Monday, September 03, 2007

Lemon Cream Meringue Pie

For our weekly get-together I received a special dessert request from our friends Ida and Max - Lemon Meringue Pie! I LOVE lemon meringue pie but I've always found that the ones sold in grocery stores, bakeries or restaurants are always overly sweet! The only place I've ever enjoyed lemon meringue pie, without an instant sugar rush or tooth ache, is at my gramma's house - her pies are never too sweet with just the right amount of tartness and none of that artificial lemon flavor or chalkiness. I didn't have time to call her so I did a quick search on the Cooking Light message boards and I took a chance on this recipe. Compared to other recipes I found it had a lot less sugar and I was also intrigued by the addition of the milk since most of the others I found used water instead. It got great reviews so I figured it would be a good recipe to start with!

I was absolutely right! The filling is absolutely amazing! Very very similar to my gramma's version - perfect balance of sweetness and tartness! Now, I can't say the same for the crust and the meringue but that was my own fault! The crust was soggy (I am pretty sure I under baked it!), the meringue wept (recipe's fault as I later found out!) and the meringue shrank (my fault!).

While the pie was cooling I noticed the meringue was shrinking and starting to weep so I did a search on the net and I learned that sealing the meringue to the edge of the pie crust is very important to avoid "shrinkage" - I obviously did not know that! I also learned that the reason that meringues weep (A syrup that forms between the filling layer and the meringue) is that they are undercooked on the bottom, and some of the moisture that is held in suspension in the egg foam seeps out all over the pie filling. The solution is to never let your filling cool before smoothing on the meringue - the filling should be piping hot to help set the bottom of the meringue. Also, egg whites should also be room temperature before beating them - this was the only thing I did right apparently! I will need to keep all this in mind for the next time!... pie ended up being a very messy disaster but it was still amazingly tasty! A work in progress!

Picture Courtesy of Cooking Light

Lemon Cream Meringue Pie

1 pie crust recipe (I used a Pillsbury Deep Dish Frozen Crust)

2 cups milk
2/3 cup sugar
3 to 4 lemons
1/4 cup cornstarch
4 egg yolks
2 TB unsalted butter, softened

4 egg whites
2/3 cups sugar
pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla (my addition)

1. Prepare your pie crust.

2. To make the filling, combine the milk & sugar in a nonreactive saucepan. Strip the zest from the lemons with a sharp peeler, making sure you remove the yellow zest but non of the white pith beneath. (it is bitter). Add the zest to the milk & sugar and bring it to a simmer over low heat. Remove from the heat and allow to steep for 5 minutes; remove the strips of zest with a slotted spoon and discard them.

3. Squeeze lemons to make 1/2 cup strained juice. Place the juice in a mixing bowl and whisk in the cornstarch, then yolks.

4. Return the milk & sugar mixture to a boil over low heat and whisk in about a third of the boiling milk into the lemon juice mixture. Return the remaining milk and sugar mixture to a boil once more and whisk the lemon juice & yolk mixture back into it, whisking constantly till filling comes to a boil and THICKENS. Allow to boil, whisking constantly, for about 30 seconds. Remove from heat, whisk in the butter & pour into a glass bowl. Press saran wrap against the surface of the filling to prevent a skin from forming. Cool till it drops to 75 degrees. ( that's about room temp.) I let it sit out on the counter to cool. COVERED!

5. Set a rack in middle of oven and preheat to 350.

6. Bake your pie crust "Blind baking style. (Empty filled with weight or beans 20 minutes, then remove weights and bake about 10 minute more. Cool completely.

7. Spread cooled filling in baked and cooled pie shell.

8. To make meringue: Bring a small pan of water to a boil. Lower the heat to simmer. Comine ingredients in bow of mixer. Place the bowl over the pan of simmering water and whisk the egg white mixture gently for 2 minutes, till whites are hot (140 degrees) and sugar is dissolved. Whip the meringue on medium speed till it has cooled and is able to hold a shape, but not too dry. Distribute spoonfuls of meringue all over top of pie, then using back of spoon to spread it evenly. It should cover the top completely and TOUCH THE EDGES of the crust all around. (This prevents to much shrinkage) Here and there, bring up the surface of the meringue so that it is swirled. Place the pie on a cookie sheet and bake 5 to 10 minutes, till meringue is colored evenly.

9. Cool Completely.

From Nick Malgieri's Book "HOW TO BAKE" Page 169

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