We put the Heston Blumenthal Lemon Tart recipe from Heston at Home against… The Heston Blumenthal Lemon Tart recipe from Waitrose.
If there’s one thing I like doing it’s travelling to weird places. After that: watching horror movies. In fourth place (after late-nineties Playstation nostalgia) would be my borderline-OCD habit of analysing Heston Blumenthal recipes and then making them at home.
We’ve had fun in the past pitting Heston Blumenthal and Gordon Ramsay recipes against each other (chocolate fondant, chilli con carne, Christmas dinner). But now we’re pitting Heston against himself with these two Heston Blumenthal Lemon Tart recipes.
First up: The Lemon Tart recipe from Heston at Home, also featured on the Channel 4 show How to Cook Like Heston. It’s a precisely baked lemon custard tart recipe, served during the early days of the Fat Duck.
Next: Heston’s Waitrose Lemon Tart recipe. A quicker and easier lemon tart. It has a cream-free curd filling that’s made on the hob.
From what we’ve read both recipes have given home cooks a lot more trouble than they deserve. Heston even had to rewrite the Waitrose recipe following a barrage of complaints on their website’s comments section. It’s the sort of thing that gives Heston Blumenthal a bad reputation.
We made the Heston at Home Lemon Custard Tart on a Friday night as a dessert to go with Heston’s Perfect Fish & Chips recipe.
The Waitrose Heston Lemon Curd tart was made later that same weekend, while there were still some leftovers of the other one for comparison.
Recipes: Heston at Home Lemon Tart recipe, Heston’s Waitrose Lemon Tart recipe
Special Equipment: Accurate probe thermometer
Special Ingredients: None
Time: 4 – 10 hours / 4 – 6 hours
Cost: £8 / £5
Serves: 8 – 12
Heston at Home / How to Cook Like Heston Lemon Custard Tart recipe
Step 1: Pastry
Well this is needlessly complicated.
Heston starts this pastry by blitzing egg yolks and icing sugar with a stick blender. Well, he does, but we don’t. We’ve found most of this mixture gets gummed up behind the blades, so we just use a whisk.
We’d guess this step is to stop you losing icing sugar in an airborne cloud once you set your mixer going – the liquid keeps the sugar from wafting away.
You’ll want some lemon zest and vanilla beans, before mixing butter and flour to fine crumbs.
After adding the sugary yolks and the flavourings Heston claims you should have a very soft dough.
It was nothing of the kind! What we actually had was a damp crumble topping. A fourth egg yolk fixed that.
As always, the pastry needs resting in the fridge for a couple of hours (or freezer for half an hour) to relax the gluten. It’s an annoyance, but it genuinely does make a difference to the final texture.
Using all those yolks is a great trick that gives you the richness of a high-butter pastry, but one that’s not as difficult to handle.
Step 2: Blind Bake
Once you’ve rolled the chilled pastry out (best done between two sheets of clingfilm to stop it sticking to your counter), guess what? Chill it again.
That done you can carefully line your tart tin. Be careful, too cold and the pastry will crack apart, too warm and it’ll be floppy and difficult to manage. At least this pastry is easier to work with than the high butter stuff in Heston’s Perfect Treacle Tart recipe.
Heston tells you to leave some pastry overhanging as its weight will prevent the tart case from shrinking / pulling away from the sides of the tin.
Triple-scrunched baking parchment means more creases and a better fit. Coins conduct heat more effectively than baking beans. Wash them well before use though – as my mate pointed out at least half of them will have been in a men’s urinal at some point in their lives.
If you’ve holes in your pastry Heston recommends making “liquid pastry” by blitzing some of the trimmings with an extra egg. By this stage we’d already used 5 eggs and hadn’t even got near to making the lemon tart filling.
You can then brush this onto the pastry case when it’s two-thirds done if you need to.
Step 3: Custard
To make the lemon custard filling you just need to whisk up double cream, lemon juice, zest and lots more eggs. A preposterous 10 in fact (well, 9 plus a yolk).
I once created the worlds least appetising fish pie filling by combining dairy and lemon juice, so we didn’t add the latter until all the eggs and cream were blended.
You’re meant to cook this over a bain marie but it’s very slow and a bit more hassle, so we just stirred the mix carefully in a pan over the lowest possible heat.
Remember to sieve out the zest, then scoop the bubbles off the surface of the custard. This last step is important as the bubbles would spoil the appearance and texture of the tart.
Step 4: Baking
It’s this part that seems to give people the most trouble. I’ve read several reports where after 50 minutes people tart fillings that are still entirely liquid.
If this happened to you then it isn’t necessarily your fault. Blame your equipment. Our oven needs to be set a good 30°C higher than the recipe specifies for us to get this to work. Also, one of our thermometers is about 4°C out of true. Using that would mean we’d have taken the tart out when it reached 66°C, a temperature it will never set at.
We set our oven at 150° and use a better thermometer. To get a more reliable finish you could take the tart as high as 72°C, though you might not get the same amount of wobble.
Note: you need to measure the temperature in the centre of the tart, not the edges. The middle is further from the heat so it’ll be colder than edges. This’ll give you the true temperature.
