Lemon Tart With Black Pepper & Basil

March 24, 2023
1 Ratings
Photo by Jun
  • Prep time 3 hours
  • Cook time 1 hour
  • makes 1 (10-inch) round tart
Author Notes

When I went looking for inspiration in my food idea diary recently, I found a quirky one. Among the Miso Pasta and Cheesy “Baozza,” there was an entry titled “Lemon, black pepper, and basil dessert, try it,” dated Aug. 22, 2022. I had no recollection of where this came from—whether it was an ice cream flavor I had tried at my go-to gelato shop, a suggestion from a food friend, or simply a spark that came in a hungry daydream.

I brushed it off as an odd idea, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to make something out of it. Lemon and basil is a classic pairing that's known to jive well in desserts, but the addition of black pepper might throw a spanner in the works, as the spice is most often associated with savory dishes. Just like cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom can all shine in both sweet and savory dishes, black pepper should have a rightful place in the dessert realm, too. So, me being up for just about anything when it comes to food, I turned my note into reality, in the form of a tangy, peppery lemon tart.

My recipe is based off a classic French tart au citron: eggs, lemon juice and zest, and sugar, cooked low and stirred slow over a steam bath on the stove until it turns into a smooth curd, then poured into a baked shortcrust tart shell and chilled until the curd is set. The basil comes into play in the curd; I added sweet basil while the curd cooked to impart a herbaceous sweetness. The black pepper comes in two ways: First, I sprinkled three pinches of pepper into the shortcrust pastry, letting it mingle with the butter and flour as it baked, and second, in a peppery flurry, as I ground it all over the tart as a garnish once it had set.

It all came together beautifully! Far from being an intrusive element in the dish, the pepper brings a surprisingly refreshing punch of peppery fragrance to the dish. In terms of flavor, the typical savory-spicy kick of pepper was greatly mellowed, masked by the lip-puckering acidity and sweetness of the lemon.

When you get that whiff of aromatic, nose-tickling pepperiness with each zingy bite, maybe (just maybe) you’ll start adding cracks of black pepper to your ice creams and puddings, too. —Jun

What You'll Need
  • For the tart shell:
  • 1 stick (110 grams) unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
  • 2 cups (240 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup (67 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) freshly ground black pepper, plus more to garnish
  • 1 medium egg
  • For the lemon curd:
  • 5 lemons
  • 1 ounce (30 grams) sweet basil leaves, thinly sliced, plus 1 nice-looking sprig to garnish
  • 6 medium eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups (300 grams) granulated sugar
  • 3/4 stick (83 grams) unsalted butter
  1. In a large bowl, combine the cold cubes of butter and all-purpose flour, and rub them together with your fingers until all the butter is incorporated into the flour and they form a sandy, mealy texture. Add the sugar, salt, ground black pepper, and egg into the bowl, and mix them all together with a spatula or dough scraper. Then, knead it for 30 seconds with your hands until it comes together into a smooth dough. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and keep in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, or until you’re ready to use it, up to 2 days.
  2. Take the dough out of the fridge and remove the plastic wrap. On a well-floured surface, roll out the dough with a rolling pin into a large disc roughly 14 inches in diameter. Then, lift up the dough and nestle it into a 10- or 11-inch tart pan, making sure the dough fits snugly into the corners or the pan. Remove the excess dough with a knife, then chill the dough in the freezer for 5 minutes.
  3. Bake the tart shell: Heat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Take the dough out of the freezer, then dock it with a fork. Place a piece of parchment paper on the tart, add baking weights, and blind bake the tart for 15 minutes. When done, remove the baking weights and bake for a further 8 to 12 minutes, until the dough is golden brown. When done, remove the tart shell from the oven, and let it cool down for 10 minutes. Then, chill it in the fridge while you make the curd.
  4. Make the lemon curd: Zest the lemons, then juice them, straining out the seeds. Next, in a glass bowl, combine the lemon zest and juice. Add water halfway up to a medium pot slightly smaller than the glass bowl. Place the bowl on top of the pot, making sure that the bottom of the bowl does not come into contact with the water. Bring the water to a boil over medium heat. Then, add the sliced basil leaves, eggs, and granulated sugar into the bowl, and whisk continuously for 1 minute until evenly combined. With the bowl still over the steam bath, continuously stir the mixture with a spatula until the mixture becomes thick and coats the back of a spatula or spoon, which will take 20 to 30 minutes.
  5. When the curd is done, pass it through a sieve to remove the basil; add in the butter and stir until it is completely melted and incorporated into the curd. Pour it into the chilled tart shell. Smooth out the top with a spoon or offset spatula, and chill it in the fridge for at least 2 hours to set. When set, take it out of the fridge, garnish with a sprig of basil and a generous dusting of freshly ground black pepper on top. Serve chilled.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Jun
  • Jane
  • mary moon
    mary moon

