smiling-santaChalk it up to a bad day.

I can’t remember how old I was (surely old enough to know better), but I was flummoxed. How could Santa Claus possibly get into our house without a fireplace? Did my ultra-careful parents leave the front door unlocked on Christmas Eve? Did they meet him at a prescribed time? Just how did our particular presents get under our particular tree?

I’d already figured out most of the discrepancies in this whole Santa story: He must hire an army of helpers to work shopping malls and Christmas festivals around the world; fireplaces couldn’t be his only means of home entry; he probably didn’t eat all the cookies we set out each year. (I was pretty sure my father helped polish some of those off.)

But the dilemma remained: How did he get into our particular house, with our particular security system, on this one particular night?

“Oh, Susan,” my mother sighed. “Santa isn’t real. Your dad and I set out the presents.”

“WHAT?” I wailed. “Next thing I know, you’ll tell me the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy are lies, too!”

I held the Santa (and Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy) incident against my mom for a long time. Then I had children of my own. Nothing wears you down faster than a child’s endless questions — no matter how sacred the subject. But when do you tell the truth?

I thought about my mom and her Santa (and Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy) disclosure this past weekend. I’d decided to try a new recipe for a dinner party dessert, and the results were debatable.

Don’t get me wrong. The dish was beautiful:

A lemon cream tart topped with fresh berries and kiwi.

The problem was the ingredients. Sugar, eggs, lemon juice — and 21 tablespoons of butter.

Yes, you read that right. Twenty-one tablespoons. Given the amount of butter in the crust, the entire dish contained about a pound of fat.

Now, I usually use lemon curd when making a berry-topped lemon tart. But the curd isn’t firm: It retains some pour-ability. That’s fine for miniature, single-bite desserts. But for this large tart, I wanted a filling that would stay put once the pie was sliced.

The lemon cream did the trick — obviously. Twenty-one tablespoons of butter will keep whatever they’re in nice and firm.

I made the cream and served the dish to my dinner guests.

“Oh, this is good,” said one. “What’s the filling? It almost seems like cheesecake!”

Should I tell? (“That isn’t cheesecake! It’s 21 tablespoons of butter!”) Or should I keep silent?

“Thank you,” I said. “I’m glad you like it.”

I’m still not sure my mother handled her Santa/Easter Bunny/Tooth Fairy disclosures exactly right. But I feel pretty good about my dinner party decision.

It’s better to leave the story of the lemon tart untold.

Lemon Curd (Dorie Greenspan)

No more lemon cream for me! This easy lemon curd has almost 29 percent less butter and takes a heck of a lot less time to make. And while it won’t chill up as firmly as its more buttery sister, you won’t end up lying to your guests.

  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
  • 1 egg
  • 6 egg yolks
  • Juice of 4 large lemons

Put all the ingredients in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan. Stir gently to combine.

Place the pan over medium-low heat. Cook until the butter melts and the mixture thickens, stirring constantly. This takes about 10 minutes.

Test the curd for doneness: Dip a spoon into the mixture, then run your finger along the backside. The curd should separate and not run into the path you’ve created.

Remove the pan from the heat and strain the curd into a bowl. Press a piece of plastic on top of it, then bring the curd to room temperature.

Place in the refrigerator and chill until very cold.