I love a buffet. Not a smelly steam-table of gloppy looking interpretations of ethnic offerings (congealed sesame noodles? slime coated chicken vindaloo?) or limp french fries curling into the fetal position against a red and grey roast beef under the glare of a heat lamp.
No, I like a well thought out table of fresh, colorful, happy looking salads, pastas, some grilled chicken or fish, seasonal vegetables, and bread. To be able to have a little bit of the everything that you want (as opposed to compromising over a group order at a family style restaurant--and we all know how I feel about sharing) is really the perfect meal. But more than anything else, of course, I love a dessert buffet.
Twenty years ago I went to a wedding in a tired, Kosher Long Island catering hall (don't ask--I worked with the bride and don't even remember the groom's name) and was introduced to the most wonderful tradition a sweet tooth could hope for: the Viennese Table. Do you know what that is? I'd never heard of or seen one before, despite a brief trip to Austria in 1985. But, I was in Salzburg (focusing on The Sound of Music tour with my friend Michelle) so maybe their customs differ from Vienna. There is no way I would have missed a table devoted to sachertortes, linzertortes and strudels. I started to think about it again when the New York Times ran an article a few weeks ago about the tradition of cookie tables at Pittsburgh wedding receptions. That would be an invitation I would gladly accept--an Italian wedding in Pittsburgh! Can you imagine picking among 26 different types of cookies?! Then the cake wouldn't be nearly as big a disappointment as it is sure to be. Unfortunately, I know no one in Pittsburgh, but a girl can dream. Back to the Viennese Table. It is an enormous dessert buffet with everything from fancy cakes, to small pastries, cookies, fruit, mousses etc. I always assumed it was an historically Jewish wedding feature but I may be wrong. My research is coming up with nothing about its genesis. But frankly, I don't really care. Just let me at it.
The only issue with dessert buffets is the conundrum presented by the whole cake. No one wants to be the first to cut into it and, really, is making the commitment to a piece of a larger whole (cake, pie, torte or tart) what you want from a buffet? Not to mention what that larger whole will look like once an inexperienced slicer gets to sawing at it--completely hacked at and unappealing. Better to serve bite sized treats that don't take over the plate and infringe on the space you will need for the many little morsels you plan to sample.
These lemon tartlets are perfect for a dessert buffet. Maybe for your New Year's Eve party? The citrusy sour of the curd cuts through the buttery, rich sweetness of the shortbread cookie so nicely and the berry garnish adds such a pretty dot of color. They are the perfect one bite (or two if you don't want to look like you've stuffed your face and/or spit crumbs at the cute guy/girl who tries to chat you up after you've popped it in its entirety into your mouth) treat to add to your own Viennese Table. No ticket to Austria required.
I'm Hitting the Buffet Lemon Tartlets
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(thank you Martha Stewart Baking Handbook)
8 large egg yolks
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
½ cup plus 2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup sugar
1/8 t salt
1 ¼ sticks butter, cold, cut into pieces
Combine yolks, lemon zest, lemon juice & sugar in heavy bottom saucepan; whisk to combine.
Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with wooden spoon (scrape sides of pan) until mixture thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon, 8-10 minutes, and/or registers 160 on a thermometer.
Remove sauce pan from heat.
Add salt and butter, one piece at a time, stirring until smooth.
Strain through fine sieve into a medium bowl.
Cover with plastic wrap, directly on surface and chill until firm and set, about one hour. Store in fridge until ready to use
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
½ cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 pint blueberries or raspberries for garnish
Preheat oven to 325
Spray 36 muffin mini muffin pan with cooking spray (if you only have 24 mini muffiin pan bake first batch, cool, wash and use again).
Using electric mixer cream butter and sugar together, @ 2 minutes.
Beat in vanilla extract.
On low speed (so you don’t have a dust cloud) add flour, cornstarch and salt and mix until incorporated.
Using a mini ice cream scoop (2 teaspoon size) or two teaspoons place ball of dough in each cup of a mini muffin pan. There will be enough for 36 tarts. Using your fingertips press dough up sides of each muffin cup creating an indent. If dough is too sticky pop it in the fridge for 10 minutes.
Once filled, place pan in the freezer for 10 minutes.
Bake for 10 minutes then using fork, prick bottom of each tartlet and put back in oven for another 10-12 minutes until lightly browned.
Remove pan from oven and place on wire rack to cool.
Once cool use small paring knife to pry each tartlet out of pan.
Spoon lemon curd onto tartlet using teaspoon. Place a berry into center of curd and serve.