A Lemon Tart for Nikki

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Lemon Tart and Coffee

In 1982, we left the city for an idyllic life by the shores of the “Golfe”. Building a house was a big deal then, and I guess it always kind of is, especially the first home you are going to owe, move in as a family. The wonderful adventure lasted 8 years, all the ingredients for happiness were obvious, laid magically in front of us, vocations were born there, the start of a long life as a “Blown In”, a life of never really belonging anywhere and a talent for making new friends quite easily… Yes, a lot happened under that roof in 8 years; life changing moments? Absolutely! Life shattering? Definitely! By 1990, it was all over, my parents separated and my sister and I kindly refer to our childhood and teenage years’ abode as “The House of Hell”…

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Our house by the sea…

But we made friends in our innocent years, neighbours’ kids; we built tree houses, cycled a lot around the village and to the beach nearby, made adventures in the abandoned salt marshes by the “Solong” way. The road to the marshes was actually called “So Long”… No joke. Chris was my friend, blonde wavy hair, freckled snow white face and a wonderful laugh. She was a good kid, a bit of a Tom Boy with a pure heart. She told me one day that when she was a little girl, five toddlers from the area died of leukaemia and that she had been the sole survivor. She was my age, and to this day, it has affected me. “How on Earth do five kids from a small Breton village get Leukaemia at the same time!?! “ I thought… I still think.

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Age of innocence, village friends… Young Hungry Breton(s)

Chris had a younger sister named Nikki; she was my sister’s friend; both a bit quieter, they suited each other. My sister used to tell her stories and Nikki listened to her with big eyes wide open. Apart from with my sister and her own family, she rarely spoke; she just smiled or said a rare “it’s OK” or even “I don’t mind”. On a hot May or June Saturday, the end of the school year was getting close, Nikki’s class mate got killed by a City bus on the new roundabout. I remember feeling sick, the other kids explained that she was Nikki’s friend. I went to see her over the weekend; she was playing with my sister in the garage. “Hey Nikki, I am sorry for your friend!” I said clumsily with a dry mouth. She kept on brushing meticulously the hair of her doll, she didn’t look at me but just whispered a gentle and almost inaudible “it’s ok, thank you”. Chris was much more vocal and tempestuous, speaking to her mother with colourful language; “Pfff…Why did you buy that bread Mum? It sticks to my teeth!” “ I can’t believe you got the wrong soda” and my favourite “ Dallas, Dallas?!? I can’t believe you are watching that tripe! Dallas is for losers Mum! Loo-sers…”.

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Organic lemons

Later that summer, we all got invited to Nikki’s birthday, a simple affair in the kitchen across the road. Mrs Reed’s house was pristine, honest and hardworking people raising four kids on one salary; she was a savvy lady from the old block, growing her own food as much as she could, proud, nothing wasted. She had returned from town with a cake for Nikki’s birthday; we were all waiting around the table, impatient while downing another of that delicious French orange soda rightly called “Pschitt”… When you think about it, naming a sparkling lemonade after the sound of the gas escaping the bottle when you open it is pretty clever.  Mrs Reed opened the big white box, and inside was a beautiful lemon tart, a bit of a letdown when you are 12; I am not going to lie to you. Chris went on a rant: “ Mum, seriously? A lemon tart? For a birthday? Pfff… Who does that? Seriously?” we couldn’t stop laughing and Chris kept on going in her frustrating monologue, while Mrs Reed patiently waited until she was done. Then something happened, Nikki slammed the table with her little hand, putting an end to the anarchic brouhaha that had taken place over Mrs Reed’s Kitchen. In a semi deep loud voice Nikki shouted: “It is my birthday, and “I” like Lemon Tarts!”. We all looked at Nikki, a bit baffled, then at each other, soon followed by a huge and relieving burst of laughter. I learnt something that day, and thought: “good for you Nikki”. Every time I make or eat Lemon Tart, I think of Nikki and that wonderful innocent afternoon. I had meant to write and share it a good while ago now, today is the day, that’s all. Recipe below.

