sure they are thin-skinned. The kinds with really thick skins will be too bitter.) Slice them in half from stem end to blossom end. With cut side down, cut off the stem end to reveal the flesh inside, then cut into extremely thin half-round slices until you reach the other end. Save the two end pieces that only have the rind and pith on them -- you can grate the peel off them to flavor your tart dough. Pick out all seeds from the slices with the tip of a knife and discard seeds. Place slices in measuring cup. Continue until you have the amount needed for the recipe.
In a non-reactive bowl, combine the lemon slices, sugar, and salt. Share or stir gently to distribute the sugar evenly over the slices. Cover and let macerate for 12 hours at cool room temperature, or in the refrigerator. After 12 hours at room temperature, refrigerate -- they will keep for at least a week. At this point, you may freeze the mixture for later use. (That's what I did for this tart.) The sugar will keep the lemons from getting too mushy when they thaw.
When you are ready to fill your crust (see below), scoop the lemon slices out with a slotted spoon and place in another bowl. Stir the lemon juice/sugar mixture until all sugar is dissolved. Pick out any seeds you may have missed (they will show up as you stir). Spoon out a tablespoon or so of the liquid and use it to dissolve the potato starch or corn starch, then stir the starch mixture back into the filling. Beat eggs until well mixed, then gently stir into filling. Leave lemon slices and filling in separate bowls.
The pastry crust is Rose Levy Beranbaum's Sweet Pastry Dough from "The Pie and Pastry Bible," or available here. I made only 3/4 of the recipe and flavored it with vanilla and grated Meyer Lemon peel.
Crust (for a 13x4 inch rectangular tart pan)
3 Tablespoons sugar (38 gm)
1/2 teaspoon grated Meyer lemon zest
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cool, cut into cubes (3 oz / 85 gm)
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (75 gm)
1/2 cup unbleached pastry flour (75 gm)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 large egg yolk (18.6 gm)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons heavy cream
Place sugar and lemon zest in food processor and process until sugar is very fine. Add butter and pulse until sugar disappears. Add flour and salt and pulse until mixture resembles crumbs. Turn into a bowl. Mix together egg yolk, vanilla and cream. Using fork, stir egg mixture into flour mixture just until it begins to come together. Bring mixture together with hands. Place on plastic wrap, pat into rectangle (or disk if you are using a round pan) and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.
Lightly grease the tart pan. Roll dough out on lightly floured surface to slightly larger than pan. Place in pan and ease down into pan (don't stretch). Trim edges of dough to about 1/4 inch beyond edges of pan, then fold them down inside to make a doubled edge. Press edges smooth with fingers. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze for at least 30 minutes to set dough and help prevent shrinking. (I froze mine for several weeks.)
When ready to bake, set rack to middle of oven and set a heavy baking pan or baking stone on the rack. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Place buttered foil, or parchment paper on top of the tart dough. Leave edges of foil or paper hanging over the edge so you can use them to lift out the weights. Fill tart with pie weights or dry uncooked rice or beans. Set on top of preheated stone or pan, and turn oven down to 375 degrees. Bake for about 20 minutes, until it begins to turn slightly brown at the edges. Remove from oven and gently lift out the foil and weights. (If the dough sticks to the foil, it probably isn't baked enough. Put it back in the oven for a few more minutes.) Place empty tart shell back in oven for about 5 minutes, until bottom is slightly golden. Take out of the oven and brush very lightly with a mixture of 1 egg white whisked together with 1 tablespoon of water, to seal the dough.
Turn the oven down to 325 degrees.
Finish preparing the lemon filling, as above. Arrange the lemon slices over the bottom of the tart, neatly or randomly as you prefer. Pour the liquid over them. (If there is any extra liquid, place it in a small custard cup and bake it along with the tart.) Place in oven (still on top of stone) and cover loosely with a tent of foil.
Bake tart at 325 degrees for about 30 minutes, until the filling has just set.
Let cool completely. Serve, perhaps with whipped cream and a twist of candied lemon peel -- or let it stand on its own!
By the way, here is a picture of my very first Shaker Lemon Pie. I made it about 5 years ago, -- regular lemons, filling recipe from Bernard Clayton's Shaker Lemon Pie, crust from Bernard Clayton's Half-and-Half Pie Crust. I reserved a bit of the egg/lemon juice/sugar from the filling to glaze the top crust and cut-outs.