Warning: Wall of Text. Spoiler: Recipe.

There *will* be a recipe at the end of this, but I encourage you to read every bit of what I’m about to say because, well, this blog would be pointless without my pearls of wisdom. It *is* my blog, and I’m allowed to think it’s the greatest thing since my own experiments with German-style soft pretzels. More on that in a later post; but by all means, read on!

We’ve arrived to the point in this article where I explain what I’ve been up to for the past few months. I’ve mentioned before and elsewhere that I’ve started my own Restaurant Consultancy service for anyone who wants to improve their existing establishment or set up a new one. My first contract was with Rosso, a casual dining restaurant in Masaken Sheraton, Heliopolis.  To make a very long story short, I basically built the place: menus, staffing, training, suppliers, marketing – even setting up the Facebook page. Almost a year on, and almost 2 dozen chefs later, they still can’t get the basic tenets of how to make a good burger right. Standards, it would seem, are very low on the list of priorities for many Egyptian cooks. A shame really; my burger is something I am quite proud of. Everything else, mind you, is still excellent. So excellent in fact that I’ve been asked to help develop at least 2 more concepts before the end of the year. Exciting stuff.

Writing a menu with over 50 items is not as easy as it sounds: you have to include exact grammage for each of the recipes, and find reliable suppliers for each component. Then there is the small matter of making sure the menu has no “holes” – that is to say that there are no ingredients featuring in less than 5 dishes. Any less, and you run the risk of stagnant stock, raising overheads and eventually meaning that you have to throw out the smoked imitation crab sitting on your shelf for the past month because no one wants your crab and avocado surprise e (not a real item).

As a restaurant consultant, I am Executive chef, F&B manager, kitchen designer and QA auditor rolled into one. I recall a week long discussion about which plates to choose for the appetizers, a discussion that may seem unnecessary, but in hindsight captures the attention to detail that makes Rosso the great success it is today. Opening a restaurant is not for the faint of heart or shallow of pocket.

Over the course of the contract, I had to experiment and develop a lot of recipes, keeping in mind how it would affect work rate in a restaurant kitchen, suppliers, employee intelligence and reproducibility. By far the most difficult was the burger, since the potato Kaiser Roll I developed required a strict adherence to the recipe and steps; something most cooks in Egypt shy away from. The ground beef also is meant to be ground in a very particular way, without adding any flavors or binding agents other than a bit of salt. Finally, the actual cooking of the burgers was designed in a way to maintain optimal juiciness while cooking the burger to the temperature of Well Done. (Don’t get me started on people who eat well done.)

Funny story: I interviewed a cook who worked at Chili’s for a number of years, and when asked what “Well done” meant in terms of meat cookery he replied “good job”; as in the burger flipper had done a job “well done” by making a perfect burger. I did not hire him.

But the experimentation was loads of fun; and the opportunity was expanded further when a group of friends decided to hold weekly “Dinner Club” events where we’d each cook a dish inspired by a particular cuisine. By far the most difficult was the French night; I had volunteered to provide two dishes; a veal stew “Blanquette de Veau” and a dessert of “Tart au Citron”. The Blanquette was easy enough, and required no practice, but the Tart au Citron was something I’d made before and knew had little room for error. First timers need to be very careful when trying this.  The best advice I can give is to use a thermometer, lots of cling-film, plenty of loose change and to constantly pay attention to what you’re doing.

I had eaten a very Parisian tart au citron before, but I wanted to do something different to it; something that is unexpected but delightful when discovered. Taking cues from the Flavor Thesaurus, Heston Blumenthal and Marco Pierre white; including my own experiences, I’ve come up with the recipe below. The good people over at Buttered Up also just published a great recipe for lemon curd, which will definitely come in handy. When I’m cooking, I never rely on one recipe; instead, I read different recipes and techniques to understand the underlying ratios and proportions. Personally, I like a sharp lemon tart – I used to eat raw lemons as a kid – so you may want to bear that in mind.

