Tarte au Citron: A Perfect Tang

The perfect tang.

The perfect tang.

I have put off writing for some time, in part due to a recent development in my living arrangement that has left me in partial distraught, and in another part, I was bothered about the legitimacy of writing about food. The former was an unexpected incident of which I am scarce with explanation in respect for privacy. The latter happens to all of us every now and then.

With the return flight in sight at the end of this month, my fervent search for the most inspiring pastry in Paris went up a few notches. While I have tasted a couple of chocolate entremets recently, and made some notes for writing about them, I haven’t had the motivation to churn out a proper post, for all that has happened. They were good, of course, but that’s all I could bring myself to say.

My practical exam in school looms ahead, followed by a trip to Rome next week (with good chance I could witness the emergence of the white smoke from the conclave). I’ve been busy, and I still am, but that is no exemption from a Saturday morning of pastry and coffee.

That led to my first tasting of pastries at La Chocolaterie de Jacques Genin. It wasn’t until this January that he had stopped daily production of his impressive repertoire of pastries, preferring to focus on chocolates instead. Foodies familiar with Paris would know his eclairs and tarte au citron are legen-wait-for-it-dary, and fate ordains (pardon for the cliche  that the tarte au citron was available today. It was the only thing that could pull me out of my current existential crisis, and will me to write this post.

I have had a number of lemon tarts that I could easily give a D – for disappointment. In fact, I’ve never had a satisfactory one, so perhaps my prior disappointments were unfounded. At long last, a work of genius justified just how perfect this simple tart could be. Having read a couple of food blogs, I’ve picked up the advice of not using superlatives to describe food, but this would prove to be difficult.

So what makes a perfect tarte au citron? No doubt, the key lies in the lemon cream, although a notable effort must be invested in the tart shell. There was nothing to complain about that of this particular tart – it was crisp, fragrant with butter, thin and crumbly. Going back to the lemon filling – lemon is a difficult flavor to work with. Choosing a wrong variety, or incorporated too much will warrant decaying teeth. One could either use sugar or butter, or both, to balance out the acidity and draw out the refreshing sparkle of the exemplary citrus fruit. Unfortunately, it is hard to come by one with the perfect equilibrium. Some have it too sweet; they have ‘sugar tarts’ instead. Some have it too buttery, which weighed down on the palate. Many others err on having an excess of both. Fortunately, there was Monsieur Jacques Genin.

A friend of mine would say that I’m a die-hard fan of this contemporary master. He’s a fan of Jean-Paul Hévin, and I could understand why. That said, I might have thrown him into disarray, having suggested a session of pastries at M. Genin’s. I could be biased, so having someone else to taste the tarte au citron was a reassurance. To my delight, we ended up with a consensus, that the lemon cream held a delicate harmony. It was smooth, yet it wasn’t greasy. It was light, yet the citrus taste was strong and tangy. The best part – the acidity was well sequestered with the sugar and the cream, and precisely only at the end of every mouthful, so one could appreciate the full glory of lemons without having to shrivel up one’s face. The artful balance saved the tart from a meringue garnish – something too sweet for my liking. Instead, it had fine slices of fresh basil that imparted a herb-y dimension to the lemon cream. Perfect. Period.

My words doesn’t justify his genius, so I could only implore my readers to hunt down this tart should opportunity allow. On my part, I would try to replicate this back home, but this is certainly a tall order. M. Genin used lime for his lemon tarts, or so I’ve read from various sources. I could get a book he has published, solely on his tarte au citron, but secrets would remain as secrets. On a side note, my friend had the ‘made-to-order’ millefeuille with chocolate, and it was also a masterpiece. I needn’t say more.

I've never liked millefeuilles. This changed that.

I’ve never liked millefeuilles. This changed that.

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3 comments
  1. Hi! I used to follow you on Instagram before you inactivated your account. It’s funny, doing it the other way around.
    Was never big on millefeuille either until I had Pierre Hermé’s 2000 feuilles. But that’s not really a millefeuille in my opinion.

    • WH said:

      Hi Wattwurmnashi! Yes, nice to meet you! I think you’re doing a great job sharing the best pastries in Japan and the world with the online community! I just came back from Tokyo and I didn’t get to try your recommendations unfortunately! But I’m pretty sure I’ll visit Japan again. I think Pierre Hermé presents the millefeuille in his own way well. It’s a stretch from the traditional form but I enjoy these re-interpretations of the classics! In my humble opinion, innovation helps us expand on tradition, which is a good thing sometimes. Nevertheless, the classics can be done very well too, as championed by M. Genin. Thanks for visiting anyways, and I hope we can collaborate someday if you visit Singapore!

      • Thank you for the nice words!
        I’m sure a case can be made for the 2000 feuilles to be a millefeuille, I just think anyone who likes the classic pastry cream millefeuille will be taken aback, maybe even disappointed with it. Personally, I love it, it’s in my Top 10 cakes but I think that’s exactly because it’s not a millefeuille in the classical sense.
        I do hope to visit Singapore one day, it does seem to have quite a vibrant pastry scene!

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