One August, when I was 10 years old and vacationing with my family in a village in Provence, we decided to try lemon tarts from all the patisseries within a 20-minute drive. Every day, we’d pick up our sample to rigorously evaluate its merits and flaws. Was the pastry as crisp and crumbly as a cookie? Was the curd silky smooth, yet sharp enough to make you squint before the buttery sweetness hit?
This recipe meets those criteria and more, and even features a timesaving tweak. Instead of a classic tart crust, which needs a rolling pin and all your patience, I use a foolproof, smoosh-it-into-the-pan dough made with melted butter. It’s a breeze to throw together and bakes up as crunchy as a shortbread cookie, but it’s thin enough that there’s plenty of room for the lemon curd filling.
Besides being easy, the melted butter has a surprising advantage. Cook it until the foamy white milk solids fall to the bottom of the pan, and the fat turns amber and smells like hazelnuts. The resulting brown-butter crust may not be traditional, but its caramel flavor is the perfect complement to the bright, acidulous curd.
The only tricky part here is baking it just long enough. Because the curd is cooked on the stove first, it needs only a few minutes in the oven to help it settle into the crust. Gently shake the pan: When the tart is done, the middle should jiggle, but the edges stay put. The center will set as it cools.
Don’t rush the cooling time, though. The baked tart needs at least two hours to rest. If, even after that, the curd still looks a little runny, pop it into the fridge for an hour or two to help it set before you cut it.
The crust will stay at its crunchiest when served on the day you bake the tart. But it’s nearly as heavenly (if a bit softer) a day or two later. Store it in the fridge and eat it cold, or let it come to room temperature. It’s excellent both ways.
Lemon tarts don’t need any kind of accompaniment, like ice cream or whipped cream. One sublime yellow wedge is sufficient unto itself, perhaps paired with an espresso — though my inner 10-year-old still yearns for a glass of cold milk, and dreams of sun-drenched Provençal afternoons.