Mendocino is a picturesque spot on the north California coast, where the cliffs drop steeply to the sea, and the mist rushing over the weather-worn trees reminds me of Japan. In a corner of the town is a charming rose-ringed Victorian house, my friend
Add the flour, sugar, and lemon zest to the dry work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel knife. Process 5 seconds to mix. Distribute ½ of the butter cubes evenly on top of the flour mixture, turn on the machine, and drop the remaining cubes one by one through the feed tube. Process about 20–30 seconds, until well blended. The dough will look crumbly. It will not form a ball around the blade.
If you do not have a food processor, blend the ingredients in a mixer or by hand until crumbly and well combined.
Press the dough into a compact ball. At this point the dough may be refrigerated or frozen, wrapped in wax paper, then sealed airtight. The dough should be soft and at room temperature when you shape the crust.
Use a 9-inch removable-bottom tart pan.
Begin with a big wad of dough to form the wall and the outer rim of the base. Use your thumb to press the dough into the side of the pan, turning the pan as you go, removing most of the excess from the top, and pressing on a slight diagonal, so after one full turn you have the wall and the outer rim pressed into place. Go around again, if necessary, to even the dough. The wall should be evenly 3/16 of an inch thick, becoming slightly thicker where it slopes to meet the base, and should bulge ⅛ inch above the pan to allow for shrinkage during baking. Then use the flat of your fingers to press the remaining dough into the bottom of the pan, to form an even base 3/16 inch thick. The whole process will take 10 minutes or less once you get the hang of it.
Chill the crust in the freezer, loosely covered, for a full 30 minutes before baking. For longer freezing, seal airtight once firm, then bake directly from the freezer without defrosting.
Remove to a rack, then let the crust cool completely in the pan. Once cooled, it may be kept at room temperature several hours before filling.
Beat the whole eggs and the egg yolks until combined.
In the top of a double boiler over very low heat, combine the grated zest, lemon juice, sugar, and salt. Add the beaten eggs, then whisk gently for 15 minutes, until the mixture is thick enough to coat a spoon. Add the butter, stir to melt, then remove the pot from the heat.
Strain the mixture through a sieve to remove the bits of zest and coagulated egg. Chill uncovered in the refrigerator for 4 hours, until thoroughly cold and thick. To hasten the process, you may chill the lemon curd in the freezer for 1–2 hours, but be diligent about stirring it up from the bottom every 15 minutes, so it does not begin to freeze.
Just before serving, remove the metal collar from the tart pan by centering it on your palm or the top of a large can. Leave the fragile crust on the metal base and put it on a doily-lined serving plate. Fill the shell evenly with lemon curd to come ⅛–3/16 inch below the top of the crust, then smooth the top lightly with a spatula. Garnish with a border of sliced toasted almonds, Crystalline Walnut Halves, or whipped cream rosettes pressed from a pastry bag fitted with a star tip.
Slice the tart at the table, or—Café Beaujolais-style—serve each slice on an individual doily-lined plate, with a fresh tea rose alongside.
Eat the tart promptly. It quickly wilts.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.