It’s breezy and cool in the shade here in northern New Mexico, but the sun is getting hot and fierce these days, and the air is dry. It feels like summer in Provence, but instead of sunflowers and lavender, we have sagebrush and juniper.
Meanwhile, Father’s Day is coming this weekend. Although my own father is gone, I know a lot of fathers, and I count my husband, Brendan, as one of them. His loving daily caretaking of our two dogs feels like the essence of fathering, which, like mothering, can’t be limited to only one species.
To celebrate fathers everywhere, I wanted to bake something festive, something that would feel equally appropriate served under cottonwood trees in the southwestern high desert or plane trees in the Midi–sweet, but not too sweet, summery and light but luscious.
My mind immediately went to lemon curd, that bright, citrusy custard that tastes like summer in a sunny climate and cools the palate with its creamy tanginess. It’s easy and fun to make, and gives you so much bright, sweet-tart, smooth bang for your buck, I can’t believe I don’t make it every week.
To complement the lemon curd, I thought about the distinctive flavors of the South of France: olive oil and herbes de Provence. I wanted to bake a treat for adults, a sophisticated teatime delicacy.
It was then that my imagination split in two: I envisioned both an olive oil-lemon curd tart and thumbprint shortbread cookies, flavored with herbes de Provence, filled with lemon curd. Unable to choose, I decided to make both.
The ingredients for both recipes were basic staples I had on hand: flour, sugar, salt, eggs, butter, and olive oil. And herbes de Provence, of course.
First, I made the olive oil-citrus tart. I only had two lemons, so I added the juice of an orange to the lemon curd. Reader, it was sublime. The olive oil crust was crisp and not too sweet, and it tasted even better the next day when I served it for afternoon tea under the red umbrella in the courtyard while the dogs lay under the table and hoped for crumbs.
But, apparently, I wasn’t finished yet with my Father’s Day lemon curd adventure, because I still had a yen to make those herbes de Provence shortbread cookies. I was out of lemons, so I went to the store and hauled a bag of big, juicy ones home for another big pot of lemon curd, which was more than I needed.
The cookies themselves were sandy and buttery, not overly sweet, and herbaceous, definitely not for picky kids, but just the right thing for the grownups to have on a mid-June Sunday afternoon with a cup of espresso or a glass of rosé to toast any fathers who happen to be around.
And though the cookie recipe only called for ¼ cup of curd, I poured the rest into a jar and stuck it into the fridge for future projects. The summer is just beginning. I’m already dreaming of lemon curd cake, scones with lemon curd, and eating spoonfuls right out of the jar.
Provençal Citrus Olive Oil Tart
Adapted by the author from America’s Test Kitchen
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together ½ cup flour (I used Cup for Cup gluten free), 5 T granulated sugar, and ½ tsp salt. Add ½ cup high-quality olive oil and 2 T water. Mix well to form a crumbly dough. Press into a 9″ tart pan until sides and bottom are uniformly covered. Bake at 350 degrees until it’s golden brown, about 30 minutes.
About 5 minutes before the crust is ready to come out of the oven, make the lemon curd. In a non-reactive pot, whisk together ½ cup lemon juice, the zest of 3 lemons, 1 cup granulated sugar, ½ tsp salt, 1 tsp. vanilla, and 3 egg yolks plus 3 whole eggs. Keep whisking over medium-low heat until it just thickens into a custard, 5 minutes or so. Take off the heat and whisk in ¼ cup high-quality olive oil.
Strain the curd through a fine-mesh strainer, pour into the baked crust, and bake until the curd is just set, about 8 to 12 minutes. Take the tart out of the oven and let cool on a rack for two hours. Take the ring off the tart pan and loosen the bottom of the tart with a thin spatula. Slide onto a serving round. Cut into wedges and serve; or, if you can wait, it’s even better the next day.
Herbes de Provence Thumbprint Cookies with Lemon Curd
Adapted by the author from buttersugarflowers.com
With a mortar and pestle, grind 2 tsp herbes de Provence into a fine powder. Into a mixing bowl, sift the herbs, 1 cup flour (I used GF Cup for Cup), ½ tsp salt, 2 tsp. cornstarch, and 3 T granulated sugar through a fine mesh strainer. Add ½ cup softened butter and mix with your hands to make a crumbly dough, then gently knead it to form a cohesive ball. On a Silpat- or parchment-lined cookie sheet, roll small pieces (about 1 T each) of the dough into little balls until you have 16-20 cookies. Press your thumb (or fingertip) into each to make a small depression, pinching the edges together when they split.
Make a pot of curd, as above, reducing the sugar to ½ cup, and when the custard has thickened, instead of olive oil, whisk in ½ cup of softened butter cut into four pieces, adding them one at a time until they’re all incorporated. Strain through a fine mesh strainer. With a teaspoon or pastry bag, fill the thumbprint depression in each cookie with lemon curd, using about ¼ cup in all.
Freeze the filled cookies for at least an hour or as long as overnight. When you’re ready to bake them, preheat the oven to 325 F and bake the cookies until the bottoms are golden brown and the lemon curd is puffy, 16-20 minutes. Let cool on the cookie sheet, then remove to a rack to finish cooling. The lemon curd will collapse a bit, and at this point, you can add a dollop more to each cookie if you want to amp up the lemon flavor. Arrange on a platter and dust with powdered sugar.
Kate Christensen is a novelist, memoirist and food writer based in Taos, New Mexico. This essay is part of a monthly series about French food called Bouffe, created and written exclusively for Frenchly by Kate Christensen. Her books, Blue Plate Special, How to Cook a Moose, The Last Cruise and more can be purchased here, on Amazon. Her next novel, Welcome Home, Stranger, will be published on December 5th, 2023, by HarperCollins.
All photos are courtesy of the author. To see more of Kate’s photos of food, family, the writing process, books and her darling pups, visit her on Instagram, here.