We’re all cosily settled at home, well, maybe.
My poor husband is trying to run a College and plan out teaching a course, all long-distance, but of course the resources offered by the University cannot handle the surge in needy faculty that just arrived on the virtual doorstep of Instructional Resources. So now comes the stressful busines of trying to figure out how to give a lecture on-line when the accomodations don’t accomodate. When he said to me, “couldn’t we have a lemon meringue pie, or maybe lime”, I said “I’ll think about it. ”
The actual first act is to take out and seperate the eggs, because egg white is the opposite from whipped cream. Cream for whipping needs to be as cold as possible. But egg whites for whipping need to be room temperature.
I set my four separated eggs aside to warm in the kitchen to room temperature while I make the pie crust. Only a single crust, that I start by preheating the oven to 425 F. Then I mix flour butter, sugar and salt with a Cuisinart, using the single sharp blade.
I use 1 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 reaspoon sugar and a third of a cup of butter, cut together to resemble cornmeal. Then as the Cuisinart blade spins, drop in about two tablespoons of grapeseed oil, or any other flavorless oil. Dump this mixture into a bowl. and dribble in about 1/3 cup of ice water with a squeeze of lemon juice in it, gently tossing until the water is scattered well into the flour mix. Go lightly, do not stir this mixture about with enthusiasm or you will get a crust like cardboard. There are a few tricks hidden here– the sugar and the lemon both act as tenderizers, and the ice water doesn’t melt the butter–but delicate handling is also essential to keep a light tender crust. A real traditionalist would never use a Cuisinart, but I’m lazy, so this is how I make a mealy though tender crust. If you want a truly flaky crust, you need to use a pastry cutter instead, or two table knives with narrow blades to cut the butter in. I used to do that when baking in the college dormitory kitchenette, which had no equipment worth the name.
Now turn the ragged dough about with your hands, but try not to warm it with too much contact. Press lightly but firmly and toss the ragged dough until it begins to come together. Add a little more ice water if you must. When the dough comes together enough to be patted into a rough slightly flattened shape, you have done enough.
I use a favorite roller and a pastry bag to roll my crust. I do not like the rollers that have handles and ball bearings because they have no finesse, and you cannot truly feel the dough.
Bake this in the preheated oven after weighting it down with beans or any of the weights made for the purpose. Should I confess that I don’t do this? I pierce the crust in many places with fork tines and then check it as it bakes, several times, to re-pierce it so it doesn’t bubble up and make an uneven crust. But that’s not what you’re supposed to do!
Note that I put the crust in its pan to cool, on a nice dry oven mitt. If your are unlucky enough to place your pyrex pan on a bit of water on the counter, it may shatter, leaving an incredible mess and no crust. Of course that’s a problem that isn’t there if you use a metal pan, but since the very acidic filling of these pies eventually does leak into the pan, you will get a metallic flavor from the combination of metal and acid after a day or so. That’s why I will generally prefer to use a pyrex or ceramic pie pan for this type.
I said acid, and here is the mixture I like for beginning the lemon and or lime filling.
Grate about 1 teaspoon of lemon peel, and squeeze enough lemons or limes or both to give you at least 2/3 cup juice. I sometimes use even more– this depends on the lemons and your personal love of acid. Stir up the four egg yolks in a small bowl or a two cup pyrex measuring cup and leave the fork in it for later use.
Combine well, in a stout pot: 2 cups white sugar, 4 tablespoons cornstarch, 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour and about 1/8 teaspoon salt.
Mix this so that you don’t get lumps later! Heat 2 cups of water to a reasonable heat, not boiling, and add gradually, stirring. Again, be careful because you don’t want the water to cook the cornstarch immediately and make a lumpy filling. When all the water is mixed in, cook while stirring constantly over high heat until the misture boils. Lower the heat and continue to cook for two minutes. Take it off the stovetop.
Beat by the hot spoonful into your raw beaten egg yolks, using the fork to beat briskly while you add, to keep from cooking bits of egg. When you have mixed about a quarter of the hot goo in, then stir your eggyolk rich mixture briskly in to the pot’s remaining contents of translucent goo, and cook again until boiling. Continue at a lower heat to cook this for two minutes, then turn off the heat and stir in 2 tablespoons of butter. Now add your grated peel and lemon juice to your personal taste. As I said, I like a strong bite to the filling, because it will be eaten right against the purely sweet and fluffy meringue. I’d use a minimum of half a cup of lemon juice, but I’ve been known to graze perilously close to a cup.
Now for the meringue. Your four egg whites should be a proper room temperature by now. Have them in your mixing bowl with possibly a splash of lemon juice, or best of all 3/8 teaspoon of cream of tartar. Add 3/4 teaspoon of vanilla. Start beating with a balloon whisk in your mixer, and once you reach the early soft peak stage, begin to gradually add 8 tablespoons of sugar. Warning, don’t be too slow or you will end up overbeating the whites. You want glossy slightly relaxed peaks that hold well, but not a clumpy meringue. Clumpy means you beat them too long, and the product won’t be as attractive.
Now pour your warm lemon filling into the cooled pie crust and cover with your meringue, making sure to bring the edges of meringue out all the way to the edge of crust so it doesn’t shrink back during baking. Bake in the oven for 12 to 15 minutes until meringue is golden on the peaks and well set (see above and below). Cool before eating. Okay yes, I know people who have no patience and eat this hot. If you do that, the pie will be a mess and the filling will run and not present that beautifully clean appearance most people love. But it will still taste good!