Five Great Lemon Tarts

Citrus is in season right now and lemon tarts, a perennial Parisian favorite, are in abundance at pâtisseries all over town.  Because your time – and calories – shouldn’t be wasted on mediocre pastry, we organized a panel to blind taste and identify the best tarte au citron.

Five Great Lemon Tarts

Our #1 favorite comes from MOF pastry chef Arnaud Larher

Lemon tarts from Sébastien Gaudard, Sadaharu Aoki, and Jacques Genin all ranked highly, with more #1 votes than the tart from Arnaud Lahrer. However, those tarts were more divisive, and dissenting votes brought down their overall scores. The meringue topped tart from Larher had very high marks – if not always the highest – and that accounts for the upset victory.

1. Arnaud Larher

Arnaud Larher Tarte au Citron Photo Meg Zimbeck

Almost all the judges were surprised by the big win from Larher, but it was consistently rated across the board for good lemon flavor, buttery crust, and an appealing top hat of meringue. 

2. Sébastien Gaudard

Sebastien Gaudard Tarte au Citron Photo Meg Zimbeck

Gaudard’s brightly flavored lemon curd was excellent, even if a bit messy and loose. One judge lauded it for its “soft, strong lemon taste” and another found it had “the best crust to date.”

3. Sadaharu Aoki

Sadaharu Aoki Tarte au Citron Photo Meg Zimbeck

The elegant presentation, balanced lemon flavor and crunchy crust made this a favorite of one judge who said “I thought Aoki nailed it pretty well.” Another said there was “a grittiness to the crust, but I liked it” while others found it a little two sweet.

4.  La Pâtisserie by Cyril Lignac

Cyril Lignac Tarte au Citron Photo Meg Zimbeck

This outside the box lemon tart, inside of a box, was mostly well-received. One judge noted its “well-balanced flavor but not very useful meringue as there’s too much bitterness.” Another raved about the drops of lemon emulsion between the small peaks of curd.

5. Jacques Genin

Jacques Genin Tarte au Citron Photo Meg Zimbeck

This made-to-order lemon tart was a favorite of the PbM editorial team (both our Editor-in-Chief and Assistant Editor ranked it as their top pick) but one judge wrote “I was disappointed. It wasn’t as subtle as in my memories, compared to the others.” Opinions were divided about the incorporation of lime zest and basil – one judge declared that it “smells amazing, like pure spring!” and another felt these overshadowed the lemon.

We also tasted and ranked the following:

6. Blé Sucré

Ble Sucre Tarte au Citron Photo Meg Zimbeck

The tiniest of the tarts had an eggier consistency and rustic crust. It was solidly liked by the judges who declared “tart but not too sweet” and “wow so much lemon!” but found the crust a little too thick.

7. Carl Marletti

Carl Marletti Tarte au Citron Photo Meg Zimbeck

The well-cooked crust was generally a hit, and judges noted the balanced acidity of this silver topped tart. One declared the curd “a little artificial tasting.”

8. Carette

Carette Tarte au Citron Photo Meg Zimbeck

The texture of the curd was generally applauded but judges were divided on the intensity of the lemon flavor. One found it “quite strong and very fruity” while another declared it “one note.” Several judges noted that the crust was a little too thin.

9. Pierre Hermé

Pierre Herme Tarte au Citron Photo Meg Zimbeck

Judges were surprised that the “Picasso of Pastry” didn’t perform better. The presentation was stunning, but the darker crust overpowered the too subtle “milky tasting” lemon tart with “acrid” candied lemon on top.

10. La Pâtisserie des Rêves

Patisserie des Reves Tartes au Citron Photo Meg Zimbeck

The whimsical lime scented meringue cap was striking, but ultimately overwhelmed the lemon curd which one judge declared “too mellow”.

11. Ladurée

Laduree Tarte au Citron Photo Meg Zimbeck

 This was another surprise– Ladurée actually exceeded most of the judge’s expectations and performed much better than anticipated despite an eggy and sweet curd. The “well cooked crust” was a hit, but one wondered if it was “too buttery?!” Another found the texture too loose and the glaze too old-fashioned.

12. Hugo & Victor

Hugo & Victor Tarte au Citron Photo Meg Zimbeck

The crunchy meringue peaks were captivating, but contributed to the judges’ unanimous declaration that the tart was “too sweet”. The thin lemon curd to thick crust ratio was another drawback, with one judge stating it was “too candy like.”

