January ’08 Daring Baker Challenger: Lemon Meringue Pie

A quick pic using Shane’s digital camera — my camera (with allllll the other pictures) is holding its images hostage…

This month’s DB challenge was hosted by Jen of The Canadian Baker. She asked us to make Lemon Meringue Pies as “it is something [she’s] always wanted to try to make and [she] also wanted something lighter after all the holiday treats. “

Sounds like a good idea to me, Jen!

I baked the crust — a lovely, lightly sweet shortbread style crust — on Saturday night, then made the curd and meringue yesterday, about 6 hours before serving. I invited my friends Jenny and Nancy over for dinner, so Shane, Kian, Sadie, and I wouldn’t have to tackle the finished pie by ourselves! (If you’re wondering, we had lasagna, Italian bread, and a simple green salad for dinner.)

I was fairly confident about the whole thing (or at least not stressed) until I begain reading some meringue “tales of woe” on the DB blog. Reports of shrinking meringue (the meringue pulls away from the crust after baking) or weeping (a watery layer fors between the meringue and the curd) got me a little nervous, nor was I thrilled to hear about lemon curds with a soupy consistancy.

Still, given my inexperience with meringue, I was more worried about that. So, I turned to my Christmas-present-to-myself, CookWise by Shirley O. Corriher. (She’s the food scientist featured on Good Eats.)

Corriher prefers using superfine sugar for soft meringues on pies, but writes that “undercooking and overcooking are the most common problems” adding, “it’s possible to both overcook and undercook a meringue at the same time.”

Oh, good.

“If you pile meringue onto a cold filling and cook it in an oven that is too hot,” writes Corriher, “the top of the meringue can over cook and bead [little drops of moisture form on the baked topping] while the bottom remains undercooked and weeps. The filling has to be hot for the meringue topping to cook through.”

She further advises preparing the meringue BEFORE the filling, so it’s ready to go when the filling is nice and hot (this differs from the DB recipe, which directs you to spread on the meringue after the curd has cooled). Corriher also mentions that a colleague even sprinkles fine cake crumbs over the surface of the curd before spooning on the meringue. The crumbs absorb any moisture, but you can’t detect them when you eat the pie.

Her biggest tip is to add cornstarch (1 TBS stirred into 1/3 cup of water and heated to form a thick gel), which gets beaten into the beaten egg whites a tablespoon at a time. “This prevents the meringue from shrinking, lowers the changes of beading, and makes the meringue tender and easier to cut smoothly.”

Well, I cheated a bit on the DB challenge (I know, I know…) and spread the meringue on the curd while it was was hot. I still had a bit of weeping and shrinkage, so either it doesn’t really matter when you pile the meringue on OR I’d screwed up the pie badly enough that using Corriher’s fail-safe measures proved only partially successful. (I’m leaning toward the latter explaination.)

But the taste? Really wonderful. The curd (which was a little loose, but I think that was completely my fault for not vigorously whisking the mixture for the entire time) was packed with lemon flavor, but not so much so that it fell into “Sour Patch Kid” territory. The meringue was light and lovely, and along with the crust, balanced the acidic notes in the curd nicely.

(Incidentally, I rolled out the leftover dough and sprinkled it with cinnamon and sugar. Then, I rolled it and sliced it as you would for cinnamon buns, and baked them in a 350-degree oven for 11 minutes. The result is a very tasty cookie!)

So, all in all, I would make both the crust and curd again, but to cut down on weeping and shrinkage, I’d try Corriher’s meringue recipe; see the end of this post for her recipe.

Additionally, I’d use a smaller pie plate — there was a lot of “head room” left for my curd on the 10-inch dish, nor did the meringue look as impressive as it could have (as it was partially “buried” beneanth the top of the pie plate).

Big thanks to Jen for hosting! Check out scores of other Daring Bakers via the Daring Bakers Blogroll.

