When pandan meets lemon: A tart with a difference

A small wedge of this pandan lemon tart will wake you right up! — Pictures by CK Lim
A small wedge of this pandan lemon tart will wake you right up! — Pictures by CK Lim

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KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 25 — Something is not quite right.

You can’t quite put your finger on it, not at first. Is the crust too tough? No, it’s just on the right side of crumbly yet not quite falling apart.

Is the filling too sweet, too sour? Not really — it’s what you’d expect lemon curd to be. Enough sugar to prevent your entire face from scrunching into one giant crease yet enough tanginess that you know it’s made with some kind of citrus.

It’s just too overwhelmingly... lemony? Ah, there it is. You’ve found what has been distressing you. The lemon curd tart is simply too one-dimensional.

Something is missing, but what?

As with life, the answers are often not found but stumbled upon. Clearing the fridge, I found one last portion of pandan leaves. These were reserved for yet another pot of tong sui but I’m not feeling that right now.

It’d be a pity to let these fresh pandan leaves wither though. A few more days and they’d lose their intense, almost grassy fragrance, the stuff dreams of Nyonya kuih are made of.

Fresh pandan leaves imbue the curd with an uplifting green colour
Fresh pandan leaves imbue the curd with an uplifting green colour

How could I use them?

(My brain screams, “The tart, the tart! The lemon curd tart!” My heart sings in agreement, my belly approves.)

Magic can happen with the simplest but best ingredients.

Fresh pandan leaves will imbue the curd with an uplifting green colour. Kampung eggs — especially if we only use the yolks — add a velvety richness.

Digestive biscuits are another lovely touch: their comforting texture and unique flavour means the tart shell is both easy to make and tastes familiar, like our childhood.

Using 'kampung' egg yolks adds a velvety richness
Using 'kampung' egg yolks adds a velvety richness

When pandan meets lemon, it’ll become a tart with a difference. A pairing made in (culinary) heaven. Or so I’d like to imagine. You’d have to try this yourself to see if you agree.

Best of all, you won’t be in danger of gorging yourself during teatime given its tart (no pun intended), tangy flavour. A small wedge of this pandan lemon tart ought to wake you right up!

PANDAN LEMON TART

If you can’t find any fresh pandan leaves, you may replace them with pandan flavouring or extract — a few drops diluted in the same amount of water.

But it’s not difficult to source fresh pandan leaves these days, be it at the pasar or supermarkets, so why wouldn’t you use them if you can? There’s nothing quite like the natural green of real pandan leaves.

You’d need both the zest and juice of lemons for this recipe. Juicing is simple enough but pay attention when you zest the lemons; you wouldn’t want to get any of the bitter white pith.

You’d need both the zest and juice of lemons for this recipe
You’d need both the zest and juice of lemons for this recipe

Go as thin as you possibly can with the microplane or vegetable peeler. Don’t worry if the peels of lemon zest are thicker than you’d like though; you’d still finely chop them into a mince before creaming it with the butter and sugar later.

Word of caution on the amount of sugar used: I typically use less sugar than others do for desserts but here I might be erring on the heavier side. (Some acidity is fine; too much and my face becomes the aforementioned giant crease.)

If you can stand a truly tart tart, then reduce the sugar by all means — say, by 50 grams — but be prepared for facial crease action. Don’t say I didn’t warn you...

Ingredients for the tart shell

250g digestive biscuits

100g unsalted butter, melted

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon salt

Ingredients for the pandan juice

5 pandan leaves

100ml water

Ingredients for the pandan lemon curd

4 large lemons, juice and zest

50ml pandan juice

100g unsalted butter, at room temperature

400g sugar

6 large fresh kampung egg yolks

¼ teaspoon salt

Method

First, preheat the oven to 200°C. Prepare the crust for the tart by crumbling the biscuits by hand into a mixing bowl. Add melted butter, cinnamon and salt to the biscuit crumbs and mix until well combined.

Transfer this mixture to a 24-centimetre non-stick tart pan, pressing it down to form a thin base. Press the excess mixture up the sides of the pan to create the crust to hold the pandan lemon curd filling.

Digestive biscuits can be transformed into a simple tart shell
Digestive biscuits can be transformed into a simple tart shell

Bake the tart base in the preheated oven for 15 minutes until it has set. Remove and let it cool completely before adding the filling.

To make the pandan juice, cut the pandan leaves into smaller pieces. This will make blending them easier. Place in a blender and add water. Blend till well incorporated. Strain so you have a clear pandan liquid.

We will use the lemons for both its zest and juice. Begin by grating the zest of the lemons. Chop up the zest until you get a very fine mince. You may also use a food processor. Set the minced lemon zest aside.

Next cut up the lemons and squeeze as much juice out as possible, about 100 milliliters of lemon juice. Add the pandan juice to the lemon juice and stir well to combine.

A tart with a difference — pairing fragrant pandan with citrusy lemon
A tart with a difference — pairing fragrant pandan with citrusy lemon

Add the butter, sugar and lemon zest to an electric mixer. Cream the butter until it’s well combined with the sugar and zest before adding the egg yolks. Add one yolk at a time to ensure each is fully incorporated in the creamed butter before adding another.

Finally add the pandan-lemon juice mixture and salt. Stir well to combine then transfer to a large pan.

Simmer over low heat until the lemon curd has thickened. Stir constantly to prevent sticking at the bottom of the pan.

Once thickened, which takes about 8-10 minutes, pour the warm lemon curd into the tart shell. Let it set at room temperature before serving.

For more Weekend Kitchen and other slice-of-life stories, visit lifeforbeginners.com.

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