More Adventures in Baking, the Lemon Tart Edition

On Saturday night Mark and I set out to a small party at our friends’ house, and I offered to bring a lemon tart. Friday night I started gathering the ingredients and realized that I didn’t have enough all purpose flour. Of course I noticed this after I came home from my bi-weekly trip to the commissary (the grocery store on base), where I paused in front of the flour but kept walking because I thought I had plenty.

I did not–so that meant buying flour in a Japanese grocery store.

In Japan, baking is more of a hobby than the staple it is in the U.S. Grocery stores here carry some baking items like flour, sugar, baking powder, and chocolate chips, but the selection is typically small, variable–and always well hidden. I headed to my local grocery store and started wandering the aisles until I found something that looked like flour. I bought this.

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The drawings of cakes and cookies on the bag tipped me off that I was heading in the right direction, and a quick Google Translate confirmed that I had flour of some kind. Good enough.

After I got home I went online to figure out what kind of flour I bought. I had heard that Japanese flour comes in many more varieties than in the U.S., and that what’s labeled all purpose here is higher in protein/gluten than back home.

A quick aside about gluten. Poor gluten gets a bad rap these days, but it’s simply the protein in wheat and some other grains that gives baked goods their structure. There’s nothing inherently evil or unhealthy about gluten itself, unless you’re allergic or sensitive to it. For most people, gluten is not a thing to avoid like cholesterol or sodium.

Soft flours like cake flour contain relatively low amounts of gluten, like 8% or so. Imagine a homemade birthday cake made with cake flour–the crumb is fine and well, crumbly. By contrast, hard flour’s gluten content is higher at around 12-14%. Picture a slice of artisanal bread made from bread flour, which is a hard flour. The structure is open and looks almost like a sponge thanks to the higher protein/gluten content. American all purpose flour sits right in the middle, around 10% protein content.

So back to my bag of Japanese flour. I assumed I had something harder (higher in gluten) than American all purpose, but I actually picked up cake flour. So that meant that if I wanted it to perform like all purpose flour then I needed to add some protein.

I needed twelve ounces of all purpose flour, and I had only 4.5 ounces. So I decided to add two ounces of American whole wheat flour, then top it off with the Japanese cake flour. I didn’t bother calculating ratios of different flours to get the protein content right or anything. For one thing, I didn’t know the protein content of the actual bag I bought–just a general range from the Interwebs. And for another thing, I was feeling lazy.

So I mixed up my pâte sablée recipe from cooking school and got this. You can see the flecks of whole wheat flour, but otherwise it looks pretty much like usual.

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Then I rolled it out into my tart pan…

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….and loaded it up with parchment and dried beans as weights to blind bake the crust. Blind baking simply means baking the empty tart shell without filling. Here it is after blind baking.

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You’ll notice that the crust shrank a little bit. Unbaked the crust was flush with the top of the pan, but after baking the top of the shell is rather low relative to the pan’s top edge. While not terrible, it’s a little more shrinkage than usual.

I cooked the lemon curd on the stove, then poured it into the cooled tart shell.

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I left my cake carrier back in the U.S., so I jury rigged a carrier from a plastic bowl from the 100 yen store and set out on foot. The tart got a little jostled en route, but judging from the number of champagne corks that popped by the time we got to dessert I wasn’t too worried that anyone would judge the tart’s appearance.

The verdict? Very little remained, and one French friend declared, “This tastes just like a French lemon tart!”. High praise indeed–I’ll take it!

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BTW here’s what the genkan (sunken foyer) looks like at a house party in Japan. There’s no point in wearing fancy shoes if you ditch them at the door anyway!

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