Monday, January 28, 2008

Lemon Meringue Pie: Daring Bakers January Challenge

In my family, my sister is the pie baker. She’s amazing. We have a family friend who brings my sister big piles of rhubarb from his garden so she’ll make pies for him. If Beth’s making pies, she’ll always make multiples. My sister just has a knack for rolling dough—probably because she has the patience of a saint (which helps her a lot because she has 2 little boys). I, on the other hand, was born with very little patience which is one of the reasons I make crisps and cobblers instead of pies.

So, I was a little apprehensive about the January Daring Bakers challenge, but I was well prepared for it thanks to a little thing called the Williams-Sonoma Wedding Registry. I have a beautiful blue pie plate, and a fabulous birch pastry board.

One of the neatest things about Daring Bakers is that we have a blog (accessible to members only) where we can post about the problems we encounter making our recipes and can offer suggestions to others on how to avoid these problems. This helps tremendously. For this particular recipe many bakers seemed to have trouble keeping their filling firm—for many it became ”watery.” I read some of the suggestions people offered and without changing the original recipe, I was able to make a non-watery filling.

The first thing I did after reading the recipe, and the hints, was to reorganize the recipe so that the ingredients list and instructions for each of the 3 components of the pie were on the same page. I’ve re-ordered the recipe below in this same way. It’s not very helpful for making a shopping list, but it was a big help in the baking process.

Before I began, I also noted which ingredients needed to be cold and which at room temperature. I put the cold items in the fridge (all of the crust ingredients), and placed everything else on the counter to come to room temperature (hint: lemons will yield more juice at room temp). Another note about temperature is that I was under a deadline (bringing the pie to a dinner party that night), so I didn’t have time to cool the crust thoroughly before pouring in the lemon filling. Nor did I have time to thoroughly cool the filling before piling on the meringue. This didn’t seem to be a problem, and in fact, baking the meringue with the filling still very warm may have helped the filling stay firm instead of becoming watery.

Making the crust was much easier than I had expected. First of all, I married a man with his own food processor. Second, I had only ever made crust with shortening, not butter. Never again!

The dough came out quite well and I was able to form it into a nice disk for refrigerating.

After refrigerating, I really didn’t have any problems rolling the dough.
I may have rolled it a bit thick, but it fit nicely in my plate (and I was able to eat the scraps—tasted like sugar cookie dough!) Not having pie weights, I filled the crust with dried beans to bake, per the recipe.

I baked the crust as instructed until the edges of the crust were light brown. It probably could have used an extra couple of minutes because the bottom was so thick, but it turned out fine.

For the filling, I measured out my ingredients, separated my eggs, etc. For the lemons, I started by zesting with my microplane grater—I think I zested 2 lemons. Then, I used a zester to create lemon peel curls to use to garnish my pie.

Once my zesting was all finished, I rolled each lemon on the counter applying medium pressure. Lemons will provide more juice if rolled like this. I believe I used 4 lemons, maybe 4 ½.

I’m very glad that the filling instructions indicate that you need to bring the cornstarch/water mixture to a boil and stir until very thick. I was worried at first that my cornstarch was expired or something because it wasn’t thickening, but then it became very gloppy. I knew it was done! I added the other ingredients as stated in the recipe, with one exception. Before adding the butter I melted it in the microwave so that I would be adding hot liquid butter to the hot liquid mixture instead of adding solid room temperature butter. This may have also helped my filling stay firm, but I don’t really know. I think I got the idea from consulting “On Food and Cooking,” but I’m not sure whether it was in the section on egg-based sauces or custards or somewhere else.

I followed the instructions for the meringue to the letter.

Then I baked it for 15 minutes and it came out great!

Once the pie was out of the oven I sprinkled the top with the strips of lemon zest. The whole process took me 3 ½ hours, but it was worth it.
I brought my pie to one of my husband’s co-worker’s house that night. Everyone there loved it, and D said he liked it even better than the Bostini from October. He thought it was a nice flavor foil to the spicy Indian food we had for dinner.

In conclusion, I’ll definitely be baking this pie again, though probably only for special occasions since it is a little time intensive. I think I will also check out the cookbook “Wanda’s Pie in the Sky” for more recipes—this one was that good! To see the Lemon Meringue Pies made by the other Daring Bakers, visit our blogroll:

Lemon Meringue Pie
(From Wanda’s Pie in the Sky by Wanda Beaver)
Makes one 10-inch (25 cm) pie

For the Crust:
¾ cup (180 mL) cold butter; cut into ½-inch (1.2 cm) pieces
2 cups (475 mL) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (60 mL) granulated sugar
¼ tsp (1.2 mL) salt
⅓ cup (80 mL) ice water

For 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.

Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC).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 ⅛ 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 ½ inch (1.2 cm). Flute decoratively. Chill for 30 minutes.

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.

For the Filling:
2 cups (475 mL) water
1 cup (240 mL) granulated sugar
½ cup (120 mL) cornstarch
5 egg yolks, beaten
¼ cup (60 mL) butter, melted
¾ cup (180 mL) fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon zest
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract

For 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.

For the Meringue:
5 egg whites, room temperature
½ tsp (2.5 mL) cream of tartar
¼ tsp (1.2 mL) salt
½ tsp (2.5 mL) vanilla extract
¾ cup (180 mL) granulated sugar

For 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.


Deborah said...

Your pie looks wonderful!

Meryl said...

I love the lemon zest on top! Very pretty, and not something I've seen anyone else do so far.

Anonymous said...

I love the garnish! That's beautiful!

Laura said...

One thing about the lemon peel garnish--it doesn't taste great/have a good texture. Looks pretty, but best not eaten--adds a bitter flavor and unpleasant texture to the otherwise very good pie!

Gabi said...

Nice job! Glad everything came together without problem for you.
I always use butter in my pie crusts - because I don't eat shortening. You have to be a little more exacting as far as cold temp and not overworking the dough to get a nice tender, flaky crust but it's worth it IMHO.

Kim Stone said...

Beautiful pie. I'm sure your sister's couldn't hold a candle to it. Congrats on a successful challenge.

Big Boys Oven said...

oh I love your pie top with lemon peel! look so lovely!tnzoa

Dolores said...

A man with his own food processor? Yeah, I'd say you've got a keeper. :) And thanks for the melted butter tip. When I get well enough to tackle this one, I'll keep that in mind. Congratulations...great job on the pie!

Anonymous said...

Glad everyone loved it! It is beautiful in the picture!

MOM said...

Looks yummy! Now I have a craving!!! I sometimes add an extra egg white to make a taller meringue topping, like at Greggs. I have also folded the egg whites into the lemon filling to make it more like lemon chiffon pie. I make a cookie crumb crust and sprinkle a little of the crumbs on top of it.
Laura's Mom

Andrea said...

Congratulations, your pie looks wonderful1

Princess of the kitchen said...

for a non pie baker you did really well. Looks great

Anna said...

Gorgeous! I'll have to live vicariously because, while I am a HUGE baker, I don't know if I could devote that much time to one dish. But it looks so good, just maybe..:)

Great blog, Laura! I'll be back!

Lunch Buckets said...

Lovely pie!

kitten said...

i love your lemon zest strips on top of your pie. the step by step photos are very informative too. good job!

Jen Yu said...

So glad it worked out for you - it looks terrific!

Claire said...

I agree! This was a wonderful pie and to be made again. Glad you liked it. I like the zest on top!

eatme_delicious said...

Looks great! The crust looks smooth and perfect. :)