As a kid growing up in Central Pennsylvania, I was exposed to a lot of Pennsylvania Dutch and Mennonite cooking. One of the cookbooks which my mother often referenced (and still does) is Food That Really Schmecksby Edna Staebler. This thing is an absolute gem, and completely worth the read. Keep in mind however, that most of the recipes are meant for people who work on farms with lots of manual labor. Do not attempt a farmer’s diet if you spend most of your time in front of a computer, no matter how good the food is. You have been warned.
One of the most memorable recipes in the book is the Lemon Sponge Pie. It is light as a feather, sweet and tart and lovely. It is one of those desserts that I was always excited about when it was made in our house, and it never lasted more than a day or two. My father was often the one doing the baking in our house, and I seem to remember that he doubled the recipe since these wonderful pies disappeared so quickly. I felt it was high time that I attempted to make this childhood favorite myself.
Instead of making one large lemon sponge pie, I decided to make several lemon sponge tarts. I picked up a set of Wilton Tart Pans which are cute and super easy to use and clean.
Lemon Sponge Tarts
For the crust I ended up using making an almond and olive oil crust (Gourmet, May 2008), which worked out relatively well.
2 tablespoons almonds with skins, toasted and cooled
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
Pinch of fine sea salt
1/2 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large egg yolk
3 1/2 tablespoons fruity olive oil (preferably French)
Pulse almonds with flour, sugar, and sea salt in a food processor. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add yolk and oil and mix until a very soft dough has formed. Spoon the dough into your tart pan(s) and spread evenly with your fingers. The original recipe says to bake the crust for 13 minutes at 425. However, the recipe I pulled this from was for a non-baked filling. Since I used a baked filling, my crusts got a bit too dry, so I would suggest only baking your crusts for three or four minutes to make bind the ingredients and then allow the rest of the baking to be done with the filling in place.
The recipe for the filling is super easy:
1 cup white sugar
1 tablespoons butter
3 eggs, separated
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Juice and grated rind of 1 lemon
1 cup milk
Cream the butter, add the sugar and egg yolks and beat well. Add the flour, salt, lemon juice, rind and milk. Fold in the stiffly beaten egg whites. I don’t have a mixer but I have one of those hand-held electric mixer with a whisk attachment which I used to beat the egg whites. Pour the mixture into your tart crusts (this recipe made three) if you’re using small ones like I did, or into one large tart or pie crust. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes. Keep an eye on your oven temperature so the top doesn’t burn before the filling sets.
You should end up with a light, refreshing dessert which tastes just as good warm as it does the next day after being refrigerated overnight. I like it warm in the winter and cold on a nice summer afternoon.
This is a super easy recipe, but everything did not go quite as planned: some idiot who looks a lot like me forgot to add the milk when making the pie filling. Doh. I even had the milk sitting out on the counter when I was preparing the filling. Perhaps I was too intent on getting the egg-whites whipped, or maybe it was just another whifty moment. Luckily the resulting tarts were still delicious. Instead of a light and creamy tart I ended up with a very chewy, almost caramelized tart with a very intense lemon flavor. It still tasted great, but was definitely a different animal.
Shoot to Cook Notes:
- Don’t fully cook tart shells prior to adding the filling or they will dry out.
- When baking make sure to watch the oven temperature to avoid burning/browning the top
- Add all of the ingredients in the recipe. Don’t forget the milk.