Lemon Meringue Pie
(from “Wanda’s Pie in the Sky” by Wanda Beaver)
Daring Bakers Challenge #15: January 2008

Makes one 10-inch (25 cm) pie

For the Crust:
3/4 cup (180 mL) cold butter; cut into ½-inch (1.2 cm) pieces
2 cups (475 mL) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (60 mL) granulated sugar
1/4 tsp (1.2 mL) salt
1/3 cup (80 mL) ice water

For the Filling:
2 cups (475 mL) water
1 cup (240 mL) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (120 mL) cornstarch
5 egg yolks, beaten
1/4 cup (60 mL) butter
3/4 cup (180 mL) fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon zest
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract

For the Meringue:
5 egg whites, room temperature
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) cream of tartar
1/4 tsp (1.2 mL) salt
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) vanilla extract
3/4 cup (180 mL) granulated sugar

To Make the Crust:
Make sure all ingredients are as cold as possible. Using a food processor or pastry cutter and a large bowl, combine the butter, flour, sugar and salt.Process or cut in until the mixture resembles coarse meal and begins to clump together. Sprinkle with water, let rest 30 seconds and then either process very briefly or cut in with about 15 strokes of the pastry cutter, just until the dough begins to stick together and come away from the sides of the bowl. Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and press together to form a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 20 minutes.

Allow the dough to warm slightly to room temperature if it is too hard to roll. On a lightly floured board (or countertop) roll the disk to a thickness of 1/8 inch (.3 cm). Cut a circle about 2 inches (5 cm) larger than the pie plate and transfer the pastry into the plate by folding it in half or by rolling it onto the rolling pin. Turn the pastry under, leaving an edge that hangs over the plate about 1/2 inch (1.2 cm). Flute decoratively. Chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Line the crust with foil and fill with metal pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden. Cool completely before filling.

To Make the Filling:
Bring the water to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Remove from the heat and let rest 5 minutes. Whisk the sugar and cornstarch together. Add the mixture gradually to the hot water, whisking until completely incorporated. Return to the heat and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. The mixture will be very thick. Add about 1 cup (240 mL) of the hot mixture to the beaten egg yolks, whisking until smooth. Whisking vigorously, add the warmed yolks to the pot and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in butter until incorporated. Add the lemon juice, zest and vanilla, stirring until combined. Pour into the prepared crust. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming on the surface, and cool to room temperature.

To Make the Meringue:
Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Using an electric mixer beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar, salt and vanilla extract until soft peaks form. Add the sugar gradually, beating until it forms stiff, glossy peaks. Pile onto the cooled pie, bringing the meringue all the way over to the edge of the crust to seal it completely. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden. Cool on a rack. Serve within 6 hours to avoid a soggy crust.

***

Shirley O. Corriher’s Meringue (via this link).
This is NOT what the DB challenge used, but what I plan to try in the future.

6 egg whites
3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)

Stir the egg whites, 2 tablespoons water, cream of tartar and sugar together well to break up whites in a medium-size stainless-steel bowl.

Heat 1 inch water to a simmer in a medium skillet and turn the heat off. Run a cup of hot tap water; place an instant-read thermometer in it.

Place the metal bowl of egg white mixture in the skillet of hot water and scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl constantly with a rubber spatula to prevent the whites from overheating. After 1 minute of constant scraping and stirring, remove the bowl of egg whites and place the thermometer in the whites. If the temperature is 160 degrees, beat until stiff peaks form when the beater is lifted from the mixture and the mixture slides only slightly when the bowl is tilted. (Peaks are stiff if the tips stand straight. If they bend over at the top, they are ”soft” peaks).

If necessary, keep heating the whites 15 seconds at a time until they reach 160 degrees. Rinse the thermometer in the skillet to kill salmonella and return it to the cup of hot water after each use.

Sprinkle cornstarch into a small saucepan, add 1/3 cup cool water and let stand 1 minute. Then stir well to form a paste. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. The mixture will be thick and slightly cloudy.

Let it cool for a couple of minutes, then whisk 1 to 2 tablespoons of the cornstarch mixture into the meringue and continue adding and beating until all is incorporated. Whisk in the salt and vanilla (if using).

Pour over pie filling, pushing all the way to the crust to form a seal over the filling. The meringue tops one 9-inch pie.

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Categories: Daring Bakers, desserts, Grade Range: A- to A+

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