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Organic Italian Durum semola (flour, semolina) and traditional Breton Buckwheat flour…

Four The Flaky Pastry: You’ll Need…

  • 80g of Organic Durum (triticum) semola or flour
  • 80g of Buckwheat flour
  • 100g of grated butter
  • 30g of organic caster sugar
  • 5 tbsp of cold water
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Durum and buckwheat flours…

For The Flaky Pastry: How to?

In a large bowl, put the two flours together with the sugar; put the butter in the freezer for 5 to 10 minutes and coarse grate it over. With a metal spatula, mix gently until the butter is well covered. Add the water little by little, keep stirring with the spatula and then use your hands for a quick knead. If it’s too wet, add more flour, too dry, a bit more water. Make a dough ball, wrap in cling film and cool in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

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Butter over flour…

And a thorough stir…

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Flaky pastry, ready to roll…

For The Lemon Curd: You’ll Need…

  • 6 happy eggs ( free range and organic, from small producer if possible).
  • 100g of salted butter ( in Ireland and Brittany, that is the way we go)
  • 200g of organic caster sugar
  • The juice of 4 organic lemons
  • The zest of 1 organic lemon

For the Lemon Curd: How to?

First, beat the eggs in a bowl. Cut the butter in small pieces ( 1 cm2); put all the ingredients in a sauce pan apart from the eggs. Let them mix together, keep stirring on low heat; when the butter has melted, pour the beaten eggs and keep stirring until it gets slightly thicker. Be aware that the filling will keep thickening even after you turn off the heat. They have to do a wee trip in the oven as well, so don’t over do it…

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Stir the lemon curd…

I don’t believe in blind baking for this kind of recipe ( plus I find it to be a massive pain in the butt); roll the pastry with plenty of semola flour ( or just flour) and place it gently on a buttered and floured oven baking dish; pour the cooled mix inside, beat an extra egg and egg wash the edges of the pastry… Bake at 180c in the oven for about 25 minutes, until all is set with a gentle colour on top. I swear, the pastry will be as straight as a spirit level on a wall. ( as long as the wall is straight that is).

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Lemon Tart out of the oven…

And that’s it folks; serve with a good coffee, I like mine with honey but hey… Whatever rocks your boat…

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Lemon Tart and Coffee

Keep Well and Eat Happy,

Slán Tamall,

Franck

19 thoughts on “A Lemon Tart for Nikki

  1. What a gorgeous story, I can almost picture the event in my head. Personally, I’m not really a fan of lemon in sweet things, but that tart looks like sunshine on a plate, all the same. Gorgeous!

    1. On another note, I forgot to say, that pie crust recipe sounds amazing. I can imagine that it’s very flaky, I shall have to give it a try! 😀

  2. The quiet ones. They are so effecting. A lovely, touching, poignant story – your lilting style is perfect. And the tart? Of course its bluddy delicious … it happens to be MY favourite too! Pschitt is my favourite soda. By a country mile. Being a native English speaker, though, it was of course a source of huge amusement when first encountered at that same age of innocence 🙂

      1. ( first, keep in mind that the P of Pschitt is silent as a lot of older people couldn’t really get it). Two young lads were loitering outside an old building when an old lady was struggling with her shopping bags from the market she asked them: ” you wouldn’t help me carry those up the stairs would you?”. “No way” they replied. ” If you help me, I’ll give you some shitt ( hash). “Serously? You have some?” “Yes, all the way up please and thank you”. The young lads eventually sit down in the old lady’s kitchen and one of them says:” So where’s the shit?” ” here, here, it’s coming”. She opens the door of the fridge and looks at them while holding two bottles. ” What would you prefer, Pschitt Citron or Pschitt Orange?” 🙂 ( Sorry) 😀

  3. What a brilliant story. Nikki sounds like a charming kid. Do you keep in touch? How nice to reminisce on the “easier” days. Nicer if we had realized then that they WERE the easier days. The tart looks amazing, of course.

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