I’m a creature of routine, but this spring, I had the urge to switch things up. To wit, I spontaneously decided that I was going to start running again. It’s been a good five years since I could legitimately call myself a runner. My senior year of college, I ran 3 miles almost every day, running longer distances of 5 to 10 miles on weekends. Back then, I loved running. I found it cathartic and meditative. I listened to the same playlist on almost every run (including some gems like Bloc Party’s “This Modern Love” and Metro Station’s “Shake It") so much that I actually developed a Pavlovian response to these songs — if I heard them elsewhere at a party or on the radio, my legs would start to feel twitchy and antsy, as if begging to go on a run. Weird, right?
My love for running disappeared when I moved to San Francisco. San Francisco’s a bit of a nightmare to run in. Instead of Portland’s lush, green neighborhoods, I was faced with crowded sidewalks with stop signs and lights at literally every corner. It was impossible to get to that running nirvana where my mind would just clear and I would forget about that ache in my foot or the troubles of the day. It just became kind of a slog. I eventually traded in running for rock climbing, which I then traded for Crossfit. Yes, yes, Crossfit, the somewhat controversial fitness regimen that seems to get everybody’s panties in a twist. It seems like most people are either die hard fans who eat clean (or Paleo, for you uninitiated) and swap war stories about the time they RXed Fran, or are criticizing it for being an incredibly stupid and dangerous workout. I'm a rare bird that happens to fall somewhere between the two camps. That is, I like weight lifting and eating refined sugar... yep. Deal with it.
But I've been Crossfitting for two and a half years, and I think I'm starting to get bored. Crossfit simply isn’t giving me the returns that it used to. Not just physically, but mentally as well. I used to look forward to these brutal workout sessions, excited to sweat and grunt and throw barbells around like the shirtless dudes in my classes. But now it’s just become so ingrained in my routine that I’m not even excited if I master a new move. Not a good sign, right? So, long story short, here I am regressing to my habits from five years ago. I’ve even got that same playlist with those hits from 2008 and 2009, hoping that the Pavlovian conditioning from back then will still kick in. Because maybe, to get out of this funk, I gotta try something new… by going back to the old? Or something like that.
In any case, enough of my nonsense. I can just hear you guys thinking "Why is this girl blathering on about her exercise routine? This is a friggin' food blog, not a fitness blog." Indeed it is, so let’s talk about these beautiful lime meringue tarts:
A few years ago, I posted a recipe for this lemon blackberry tart, which I still believe is one of the best recipes on this blog. For a long time, I couldn’t find anything that could quite match the creaminess of that lemon curd… until I had a lime meringue tart at Miette, a beloved bakery in San Francisco.
One of Miette’s specialties is a graham cracker crust tart filled with this lime cream and a soft meringue frosting. Despite my love for their lime curd, I was disappointed to find that the meringue that topped the cream was soft. I had expected more of a contrast between between the lime cream and the meringue! So I decided to whip up a version that gave me just that:
I used my favorite tart crust (a brown butter tart crust that will maintain its crisp under almost any filling) and some homemade meringues that are crunchy on the outside and chewy within. For fun, I ended up torching some of the meringues to give it a subtle, smoky flavor reminiscent of s’mores. The resulting texture — creamy lime, sandwiched between the crunchy crust and meringues — was just what I was looking for.
Some baker's notes:
- The brown butter crust recipe is adapted from French pastry expert Paule Caillat, by way of Food52. It's an incredibly forgiving recipe that doesn't require much work — no rolling or kneading — but involves a weird step of sticking a heatproof bowl (like a Pyrex bowl) in the oven. Go with it. It works out. I promise. The original recipe says you can make 6 tartlets from the recipe, but literally every time I've made it I've ended up with 5. Probably because I like my crusts a little thicker.
- When cooking the lime cream curd ingredients, be sure to use a glass bowl instead of a metal one. The metal will react with the citrus fruit and give your tart a faint, metallic taste. You don't want that.