Step 5: Finishing
Once the tart is out of the oven it needs at least two hours to cool down. We’d recommend 4, preferably an overnight stay in the fridge, too. This’ll ensure a firmer texture and a cleaner cut with each slice. Our tart was still slightly lukewarm when we cut it. The tip of each slice flopped away as we cut into it, which just made me look clumsy and ruined my chance to take a slick looking photo.
A word of warning – Heston asks you to brûlée the whole tart just before serving. That’s fine if you’re eating the entire thing in one sitting. If not do just the slices you’re serving, and no more. Otherwise the caramelised sugar will go soft over time.
Congratulations, you’ve just made Heston’s Ultimate Lemon Tart recipe. And a historical early-Fat Duck classic.
Heston’s Waitrose Lemon Curd Tart recipe
Step 1: Pastry & Blind Bake
The tart’s curd filling is quite heavy on sugar, so the recipe just recommends using unsweetened shortcrust pastry to line the tart case with. We made our own using the simplest recipe we could find on Olive.
As before, it’s filled with scrunched parchment and blind baked covered in coins.
Step 2: Lemon Curd
This is the bit that has the Waitrose commenters forming a Bray-bound lynch mob. It’s actually really not that hard, although obviously I still managed to screw it up.
The curd filling is made with just three things: loads of lemon juice, loads of butter and loads of sugar.
To make the filling you just sling them all into a pan over a medium heat and keep stirring until they reach 75°C.
Except I forgot that I was using that dodgy thermometer I mentioned earlier. So the curd probably got no higher than 72°C – three degrees short of its setting temperature.
Step 3: Finishing
The just sieve the mixture to get rid of the zest (I forgot), chill and then pour into the cooled pastry case.
Two hours later Heston’s Waitrose Lemon Tart recipe is ready to serve.
There is a significant difference between these two lemon tart recipes.
Heston at Home Lemon Tart
Constant temperature probing leaves an ugly indentation. You have to keep checking regularly towards the end, which is a pain.
We reckon for the best results you need to make this tart a day in advance, it’d be firmer and easier to cut. Alternatively you could probably take this tart as high as 71 or 72°C. And unless you’re
It might use a daft amount of egg but this is a gorgeous creamy delight. I can’ say it’s life-changingly good, but it does taste and feel like you imagine a lemon tart ought to.
Waitrose Lemon Tart
We used two thermometers to check the Waitrose Lemon curd filling. There was a gap of 4°C between the two readings, so we split the difference.
We reckon this mistake left our curd undercooked by a at least couple of degrees. This probably accounts for the rough, sloppy edge on each slice and a texture that was more gooey than firm. Idiotically, we forgot to sieve the mixture, so there were unpleasant shreds of zest in the curd.
Rather than using a block of pre-made pastry we rustled up our own using an Olive mag recipe. It was a flaky disappointment, crumbling rather than giving us neat, crisp slices. There’s no vanilla or zest in the pastry so it’s less fun than the Heston at Home Lemon Tart.
This tart had a really sharp lemon flavour, but we found it overly sweet. If you needed a lemon tart fix this would do the trick admirably.
Picking the Winner
The difference between Heston’s Waitrose Lemon Curd Tart recipe and the Heston at Home Lemon Custard Tart is, to use an entirely random example, like comparing the Ford Focus 1.8 TDCi Zetec and the Lexus IS 220d .
Heston’s Waitrose Lemon Curd Tart has a strong lemony flavour and a smooth-textured filling. Cheap, simple and it does the job. Just as a Ford Focus 1.8 TDCi Zetec would do the job.
The Heston at Home / How to Cook Like Heston Lemon Custard Tart recipe, on the other hand, is a very delicate and luxurious thing. The flavour, texture and finish of both rich, zesty pastry and voluptuous creamy filling combine to elevate the dish above the norm. A refined experience that’s not unlike, say, the Lexus IS 220d.
In fact as we cook more and more Heston recipes we’re learning about the subtle little differences that mark the distinction between good food and great food. The Heston at Home lemon custard tart’s qualities are so subtle that it’s easy to overlook them. But, eaten next to a lemon tart that is “merely” just good those qualities stand out much more clearly.
Then again, despite being fun and sexy there’s loads of things with Heston at Home Lemon Tart that can go disastrously wrong, from crumbling pastry to uncooked filling. So maybe the recipe is more of an Alfa Romeo Brera JTD 2.2.
Anyway, we’d recommend you spend the extra time and effort to make the Heston at Home Lemon Custard Tart recipe. It’s the Japanese Mercedes of lemon tarts.
Next time?!?! Jeez, guys. These things serve up to twelve people. Do you know how many slices of lemon tart I’ve had to eat in the past few days?!? The last thing I want to think about is making more.
BUT, if we did, we’d just make the Heston at Home / How to Cook Like Heston Lemon Custard Tart recipe again. After making it 3 times we’ve finally cracked it and it needs no improvement.
Though you can skip using a bain marie to heat the fillings and just use a low hob.
I don’t want to talk about lemon tarts for quite a while after this. You guys are more than welcome to discuss this, and other, lemon tart recipes in the comments section.