Lemon Meringue Pie

‘When life gives you lemons’…...make pie!  Lemon Meringue pie, to be precise. No matter what struggles you are facing, there is something magical about billowing clouds of toasted meringue on top of a fresh, sweet, lemon custard that will wipe away any thoughts of sadness-- at least for the time it takes you to finish a slice. That being said actually making a beautiful, stiff meringue and setting a custard can be quite a struggle. My first attempt at this bake definitely didn’t look as happy as the one up there. Mine was made for a ceramic class last spring, we were given the assignment of making food and designing a ceramic piece to serve it in. This is what I chose to make: lemon meringue, a pie that I had never attempted before. First of all, it generally takes me two attempts to figure out a new recipe. Secondly, I had to drive over an hour to where we were meeting, which would have been fine if my custard had set up properly. Let’s just say I ended up with a sticky lemon flavored coat, and an embarrassing, runny custard.

Failures are inevitable when it comes to both baking and ceramics, which is fine if it didn’t also come with a side of crippling self-doubt. ‘Stay positive’ is a mantra I often find myself repeating in my head, and if that fails I eat carbs. Trust me, ceramics and baking fit well together. Despite all the stress, failures have actually turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the processes. It keeps you humble, and gives you the motivation to get better. It is also crucial for the learning process, there is so much to know and discover and you can’t learn if your ego gets in the way. Humiliation also has a funny way of getting a point across. Runny custards are a thing of the past, lesson learned!

This is the whole reason I am creating this blog; I want to learn more about baking and ceramics. I want to enjoy what i’m doing with my day to day life, and hopefully get to the point where I can further my education. There is so much I have to learn about both, and if I don’t make the time for it now I never will. I need a change in lifestyle, and it’s well suited because change is what I love the most in baking and ceramics. It's the most satisfying, absolute best part out of both of these processes. Seeing the change from fruit to juice and tasting the change from tart to sweet is simply extraordinary. The addition of ingredients, heat, and just the way you use a lemon changes it completely. The same can be said for clay. You can turn a lump of mud into a beautiful form, and see a pliable porous clay fire into something so vastly different. It begins as a soft substance, something that comes from the ground, and changes into a hard, water resistant piece of art that can never be part of the soil again. Forever changed. Being part of that change is an incredibly gratifying experience.  

So here’s to learning, changing, and most importantly making pie!


LEMON MERINGUE PIE

Serving size: makes one pie


INGREDIENTS:

 

CRUST

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 sticks chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 6-8 tablespoons ice cold water

MERINGUE

  • 4 large egg whites
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract (optional)

LEMON CURD

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon finely grated lemon zest, plus ⅔ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 8 large egg yolks (save those egg whites)
  • ¼ teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 ¼  sticks unsalted butter, cut into ½ pieces

 

DIRECTIONS:

Start the crust:  First cut up your butter into little cubes and place in fridge to keep cool. Mix together the dry ingredients.

2.) Pastry blend the butter into the flour. Or you can always pretend you're a crab, and just use your fingers as pincers (sometimes it's just more fun). When it looks like pea sized bits of butter and flour you can begin adding the cold water, stirring well with a fork after each addition. When you grab a handful of the mixture and it holds its form, it is done.

3.) Dump the mixture onto the counter. Don't worry if some of it is still crumbly. It should be; It is what completes the secret method to a flaky crust. First make a big butter-flour-mixture pyramid, and then, using your the palms of your hands, push down from the top until flat. Pull the crumbly bits around the side back up into a pyramid and repeat at least four times.

4.) You should now have a pretty solid dough form. Cut in half, wrap in plastic, and place in fridge to cool. Give it a half an hour to thaw. While it is thawing get your ingredients ready for the lemon curd.

5.) Blind bake the crust! this sounds pretty scary I know, but It's not.  You are just baking your crust ahead of time so it doesn't get soggy (no one likes a soggy bottom). Grab some parchment and put it over your crust and pour some dried beans or rice on top to hold it down so you don't get fluffy air pockets in the crust. Bake at 400°F until edges turn golden brown around 12-15 Minutes set a timer and start making the custard.

Lemon curd: In a medium saucepan, off heat, whisk together sugar, zest, and egg yolks; whisk in lemon juice and salt.

2.) Add butter and place pan over medium-high. Keep whisking and cook until butter has melted.  Small bubbles will form around the edge of pan, at about 5 minutes (do not boil). *Make sure the lemon curd is thick enough before you let it cool. Dip a metal spoon into the mixture so that it coats the back of a spoon, then slide your finger down through the custard. This should leave a solid empty line, if it doesn’t let it thicken some more.

3.) Remove pan from heat while continuing to whisk. Pour curd through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. I went straight from making the custard to pouring it into the crust, and then refrigerating everything afterwards. If you want to use the curd for something else, this would be the point where you press plastic wrap against the surface of the curd and refrigerate until cool.

Finish with the meringue: Beat egg whites with cream of tartar and a pinch of salt until they form soft peaks.  Beat in sugar slowly, beating until meringue holds stiff peaks. *emphasis on add in slowly, if you don’t have stiff peaks after your sugar is added there is no going back. Top your pie with meringue, and then pop it in a 350° oven for 8-10 minutes until the top starts to brown.* If you’re feeling feisty you can always use a blowtorch to toast your meringue as well.

Do you see? This glorious lemon custard has stayed in it’s dish!