- The recipe for the lime cream curd requires that you use an immersion blender to blend butter into the lime curd. If you don't have an immersion blender, you can use a regular blender. You can also whisk the butter in by a handheld electric whisk or by hand, but it'll take longer and you might hate your life. But it's so worth it. Really. You'll have a little lime cream leftover after you fill the tarts — I ended up putting the cream in ramekins and topping with some meringues. My housemates loved these and they were gone within 5 minutes.
- I made my meringues from scratch (using a variation of the meringue recipe I posted in my 12 Days of Christmas Desserts ebook), but it's completely unnecessary and time consuming. You can use store bought meringues and it'll taste the same, I promise. Just be sure to use mini meringues like these guys.
Lime Meringue Tartlets
(Inspired by Miette)
For the Brown Butter Tart Crusts:
(makes 5 five-inch tartlets)
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 3 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- a pinch of salt
- 5.5 ounces all-purpose flour
For the Lime Cream and Meringue Filling:
(enough for 5 tartlets, plus a third cup or so of extra leftover cream)
- 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
- 2 tablespoons grated lime zest
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (7 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
- mini meringues (homemade or store-bought like these guys)
For the Brown Butter Tart Crusts:
- Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 410 (F).
- In a Pyrex type oven-safe bowl, combine 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, 3 tablespoons water, 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, and a pinch of salt.
- This is going to sound weird, but place the bowl in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, until the mixture is boiling and the butter starts browning.
- After 15 minutes, remove from the oven, and add 5.5 ounces of flour quickly, by spooning in flour in 1 tablespoon sized chunks. Use a heatproof rubber spatula to stir in the flour until it pulls off the sides of the bowl. The mixture is gonna bubble and smoke, but trust the recipe!
- Once the dough is cool enough to touch, divide the ball of dough between your tartlet pans. Use the back of your hand to flatten out the dough onto the bottom of each pan, and your finger tips to mold the dough up into the corners and sides of the pan. It will feel a little greasy and kinda unpleasant (the dough has the texture of mashed potatoes), but go with it. Once all the pans are lined, use a fork to poke several holes into the crust.
- Line the tart pans on a baking sheet and bake at 410 (F) for 15 minutes, or until the crust is light brown and starts to appear flaky. Once it does, remove carefully from oven and let rest on a wire rack. This crust is very forgiving — it should have hardly any cracks. If you are worried about cracks, you can reserve some of the dough to press into any cracks that might appear after the baking process — the residual heat from the freshly baked tarts will bake the dough accordingly and patch up your crust. Once the crust is completely cooled, it is ready for filling.
For the Lime Cream:
- In a large glass bowl (see baker's notes), whisk together 1/2 cup lime juice, 2 tablespoons lime zest, 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar and 3 large eggs. Nestle the bowl on top of a sauce pot filled with water to create a double boiler — make sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Place the pot over medium heat and cook the mixture, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and registers 172 (F) on an instant-read thermometer. Once the mixture is ready, it should be able to coat the back of a wooden spoon and your whisk should leave a clear trail through the curd.
- When the curd is ready, remove mixture from heat. Let cool to 140 (F) on a wire rack, whisking occasionally to release heat.
- When the curd has reached 140 (F), add 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, a few cubes at a time, and use an immersion blender (see baker's notes) to blend until the butter dissolves completely after each addition. This will take longer than you think it will, and the cream will start to turn into a pale yellow with a thick, opaque texture.
- Once all the butter is added, allow the curd to cool to room temperature before placing plastic wrap directly on the surface of the cream (to prevent a sin from forming). Refrigerate until well chilled, at least 2 hours.
Putting It All Together:
- Use a 1-tablespoon sized cookie dough scoop to scoop lime cream into each baked tartlet shell — I used about 3 heaping tablespoons per tartlet. Use an offset spatula to smooth and spread the curd evenly throughout the shell.
- Top each tartlet with the appropriate number of meringues to cover the curd entirely. Use a chef's torch to caramelize the tops of the meringues — be careful to avoid torching the lime curd and tart crust itself. After torching, the tarts are best when eaten immediately. You can keep the tarts in the fridge for longer (up to 2 - 3 days) if you don't top with meringues and only do so before serving.