Today being Father's Day, Jamie and I had lunch at my parents' house. Since I enjoy any excuse to make dessert for other people, I wanted to make a really special dessert for my dad, so I thought about his favorite desserts over the years, and the one that stood out most in my mind was Lemon Fluff. This dessert was quite simply, layers of Cool Whip, cream cheese and instant lemon pudding, on top of a thin crust made of butter, flour and crushed nuts, all in a 9x13 pan. My dad loved Lemon Fluff so much, and rightly so, that I remember him cutting two big pieces and stacking them in a bowl to eat with a spoon. It was easy to make since it was a mostly non-bake dessert, except for the crust, and as a kid it was hard to get through dinner, especially if dinner included lima beans (blegh!), knowing that there was creamy lemony goodness waiting in the fridge.
So with my memories of Lemon Fluff as inspiration, I decided to make an all grown-up version with a shortbread cookie crust, creamy and tart lemon pastry cream, smooth and tangy cream cheese and whipped cream, and to top it all off, candied lemon slices. I also wanted a reason to use my new and very pretty blue tart pan I recently found at Target.
When someone else has mastered a recipe for perfect tart crust and pastry cream, there's really no reason to not use their tried and true methods, so for this dessert, I turned to my baking cookbook by Dorie Greenspan, "Baking: From my Home to Yours". So the genius behind the lemony perfection of this dessert is all hers, although the layer of cream cheese filling is my own. This dessert is sweet but not too sweet, tart, smooth, creamy... with a buttery crumbly crust that perfectly complements the creamy filling. What could be more perfect?
There are a lot of steps to completing this tart, but don't worry, it is well worth it! After finishing his first piece this afternoon, my dad stated in what my mom described as a "sticky voice": "I think I require another piece." Somehow, I don't think the rest of the tart I left in their fridge will last through tonight. :)
Lemon Cream Cheese Tart
Sweet Tart Dough
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup powdered or confectioner's sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- 1 egg yolk, beaten
- Tart pan, with a removable bottom
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, powdered sugar and salt. (For the following steps, Dorie Greenspan used a food processor, but I did just fine with a pastry cutter and my hands.) Scatter the cold butter pieces over the flour, and using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until you have coarse crumbs (about 1-2 minutes). Add the egg yolk, a little at a time, stirring into the flour and butter with your fingers. Working quickly, work the dough with your fingers to incorporate the moisture into the flour. (The dough will appear very dry, and you might think it doesn't have enough liquid, but don't worry, it will come together.) After 2-3 minutes of working the dough, it should start to hold together enough so that you can gather it into a ball.
Grease your tart pan very thoroughly with butter or cooking spray. Take half the dough and press evenly into the bottom of the tart pan, all the way to the edges. Take the other half of the dough, and press evenly around the sides of the pan, ensuring that it comes all the way up to the top of the sides--you want a deep crust since you will be filling with two layers. Freeze crust in pan for 30 minutes before baking.
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Take a large piece of aluminum foil and spray the shiny side thoroughly with cooking spray. Fit the foil, greased side down, tightly against the crust. Bake for 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, gently press it down with the back of a spoon. Bake for an additional 5 minutes until golden brown. Cool completely on a wire rack before filling.
Cream Cheese - Whipped Cream Layer
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
- 8 ounces cream cheese
Using the whisk attachment of an electric mixer, beat the whipping cream and powdered sugar until soft peaks form. Add the cream cheese and beat with the cream until it is smooth and thick. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until ready to use.
Dorie Greenspan's "Most Extraordinary French Lemon Pastry Cream "
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- grated zest of 3 lemons
- 4 eggs
- 3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 4-5 lemons)
- 2 sticks plus 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces, at room temperature
- medium saucepan and metal bowl, to be used as a double boiler
- instant read thermometer
- mesh strainer
- blender or food processor
Set the bowl over the saucepan. (The bottom of the pan should not be touching the water.) Place the thermometer into the liquid. Cook the lemon cream until it reaches 180 degrees F (I stopped when it reached 177 degrees F since I'm at a high altitude), whisking constantly to keep the eggs from scrambling. The cream will start out light and foamy, then it will thicken and the whisk will leave tracks. When it reaches 180, after about 10 minutes, immediately remove from the heat, and pour through the mesh strainer into a bowl. Discard the zest that's left in the strainer.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes. Pour lemon cream into a blender or food processor and add the butter, about 5 pieces at a time. Scrape down the sides of the container as needed as you incorporate the butter. Once the butter is in, keep the machine going and blend the cream for an additional 3 minutes for a light, airy cream. Pour the cream into a container, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 4 hours.
Candied Lemon Slices
- 3 lemons, sliced into 1/4 inch slices
- 4 cups water
- 2 cups granulated sugar, plus extra for dusting
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and drop in the lemon slices. Boil for 2 minutes, then drain the peel in a colander and rinse under cold water. Refill the pot and repeat the boiling, draining and cooling twice more.
Rinse out the pot and pour in the 4 cups water. Stir in the sugar and lemon juice and bring to a boil. Return the lemon slices to the pot, cover and reduce the heat so that the lemon slices simmer gently in the syrup. Stirring now and then, simmer for 1 hour, until slices are soft and completely candied.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the lemon slices to a wire rack set over a plate to drain and cool. Allow to dry overnight, then toss with sugar until well coated.
Don't throw out the syrup! What's left in the pot is a wonderful lemony simple syrup that can be used anytime you need a liquid sweetener. I poured mine into a jar to keep in the fridge for future use. One thing I plan to use mine in...hot tea on a chilly night.
Assembling the Lemon Cream Cheese Tart
Spoon the cream cheese mixture into the tart shell and spread evenly over the bottom of the crust. There's no need to use all of the cream cheese if you'd like a thicker layer of lemon cream on top--I used all but 1/2 cup of the cream cheese mixture.
Next, spoon the lemon cream over the cream cheese and spread with a spatula. Swirl the spatula to create any kind of design you'd like on top.
Lastly, arrange the candied lemon slices as desired on top of the lemon cream.
Carefully, press the bottom of the tart pan up to remove from the pan--if buttered well, it will come out perfectly cleanly. Set tart on a serving dish. Serve and be prepared for lots of compliments. :)