A beautiful tart to showcase the scariest of fruits
Every January, I anticipate buying nothing but citrus. Walking the farmers market aisles, I get too excited by the sight of it to resist grabbing as much as I can carry before my tote bag’s straps start bruising my shoulders. The citrus that calls to me most is Buddha’s hand citron, that tentacled yellow hand from the black lagoon that you may have seen at some stands and gawked at in horror. I laugh from the looks I get as I walk up and ask for a half-dozen while everyone around me, buying normal oranges and mandarins, grimaces in queasy confusion.
Buddha’s hand — a variety of “open-hand” citron in which the “fingers” of the fruit splay outward rather than inward — is an anomaly in the citrus world because it’s all pith covered in zest; there’s no pulp. The zest is heavily fragrant and sharp but softer than lemon. Further differentiating, its pith is barely bitter at all, so you can eat it raw. In years past, I’ve always cut it into chunks and used it to make marmalade with less sugar than is needed for orange peels. But this year, as a redirect from the endless cakes and cookies I made during the fall holiday season, I’m making a tart with it. And when thinking about the bitter-less qualities of its pith, my mind goes straight to Shaker lemon pie.
Traditionally, Shaker lemon pie is made with whole slices of lemon, rind and all, surrounded by custard and baked in a simple pastry crust. The lemon slices are macerated in sugar overnight to soften their texture and their bite. With my version, though, I can use less sugar because the Buddha’s hand is already tender and less acerbic. An addition of yogurt and vanilla bean paste (you can use extract too) enriches the custard filling and balances the aroma of the zest, which, for some people, can border on the floor-cleaner side of citrus scents.
Built as a tart, the proportion of filling to buttery pastry allows you to appreciate the Buddha’s hand’s delicate slices. It also makes for a gorgeous presentation, showing off the cross-sections that form a beautiful daisy pattern on top. Though, if you have trypophobia — a fear of clusters of small holes — this tart might send you shrieking as much as those shoppers at the markets. No matter; that just leaves more of the forbidden fruit for me.
Eat your way across L.A.
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