13. Gâteaux Thoumieux

Gateaux Thoumieux Photo Meg Zimbeck

The sablé crust was given demerits for being “overly thick and sandy”, “too buttery” and “dry and tasteless.” The lemon cream lacked intensity and was “not bright or acidic enough”.

14. Stéphane Secco

Stephane Secco Tarte au Citron Photo Meg Zimbeck

Judges liked the buttery crust and all-natural look of the tart with the inclusion of the candied rind and seeds, but were put off by the harsh, abrasive lemon flavor that one described as “really acrid and inedible.” Another loved it and was “quite sad for Secco’s tart, which was so powerful in lemon and acidity.”

15. Liberté par Benoît Castel

Liberte by Benoit Castel Photo Meg Zimbeck

One of the most visually distinctive tarts, the dominant flavor was not lemon but overwhelming vanilla flavor from the shortbread-like crust. Descriptors included: “rubbery”, “artificial”, and “synthetic tasting”.  One judge will “definitely stay clear!”

16. Helmut Newcake

Helmut Newcake Tarte au Citron Photo Meg Zimbeck

This gluten-free tart put up a good fight against its carbo-loaded brethren, but just didn’t have the same crisp texture and buttery flavor sans flour. “Too crumbly” came up in several comments. The overly sweet lemon flavor and curd to crust ratio could have been improved as well. Note: it wasn’t penalized for the unfortunate squishing it received in transport. Several judges noted the “nice meringue.”

The Process

We asked for your recommendations on Facebook and Twitter (thanks!) and sought the opinions of trusted French pastry experts and Contributing Editors Dorie GreenspanPatricia Wells, and Camille Malmquist about what makes a quality tarte au citron.

It’s not an easy pastry by any means. As Dorie Greenspan explains “Lemon tarts are tricky business. Almost by definition the filling must be puckery tart and scream lemon, but the line between tart and bitter is a fine one, and so the fruit’s bite has to be tempered by just the right amount of sugar.  And there needs to be butter, too – butter to thicken and smooth the texture and to make the lemon flavor last and last… As important as the filling is the crust – it’s not just something to hold the filling in place.  The crust should be golden brown… and thick enough to play crunch-and-crumb to the velvety smoothness of the filling.”

Patricia Wells feels “a good chocolate tart and lemon tart are two of the most essential pastries in the world… To my mind, the ideal lemon tart has a truly crunchy crust that will  contrast perfectly with a bright-flavored, tart lemon curd.”

Camille Malmquist explained that for the best lemon tart “You want [a crust that is] thin and crisp, but it needs to support and balance the lemon flavor, while also contrasting the texture of the curd. The curd should be very smooth with no graininess at all. Obviously, you want really good lemon flavor. That’s the most important thing…”

The Judging Parameters

To that end, our score sheet was divided into five components with the most weight being given to pure lemon flavor, above all other criteria.

  • Lemon Flavor
  • Texture of Lemon Curd
  • Flavor & Texture of Crust
  • Flavor Enhancements
  • Aesthetic Embellishments

Judges tasted each tart blindly and were asked to tally up their scores, then rank each tart accordingly.

The Judges

Many thanks to our panel of judges that included:

Additional Reading

13 Comments on Five Great Lemon Tarts

  1. Thank you for all this work on lemon tarts. Just reading this is making me feel less traumatized about leaving my week in Paris and my fabulous tour with Catherine and Paris by Mouth.

  2. I would have liked very much to be part of jury.

    however I tasted already some of them…. (and jacques genin wins to me) but I should now try all the others!

  3. Bonjour
    Vos articles et vos tests sur la patisserie française sont très interessants mais comment peut-on avoir la version de votre site en français ?
    Comme vous parlez de produits, de cuisiniers, de recettes français(es ) il serait bien de rendre votre site accessible au public de langue française !

    Merci d’avance de votre réponse.
    J’ai eu le lien par une blogeuse (Clotilde Dussolier)
    Guylaine (Toulouse)

  4. i really thought that Jacques Genin’s tarte au citron was unctuous and tart…even though it was made with citron verte (limes) (although I didn’t get to try all the ones that you did…c’est dommage). The one from Pierre Herme was good but not great.

  5. How about a look at the puit d’amour? I have to have at least one from Stohtrer every time I visit……

  6. Fascinating, to this American pastry chef. Although I long to eat my way through Paris I doubt it’s in my destiny. One thing that would make this even MORE interesting would be a few accompanying recipes so we could recreate these examples and taste them along with you. Besides Herme’ have any of the other chefs here published their lemon tart recipes?

  7. Laurent Duchene should have been in the running. His tarte au citron is one of the best in Paris!

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