4 Reviews

Jane April 11, 2023
So I tried this recipe out over Easter, and there are definitely a few steps missing, and some glaring typos. The most notable of the typos is the temperature for cooking the crust, it is actually 350°, and I would say that the timing is a little off, I cooked it for the full amount of time the recipe requested, and the crust still wasn’t done. I’m not sure how effective blind baking it was, I’ve made other tart recipes that do not require the crust to be blind baked and they turn out just fine. I think this could be a personal preference for someone who is familiar with the process. Another typo I noticed was that it does not say how much lemon juice you should have, or how much zest. I zest it all five lemons, and took the juice from all five of the lemons, and it seem to work fairly well, but again I think that needs to be clarified a little more.

Another glaring issue is the butter for the curd. It never tells you where you are supposed to add it to the curd, so what I did was, I added it after I strained the curd, and I used an emulsion blender to blend it in one pat of butter at a time. I also tripled the pepper in the crust, and doubled the basil because I didn’t think that it was enough. My recommendations for this recipe for anyone who wants to make it is to double the basil, triple the pepper, and emulsify the butter into the curd after you strain it with an emulsion blender. It was a decent tart, but with the recipe as it is, it’s not really doable for someone who has no familiarity with making tarts.
mary M. April 11, 2023
I completely agree about the crust/temp/blind baking. I was familiar and so didn't run into big issues and knew how it should look when finished, etc, but this recipe is severely lacking in several ways. I feel vindicated, knowing someone else had the same issues, lol. And I totally agree about doubling basil and tripling the pepper.
Jun June 10, 2023
Hi Jane and Mary, thanks so much for your feedback on this recipe of mine! I hear you on all your troubles with the recipe, and fully understand. It's my bad that some of the typos got missed in the edits. As you rightly pointed out, the oven temp is definitely 350°F, and the butter is added in at the end after straining. I'll contact the dev team to edit these right away, and sorry again for having you jump through all these hoops on what should have been a nice and easy recipe to follow!
mary M. April 10, 2023
Ok, first of all, this recipe is missing key steps. Like, when making the curd, butter is on the ingredients list, but never mentioned in the steps. Luckily, I have made a curd before, so I am pretty sure I added it when it was supposed to be added ( after straining the curd ) but that was just a guess. Another key point is whether you zest ALL the lemons or maybe just one? The directions clearly say zest "the lemon" ( singular ) but ??? it's never explicitly stated that you need only zest ONE lemon of the five needed. I actually zested all 5 lemons because I figured a little more zest couldn't hurt. I was right it didn't which leads me to my next point.
I made it, and it was fine. It was not amazing in any way. My husband said he could taste the basil, I didn't think there was enough, I had expected more. The pepper, we both agreed, was non existent. Completely irrelevant. But maybe it was because I zested 5 lemons, not one??
One other thing I would do next time, is put a round of buttered parchment under the crust to make it easier to remove from the pan. The crust stuck to the pan and made it unbelievably hard to remove the slices in one piece. For overall ease, I would definitely add that next time. But I don't even know that I would make this again. Because like I said, it was good, but nothing amazing.