Saturday, October 29, 2011

Home Cookin' - When life brings you lemons, make meringue!

My son decided he wanted a lemon meringue pie and I said, "Yeah, when I get around to it."  As fate would have it, we had no plans today and it was ugly out, so I broke out my well-worn Gourmet Cookbook by Ruth Reichl (2nd favorite only to Bourdain's Les Halles cookbook) and got to work. 
The instructions and recipe are very particular, but if you follow them to the nth degree you'll end up with as good a pie as you can get anywhere.
I skipped making my own crust because that's just too much work in conjunction with the rest of the recipe.  Yes, you may call me a sell-out, wimp, or more colorful expletives, but that's how I roll sometimes.
FYI, Giant brand pie crust is actually pretty good.  I read somewhere at some point that Giant brand was the best of the local grocery store's offerings, so I've used them when I didn't feel like totally destroying my kitchen. 
Pre-heat to 375
Here's what you'll need:
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 Tbs + 1.5 tsp corn starch
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp finely grated lemon zest (remember to zest the lemon BEFORE you juice it)
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 6 egg whites (be sure not to get any of the yolk in with the with whites when you separate or it won't work)
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar

Line your dish with the pie crust, fork it all over, and put a round of foil in it.  Add a bunch of dried beans or a pie chain to weigh it down and prevent bubbling.  Bake for 10 minutes, then remove the foil and weights.  Put it back in the oven for another 15 until it's nicely browned.  Turn the heat down to 350.
While that's going on, whisk the egg yolks.  In a heavy sauce pan whisk the sugar, cornstarch and salt together, then gradually add the water and milk, whisking until the cornstarch and sugar is dissolved.
Bring to a boil over medium heat, then take it off the burner.  Pour one cup of the gloppy cornstarch/sugar mixture into a vessel and slowly whisk it into the egg yolks.  If you go to fast, you'll end up with scrambled sweet, starchy eggs.  Once you've tempered the eggs you can add them into the pan with the rest of the sugar/starch mix.  Bring it to a simmer over medium heat, stirring, for about 3 minutes, remove from the heat, and add the lemon juice, zest, and butter.  Whisk until it's smooth and silky.  You're done with this for now.  Put a lid on it to keep it warm.
For the meringue, beat the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until you've got soft peaks.  Crank the mixer up to high and add the sugar one tablespoon at a time until it just holds stiff peaks.
Hopefully your pie crust is still warm, if not, put it in the oven for a minute.  This is critical.  Everything has to be warm for it to stick together.
Put the filling in the pie, then top with meringue.  Make sure the meringue gets to the crust all the way around or it will separate and weep and generally look nasty.
Bake it for 15 minutes or until the meringue has a nice golden-brown sheen, as so:
You'll have leftover meringue, so you can get creative, or do what I did and just bake dollops of it on waxed paper for tasty treats as below:

Let the pie come to room temp before putting it in the fridge to chill for 2 hours minimum.  If you rush it it will weep.  Be patient.
Give it a shot.  It will produce one of the tastiest, lightest, creamiest lemon meringue pie you've ever had.
Let me know how it works out for you.

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