By Edward Behr
Honey complements lemon. I use a light-flavored honey for this flan, but you may prefer a strong floral honey, such as lavender or lime tree (also called linden, tilleul in French, tiglio in Italian — better examples come from Europe than North America), or even one of the strong, dark honeys, such as thyme or heather. A flan, in France, is an open tart, but the word can also have the specific meaning of custard tart, closer to the Spanish meaning of a sweet egg custard. In the French countryside, a custard-filled flan was once common — one of the many baked goods, now largely disappeared, flavored with orange-flower water. Because the acidity of lemon juice tends to make the custard break, use heavy cream rather than milk for this flan. (To avoid any danger of separation, a lemon tart is more often filled with lemon curd — lemon juice and zest, eggs, sugar, and butter brought momentarily to a boil to create an emulsion, which gives a different taste.) For me, a sandy-textured crust and a flaky one are equally good here. And because the crust of a custard tart quickly softens, it’s best eaten when still warm.
dough for a single 11-inch (28-cm) tart crust, chilled (either sandy textured or flaky)
zest of 1 medium to large lemon, peeled or grated, without bitter white pith
2 cups (500 ml) heavy cream
⅓ cup (100 gr) honey
3 egg yolks plus 2 whole eggs
1/3 cup (75 ml) freshly squeezed juice from the lemon
a pinch of salt
Heat the oven to 350° F (175° C). Choose an 11-inch (28-cm) tart mold with a removable bottom, for easy unmolding, or use a simple flan ring set on a baking sheet. Roll out and fit the dough to the mold or ring, cover it with plastic, and chill it completely in the refrigerator. Prick the bottom all over with a fork. Bake the crust “blind” — without a filling — lining it with baking parchment gently tucked into the corners and then weighted with dried beans, rice, or metal pie weights — until the pastry is fully cooked and beginning to turn golden, 20 to 25 minutes, removing the parchment and weights during the last 5 to 10 minutes of baking.
While the crust is baking, bring the lemon zest and cream to a simmer in a small pan, then take it from the heat. In a bowl, stir the honey with the 3 egg yolks, then stir in the whole eggs. Stir in the cream and lemon zest, whose warmth will melt any remaining honey crystals. Stir in the lemon juice and salt. Skim to remove any air bubbles.
Pour the custard mixture through a strainer into the hot baked tart shell, filling it up to 1/8 inch (3 mm) from the top of the pastry. Holding the tart carefully level, return it to the oven, still at 350° F (175° C). Bake until the custard is just set (it jiggles slightly when jarred but is no longer liquid, except perhaps a small circle in the very center) — about 30 minutes. Unmold the tart or remove the ring, and cool it on a rack. Serves 8.