Many recipes also call for lemon rind in the short crust, which I’ve found is very confusing for many home cooks. Instead, using cardamom seeds give the same citrusy note without the risk of bitterness from an improperly grated lemon zest. Plus cardamom is a great flavor and is in almost every single Egyptian kitchen: just open up the pods using the flat of the knife and ground up the seeds with the short crust ingredients. Remember that a little goes a long way. To finish the lemon tart, you can either add a meringue or a cheffy Brulee topping. One requires patience, strong forearms and luck, while the other requires a blowtorch. I personally like using an Italian meringue since I don’t have to worry about ingesting uncooked egg whites.

Lemon Curd Tart

Total Time to Ingest: about 3 hours. Totally worth it.

I – Short crust Pastry  [Ratio: Flour: Butter: Sugar 2:1:1]

300 gm Flour

150 gm Butter

120 gm Sugar

4              Egg Yolks

2.5 gm   salt

15 gm    Ground cardamom seeds (crush pods, and discard shells, grinding the black seeds with a mortar and pestle)

15 gm    Pure vanilla extract / seeds of one vanilla pod – OPTIONAL

  • In a food processor, blend together the flour and butter till grainy like sand on a wet beach. Scrape the sides if you need to. If you don’t have a food processor, just go at it with a fork.
  • In a separate bowl, blend together the Egg yolks, salt, ground cardamom and vanilla till thick.
  • Add the egg mixture to the short crust and bring together into a coherent ball of dough.
  • Wrap in Clingfilm and let it chill in the fridge for about an hour.
  • Remove chilled dough and roll between two sheets of Clingfilm to a thickness of about .5cm or two one-pound coins stacked on top of each other. Let it chill again in the fridge for another 45 minutes.
  • Now, here’s one of the tricky parts: remove Clingfilm from one side of the rolled out dough, and place the dough in a tart shell with the Clingfilm side facing up. This makes it easier for you to fit the pastry into the mould without it breaking up on you. Leave the overhanging bits – those will be cut off later.
  • Remove the last piece of Clingfilm and prick the bottom with a fork.
  • Take a large piece of parchment paper and crumble a few times to soften it. Place it on top of the tart dough and weigh it down with lots of coins spread over the entire tart surface.
  • Place the tart dough in a preheated oven at 190C and bake for about 20 minutes. When it’s done, remove the parchment paper and coins and let it cool while you make the filling.

II – Lemon Curd Filling:

300ml lemon juice (not from concentrate. Fresh yellow Italian lemons are best)

300ml double cream (Juhayna’s whipping cream is best)

300g powdered sugar

9 eggs + 1 egg yolk

  • In a blender, mix all ingredients together until smooth.
  • Place the mixture in a bowl set over a pot with simmering water. Stir constantly till the mixture reaches 60C or till the mixture has thickened like custard.
  • Strain through a sieve to remove any solid particles into a jug. Remove any bubbles or froth that forms with a spoon.

III – Final Stage: Bake the tart

  • Place the prebaked pie crust in a preheated oven at 180C. Pour in the lemon curd mixture while the tart is in the oven – this prevents the catastrophe of spilling the tart as you move it from the counter to your oven.
  • Bake for about 10-15 minutes or until the center is a little wobbly. The center temperature should be 70C.
  • Remove from the oven and let it cool completely. This is essential!
  • Trim off the excess overhanging edges with a knife.

IV – To Serve:

Brulee: After cutting out each piece, sift some powdered sugar over the top and lightly glaze with the blowtorch until a dark caramel color.

Pavlova-Style: take 2 egg whites and beat with a hand mixer until frothy. In a medium saucepan, melt 100grams of white sugar with 100ml of water until thick – just before the color turns a caramel brown.

Drizzle hot syrup into the egg whites while beating constantly. Eventually you will have a glossy meringue. Fold in some fresh strawberries and spoon over the individual portions of lemon tart. Place under a broiler for 5 minutes until the meringue has turned a light golden brown. Alternatively, you could have a go at it with your blowtorch. Cool for a few minutes before devouring.


About Wesam E Masoud
Chef Patron of @chefsmarketmasr, Host of @CBCSofra's #matbakh101. I have one degree in Medicine & 3rd degree burns from cooking.

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