When you’re a test cook, being asked to develop a recipe for a classic item such as lemon tart can be daunting. After all, bakers have been producing handsome, crisp-crusted tarts filled with smooth, bracing, just-sliceable curd for centuries without my assistance. What could I possibly contribute? Well, actually, I had an idea: extra-virgin olive oil.
Admittedly, it’s counterintuitive: Butter is featured in both the crust and the filling of almost every lemon tart. But developing a recipe for an olive oil cake a couple of years ago reminded me that other fats offer advantages, too. Using a liquid fat in that cake made the mixing process easy and quick: There was no softening of the fat and no creaming until light and fluffy, yet the crumb was beautifully plush and fine and the cake had an intriguing hint of olive oil flavor.
In fact, the olive oil flavor in the cake was so subtle that I had to take care not to obscure it. I added a near-homeopathic dose of lemon zest—just ¼ teaspoon—to boost the oil’s fruity, floral notes and left it at that. And readers loved that olive oil cake, but they voiced one small objection: not enough lemon flavor.
They had a point. Olive oil and lemons have such an undeniable affinity that it seems a shame not to make the most of it. Maybe this lemon tart recipe was my chance to help the fruit side of the pairing shine. And maybe, as with the cake, olive oil would make the recipe even easier.