By Kim Butcher, as told to Devon Scoble

Self-taught pastry queen Kim Butcher, the owner of a thriving Saskatoon bake shop, has spent her entire life learning to bake, often drawing on old family recipes for inspiration. Here, she tells the story behind her wildly popular lemon tart, sold daily to happy customers at her Little Bird Pâtisserie & Café.

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My mom is not a great cook, and she’s especially not a baker. She always jokes that when she bakes, she makes hockey pucks—and it’s true. It was my grandmother and my mom’s sister who were the bakers in her family growing up, and fortunately, it’s something I also picked up easily.

My mom’s cookbooks are an amalgamation of recipes she’s used over the years, always with a person or story attached to them. I love when I come across a random recipe card in somebody’s handwriting that I don’t recognize, especially when I can tell it’s old from the grease spots on the paper that’s fraying around the edges. When I ask who the recipe is from, my mom will say, “Oh, that’s so-and-so from such-and-such a time, and she gave that recipe to me when this happened.”

The lemon tart I sell at my café is my own creation. I find the traditional lemon meringue–type of filling to be too sticky and too tart for my tastes. I wanted something a little more to my liking, so I experimented. I started with a lemon curd recipe that was tucked away in one of my mom’s recipe books. I added more eggs, a bit more sugar and, later, I added some butter as well. Now, the base is more like a lemon cream than a lemon curd.

For the crust—and for everything sold at Little Bird—we try to use local flours milled right here in Saskatoon. As a baker who works with flour every single day, there’s really no better place in the world to be.

I don’t like to call myself a pastry chef because I’m self-taught, which I think is nice because I’ve been able to concentrate on the things I enjoy and get really good at them.

At Little Bird, we have four bakers, including a cook, on staff, and we all work together, not only to come up with ideas but also to get these ideas into the pastry case to be sold. So everybody’s doing a bit of everything, which is the other reason why I hesitate to call myself a pastry chef, since I’ve got this team behind me. I honestly can’t do this job without them.

Little Bird Pâtisserie and Café’s Lemon Tarts, courtesy of Kim Butcher

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 13 hours (includes chilling)
Yield: 4 tarts (3¾ inches/10 cm each)
Ingredients
Dough
1 lb (450 g) very cold butter, cut in 1-inch (2.5 cm) cubes
1½ cups (375 mL) icing sugar
½ cup (125 mL) blanched whole almonds, finely ground
1 tsp (5 mL) fleur de sel, preferably Fleur de Sel de Guérande
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla
4 eggs
4 cups (1 L) pastry flour

Lemon Cream
4 lemons
1½ cups (375 mL) granulated sugar
1 tbsp (15 mL) cornstarch
7 eggs
1 lb (450 g) cold butter, cut in 1-inch (2.5 cm) cubes

Directions
Dough
1. Place butter in bowl of stand mixer. With paddle attachment, work butter until smooth.
2. Add icing sugar, ground almonds, fleur de sel, vanilla, eggs and flour, one ingredient at a time, fully incorporating each one and scraping bowl before adding the next.
3. Combine until dough comes together. Do not overwork dough.
4. Form dough into disc, wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or for at least 8 hours.
5. Roll dough to ¼-inch (5 mm) thickness and line four 3¾-inch (10 cm) tart moulds.
6. Place in freezer for 10 minutes. Line tart shells with parchment paper; fill with dried beans to blind bake shell.
7. Bake at 350°F (180°C) for 20 to 24 minutes or until edges and bottoms are golden.

Lemon Cream
1. Zest and juice lemons; discard seeds.
2. In large saucepan, combine granulated sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, cornstarch and eggs.
3. Cook slowly over medium-low heat until mixture starts to bubble. Stir frequently; do not allow to scorch.
4. Remove from heat; add butter.
5. Using whisk or immersion blender, fully combine butter.
6. Fill tarts immediately; refrigerate until completely set, about 4 hours.
7. Optional: Once tarts are set, brush with glaze and garnish as desired. To make glaze, heat a little apricot or apple jelly until liquid and brush on tarts.

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