These may seem a little upside down, we usually think of the meringue piled high above the lemon filling, not the other way around. This is a simpler twist on the classic, but all the same tangy-sweet allure. The best part is there is no crust to deal with, which makes them lighter and faster to make. The meringue shell is whipped until it is as light as air, spooned into little clouds and baked just until they are set, but still slightly soft in the middle. Once cooled they’re topped with lavender scented lemon curd. The tartness of the curd is always a perfect match for the sweet meringue, and a bit of lavender creates a gentle floral touch, without going overboard. It tastes like spring, which I am desperately in need of on this April day, when we’re anticipating a snow storm.
A brief meringue primer…because so many desserts call for them and it can be just a touch confusing which type to use. There are three different types of meringue, with three distinct characteristics and three countries laying claim to them:
1. The simplest is the French meringue, which is just egg whites with sugar sprinkled over them as you whip them to peaks. If consuming raw egg whites makes you nervous, the French meringue needs to be baked to make the egg whites perfectly safe and keeps them from deflating. There are also pasteurized eggs whites on the market that eliminate any fear, but I find they don’t whip up quite as well. It is the least stable and most likely to be over whipped, but the fastest and easiest to prepare of the three types. It helps to create a lofty, shiny French meringue by starting with room temperature egg whites.
2. The Swiss meringue is made by heating the egg whites and sugar together over a double boiler until all the sugar melts. This process cooks the eggs enough to make them edible without having to bake them and gives the meringue great strength. It CAN be baked (its what I used for these tartlettes) or used to make buttercream, mousse or toasted meringue topping.
3. An Italian meringue is the most stable of the three types, but also requires the most effort to create. A sugar syrup is heated to about 242°F on a candy thermometer and then very carefully poured over whipping egg whites. This creates a very stable meringue, which will hold up in a buttercream, toppings for pies and folded into mousses or Baked Alaska.
You could make these tart shells using any of the three techniques, and it may be interesting to try them each way. For this particular go of it, I chose a Swiss meringue and here’s how…
4 egg whites
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean, scraped of its seeds (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
4 egg yolks
1 large egg
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh or dried lavender buds, plus more for sprinkling over the top of the tarts
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 1-tablespoon pieces
To make the meringues:
Preheat oven to 200°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper, set aside
In the bowl of a stand mixer combine the egg whites, sugar and salt. It will be very thick and grainy.
Put the bowl over a double boiler and stir with a rubber spatula until the sugar is completely melted. This can take several minutes. You want to brush the sides down with the spatula to make sure all the sugar is melted and no grains are clinging to the sides.
Feel the egg mixture between your fingers to check for graininess. Once it is completely smooth, put it on your stand mixer and beat with the whip attachment on medium high speed.
Beat it until it is light, fluffy, glossy and the bowl feels just about room temperature. Add the scraped vanilla seeds and whip until they are evenly distributed.
Use a spoon to create mounds of the meringue on the parchment.
Wet the spoon and make a well in the center of the mound.
Bake the meringues for an 1 1/2 hours. Turn off the heat and allow the meringues to sit in the oven for 30 more minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely before filling.
To make the curd:
In a bowl set over a double boiler, with an inch of simmering water below, whisk together the yolks, egg, sugar, lemon juice, zest and lavender.
Stir the mixture constantly until it starts to thicken, this can take several minutes. Add the butter and continue stirring until the butter is incorporated into the curd and
It is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. When you draw a line through the curd, it should be thick enough to stay put. Strain the curd into a container, cover with plastic (place it directly on the surface of the curd, to prevent a thick skin from forming) and place in the freezer for about 15 minutes or until cool, but not frozen.
Once it is cooled, fill the meringues with the lemon-lavender curd.
Sprinkle with the lavender buds and serve.