We’ve reached the point in frozen January when even the smallest thing is cause for celebration. When I read that today was the birthday of Lewis Carroll, the author of “Alice in Wonderland,” it seemed like the perfect opportunity to make some old-fashioned Victorian tea party sweet – and what’s more Alice-ish than lemon tarts? I love everything to do with the folklore of Alice in Wonderland, the sideways manner of looking at the world, the whimsicality and gentle oddness of it all. And when you have a daughter named Alice who bears a passing resemblance to the famed heroine, and who lives in the rabbit hole of Los Angeles, you have to embrace the story.
I’ve done a number of Alice in Wonderland-themed parties over the years, but the best one ever was arranged by the ladies at Ritzy Bee Events. (Yes, party planners run out of steam and seek new ideas from other party planners from time to time! Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There’s nothing like a fresh pair of eyes on a tired theme to bring it back to life.) I’ve attached some photos from that dinner. We had hats for all the guests, from the Dormouse and Tweedledum and Tweedledee to the Queen of Hearts and the Mad Hatter, and the menu was drawn from elements of the book.
Lewis Carroll’s Birthday Lemon Tarts
The basic recipe for these tarts came from the Rose Bakery Cookbook. I saved time by making the tart dough the day before and freezing it.
Makes: 20 tartlets
Prep time: 90 minutes, plus 90 minutes for the dough to cool in the refrigerator
For the tart dough:
- 2 cups plain flour
- 1/3 cup caster sugar (superfine sugar)
- ¾ cup unsalted, firm butter
- pinch of salt
- 1 egg
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease tartlet tins with butter.
- In a food processor, mix flour, sugar, butter and salt until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs (ten seconds).
- Put the mixture in a bowl and make a well in the middle to add the eggs and vanilla. Stir to incorporate the flour and then use your hand to mix the ingredients well.
- Remove dough to a dusted work surface and knead a few minutes until it is smooth.
- Put dough in fridge for at least an hour to cool it.
- Roll out dough to ¼ inch thickness and, depending upon the size of your tartlet tins, cut dough into shapes that roughly approximate the shape of the tins.
- Tamp the dough down into the tins, gently pressing down until the dough smoothly lines the tin. Cut the dough off at the edge of the tins.
- Put tartlets back in the fridge and cool for 30 minutes before baking. Fill tartlets with pie weights and bake for 5 minutes. Cool before filling.
For the lemon filling:
- ½ cup lemon juice
- ½ cup caster sugar
- 4 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
- ¼ cup cream
- ½ tablespoon flour
For the lemon curd:
- 1 egg plus 3 egg yolks
- ¼ cup caster sugar
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
For the Filling:
- Whisk lemon juice and sugar until well mixed in a medium bowl. Beat in the eggs and egg yolks, one at a time.
- Add the cream and whisk well, then add the flour.
- Strain the mixture. Before pouring into the tartlet cases, brush the tartlets with a beaten egg glaze to keep the dough from becoming wet. Pour the lemon mixture into the tartlet cases until they are 2/3 full (they will rise). Bake for about 30 minutes, then allow to cool.
- For the lemon curd, put the eggs, egg yolks, sugar, and lemon juice in a small saucepan and, stirring constantly at medium heat, cook until the curd thickens. Remove from heat and stir in the butter.
- Strain into a bowl and cover (keeps in fridge for a week and is delicious on biscuits, scones and gingerbread.) When curd has cooled in fridge, spread over the lemon tartlets and serve.
- Can be garnished with blueberries, or little cutouts of the tartlet dough.
- For the blueberry-jam glazed tartlets, substitute blueberry jam for lemon curd. Melt jam in small saucepan over low heat until it softens, then brush on tartlets with a pastry brush. Tartlets are best if served on the same day they are made.