During my last year in high school, we were given two weeks off from classes for senior projects. While my peers pursued scuba diving, rock climbing, sailing, and photography, I headed to Ma Maison, the culinary pinnacle of Los Angeles, circa 1984. Being a girl in a French restaurant, I was led straight to the pastry kitchen. When I arrived, my fear of being in the way was quickly put to rest; the pastry chef had just been fired, and the sous-chef, Aisha, was running the show all alone. In no time at all, she had me making doughs, whipping mousses, and filling tart shells. Thrilled with my new-found pastry skills, I rushed home every day after work to re-create those desserts for my family.
One of the first things I learned to make that spring was a classic lemon tart with a pâte sucrée crust. The first time I tried it at home, my chocoholic sister begged me to add some chocolate. I refused and stuck to the classic French recipe. But one day, when her birthday rolled around, I gave in to her suggestion. I melted some bittersweet chocolate, spread it over the baked crust, and waited for it to solidify. Nervously, I poured the warm lemon curd over and waited to see if it would work. It was the first time I’d ever deviated from a pastry recipe, and I was terrified I might ruin it. To Jessica’s delight (and mine, too), it was even better than the original. To this day, whenever this tart is on the Lucques menu, Jessica gloats, proud of our lemon-chocolate collaboration.–Suzanne Goin
This tart should be served cold, so make it at least a few hours before serving. When you make the lemon curd, you need to stir it the entire time. For an ultra-smooth curd, I use both a whisk and a rubber spatula, alternating between the two as I stir. Start with the whisk, and as the mixture begins to get frothy, switch to the spatula (which helps get rid of the froth), scraping the bottom and sides continuously. Remove the curd from the heat and let it cool slightly before pouring it over the hardened chocolate layer. Don’t cool the curd completely before pouring or it will lose its nice sheen. You can also make this tart with regular lemon juice.
Whisk the cream and egg yolks together in a small bowl.
In a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flour, sugar, salt, and butter on medium speed until you have a coarse meal. Gradually add the cream and yolks and mix until just combined. Do not overwork the dough.
Transfer the dough to a large work surface and bring it together with your hands to incorporate completely. Divide the dough in half, shape into 1-inch-thick discs, and wrap one of them to freeze and use later.
If the dough is too soft, put in the refrigerator for 5 to 10 minutes to firm up a little. If the dough is manageable, place it on a lightly floured work surface, sprinkle a little flour over the dough, and roll it out into a 1/4-inch-thick circle, flouring as necessary. Starting at one side, roll and wrap the dough around the rolling pin to pick it up. Unroll the dough over a 10-inch tart pan. Gently fit the dough loosely into the pan, lifting the edges and pressing the dough into the corners with your fingers. To remove the excess dough, roll the rolling pin lightly over the top of the tart pan for a nice clean edge, or work your way around the edge pinching off any excess dough with your fingers. Chill for 1 hour.
Make the tart
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
Take the tart pan with the pâte sucrée from the refrigerator. Prick the bottom with a fork and line it with a few opened and fanned-out coffee filters or a piece of parchment paper. Fill the lined tart shell with beans or pie weights and bake 15 minutes, until set. Take the tart out of the oven and carefully lift out the paper and beans. Return the tart to the oven and bake another 10 to 15 minutes, until the crust is an even golden brown. Set aside on a rack to cool completely.
Melt the chocolate in a double boiler over medium-low heat. Spread the chocolate evenly on the crust and chill in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes, until the chocolate has solidified completely.
While the crust is chilling, make the curd. Whisk the eggs, yolks, sugar, and lemon juice together in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring continuously, alternating between a whisk and rubber spatula (see note above), until the lemon curd has thickened to the consistency of pastry cream and coats the back of the spatula.
Remove the lemon curd from the heat. Add the butter a little at a time, stirring to incorporate completely. Season with the salt. Let the curd cool about 8 minutes, and then strain it into the prepared tart shell. Chill the tart in the refrigerator.
Just before serving, whip the cream in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or by hand) until it holds soft peaks. Cut the tart into six wedges, plate them, and serve with dollops of whipped cream.