Meyer lemonsMost of the time, I like to drink my tea straight, avoiding sweeteners, dairy additions, or lemons, but when Meyer lemons come into the market, all of that changes. This fragrant, often deep-yellow-skinned variety, thought to be a hybrid between a lemon and an orange or a mandarin, has less acidity than standard lemons and is abundantly juicy. It was first imported into the U.S. from China by F. N. Meyer and offers the chef, and particularly the pastry chef, unlimited opportunities for invention. For this tea-drinking purist, its fragrant peel is the part that complements many of my favorite teas, particularly those from Assam, such as from Sessa, Banaspaty, and other fine estates in that region of India.

Adding a two-inch strip of the peel (being careful to remove just the bright yellow part of the peel, avoiding the somewhat bitter pith) to a cup or mug of properly brewed Assam tea takes the tea-drinking experience in a whole new direction for me. Lightly perfumed with the flavor of Meyer lemon, the tea gains another dimension of flavor.

Beyond the china cup, both the juice and the zest figure prominently in the filling for my Tea-rific Lemon / Tea Tart, filled with a kind of variation of the beloved lemon curd, but with a difference. The curd is made not only with the standard ingredients of lemon juice, zest, eggs, sugar, and butter, but is also infused with tea leaves.

Here’s the way to make wonderful use of the bounty of Meyer lemons that are making their way to farmers markets’ booths in my part of the world. Outside of California, these fragrant fruits are available by ordering them online from Melissa’s.

Make the dough first, then the filling, and then put them together.

For the pastry dough:

Note: You may have extra dough that comes in handy to make some simple shortbread-like cookies.

½ lb. sweet unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup granulated sugar
Zest of ½ Meyer lemon, finely grated
1 whole large egg
¾ cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt

Optional garnishes:
Pistachio nuts, finely chopped OR
Crystallized ginger, chopped OR
Lemon zest, grated

In the bowl of an electric mixer, outfitted with a paddle (or a food processor with a steel knife blade attachment), cream the butter until soft and fluffy. Add the sugar, lemon zest, and egg and process until well blended. Add the flour and salt and process just until the dry ingredients disappear. Remove from the mixer (or processor) and flatten the dough into a ½-inch-thick rough disk. Wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 45 minutes.

Remove from the refrigerator and roll the dough to a thickness measuring about ¼ inch, and line the bottom and sides of a 10-inch, false-bottomed tart pan with the dough. (Any leftover dough, as noted above, may be used for a simple shortbread-dough cookie, cut into whatever sizes or shapes you wish, brushed with milk or water, and then sprinkled with some coarse sugar before baking. Bake these at 325 degrees F. until a light golden brown.) Refrigerate the tart dough until firm, about 30 minutes.

Remove from the refrigerator; prick the dough all over with the tines of a fork. Place a large round of foil or baking parchment over the dough and then fill with dry uncooked rice or beans (or metal pie weights) to keep the dough in shape when baking. Bake the dough in a preheated 400 degree F. oven for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown, removing the weights and foil (or parchment) after the first 20 minutes, and then allowing the dough to continue to cook until golden brown, pricking again, if needed, to deflate any bubbles that surface on the dough.

Once fully cooked, allow the baked shell to cool on a cooling rack. When cool, remove the tart shell from the baking pan and carefully set onto a cooling rack or cake plate for service. Now pour the chilled filling (below) into the shell, spreading the filling evenly over the pastry dough. Garnish as desired. Serve with a cuppa of fragrant Assam.

For the Meyer lemon / tea filling:

6 T. freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice
4 T. Assam tea leaves
Zest of 1 Meyer lemon, finely grated
2 whole large eggs, plus 2 egg yolks from large eggs
¾ cup granulated sugar
¼ lb. sweet, unsalted butter

Place the juice, tea leaves, eggs, yolks, and sugar in a heatproof stainless steel bowl and set the bowl over a pot of simmering water (the water should not touch the bottom of the bowl). Whisk the mixture constantly until it thickens like mayonnaise. When the mixture is thickened, whisk in the butter, 1 T. at a time until all has been added. Pass the mixture through a fine sieve set over a bowl in order to remove the tea leaves. To cool the mixture quickly, place the bowl over another bowl filled with ice and water. When cool, place in the refrigerator, covered, until ready to fill the tart.