June 2, 2011 § 3 Comments
This weekend was a hot one in Orlando – the temperatures have been steadily creeping up into the 90’s for several weeks now and I’ve been in denial trying to keep our doors open for fresh air with no luck. With the heat intensifying, I’d thought for two weeks of what to do for the approaching Memorial Day weekend and to properly welcome the start of summer. We could have taken a mini-vaca but hubby had no vacation days. Could have enjoyed a pool at a local hotel but prices were insane. Last idea was to drive to the beach but in the end with the threat of traffic and our sweet dog’s puppy eyes, we decided against it. So, it was a weekend at home, which in the end turned out to be very sweet (pun intended).
My husband recently bought me a nook for my birthday. Each night he’d look at it hopeful that I’ve purchased something to verify I liked the gift. I had yet to purchase anything in a month, so with the three-day weekend as I lay on the couch I figured I might as well indulge my brain in a book rather than endless hours of television. I’ve wanted to read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver ever since it came out. So, I did just that – I downloaded the “nook book” and have had my nose stuck in it every night this week. The book is just plain awesome – enlightening and inspiring with every page turn. I’m only about one third of the way through it but she already has me hooked with her tales of blossoming veggies and tender fruits. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced the tastes she describes and weaves through her stories. It makes me utterly depressed at the thought of having to frequent my local supermarket and roam through its lifeless aisles. She almost makes me want to uproot my life and take up a farm – almost.
But back to reality, it was Memorial Day weekend and armed with the desire to eat local, fresh, ingredients, I found myself with an overflowing basket at the local market I visit. Now, to be sincere, I didn’t end up buying everything local. I was surprised and a little disturbed to learn that my favorite local store isn’t so local. Don’t get me wrong, it’s got some great finds but doesn’t carry quite as much local produce as I’d deluded myself to believe. But, I bought some good stock to make great meals for the weekend – and let me say it’s pretty much been one good thing after another – lentil salad, hummus and veggie sandwiches, sweet grilled corn, scrambled eggs with roasted asparagus and peppers, fresh garlicky mayonnaise, and finally last night a summer squash stir fry with jasmine rice. At the last grab in the store I threw in some fresh limes and lemons to have on hand.
My mom invited us over for a Memorial Day BBQ and I made the – at the time what I thought to be a good idea – offer to bring Lemon Meringue Pie as I’d just purchased several huge lemons. I have a tendency to do this in all aspects of my life and especially in the kitchen – signing up for things that I don’t fully understand their scale and potential. This venture was one of those. But once I’d mentioned Lemon Meringue to my mom, there was no turning back. I had to show up to the BBQ with that pie in my hands. I’ve never made a lemon custard or curd. I’ve never made meringue. I don’t like pie shells so I had already decided I’d use the graham cracker crust in Ina Garten’s Frozen Key Lime Pie recipe I recently made. With one out of three down, how hard could it be?
Well, not hard, but interesting. It was hours before the party and we were standing in line at Hollywood Studios to see American Idol Scotty (I know, corny, and yes I’m a bit of a dork). There I was thinking of the pie I had to serve in mere hours and I hadn’t even picked out a recipe. As I stood in line I scanned different recipes to see which one to go with. I settled on a recipe from Gourmet as I was pretty sure I had all the ingredients it called for. Once back at home and needing to leave in, yes…1 hour!, I sprang into action.
You start with the crust. I loved the graham cracker crust with this but you could easily do a pie shell, pastry crust, or even no crust and serve in bowls with a side of cookies as I saw here which is a great idea. While the crust cooks you melt the sugar, salt, water, milk, and cornstarch in a saucepan. This at first appears to do nothing and I was thinking, surely I’ve left out a major ingredient. But all of a sudden it will start to solidify and get gooey. At that point, you mix in a small amount of this mixture into the eggs yolks, and then the egg mixture back into this saucepan. As you continue to stir it, the mixture solidifies into a sturdy custard-like consistency.
Then you add in the lemon and lemon zest. This recipe calls for half a cup of lemon juice but my four huge lemons actually only yielded a fourth a cup. I was worried it might not be tart enough so I compensated with a little extra zest and the resulting flavor was spot-on. Finally you fold in a few tablespoons of butter into the filling. The resulting lemon filling is glossy and looks like its bursting with sunshine. Pour this mixture into the pie shell and set aside.
Next comes the meringue. As I said, I’ve never made meringue and it’s really not so easy. You diligently whip the egg whites with salt and cream of tartar until they get firm and then slowly add in the sugar. Again, silly me, I was short on ingredients and only had one third of the sugar it called for. So I did the rest with powdered sugar. The meringue didn’t get as sturdy as I would have liked and it didn’t taste particularly great at first– but it’s all I had. So, I plopped it on top of the pie (the most fun part by the way as it oozes out of the bowl and builds layer upon layer on your pie) and into the oven it went to brown.
By this point we were to be at my parents’ house in 15 minutes so the pie came straight out of the oven and into a lasagna pan for transport – held in place by two oven mitts. I sat in the car looking at my beautiful pie, full of hope, but the meringue wobbled from side to side as the car turned. I snapped a few pics to ensure I had evidence should this by chance turn out to be a success – although at that moment it seemed highly unlikely – or in case I just wanted to prove to myself I’d made it. Once at the house, the pie got to chill out in the fridge for a few hours before we indulged. And indulge we did – it was delicious. The lemon filling had just enough tang and bite accompanied by the sweet graham cracker crust and light fluffy meringue. In fact, the meringue tasted quite perfect despite the rocky start. This pie was a winner all around and everyone agreed – a nice cool accompaniment to the hot summer days to come. I can’t wait to make it again…the only danger is now that I know how easy it really is, I may make it too often!
Lemon Meringue Pie
Adapted from Gourmet
For the crust
- 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (10 crackers)
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
For the filling
- 5 large egg yolks
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/4 cups water
- 1/4 cup whole milk
- 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
- 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (I used ¼ cup and more zest)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
For the meringue
- 5 large egg whites, at room temperature 30 minutes
- 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 superfine granulated sugar
For the crust, pre-heat the oven to 350. Melt the butter. Mix with crushed graham crackers and sugar and press into pie shell. Bake 10-15 minutes until golden. Remove pie shell and increase heat to 375 to bake the finished pie.
For the filling, whisk together egg yolks and set aside. In a saucepan whisk together sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Gradually add water and milk, whisking until smooth. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking frequently as mixture begins to thicken. Remove from heat and gradually whisk about 1 cup milk mixture into yolks, then whisk yolk mixture into remaining milk mixture. Add lemon zest and juice and simmer, whisking constantly, 3 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in butter until incorporated. Pour into pie shell.
For the meringue beat the reserved egg whites with cream of tartar and salt using an electric mixer at medium speed until they hold soft peaks. Increase speed to high and add superfine sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until meringue just holds stiff, glossy peaks. Pour the meringue over the top of the pie and put back in the oven until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Cool several hours before serving.
Update: Serve with Heirloom Tomato Pasta for a great summer lunch or supper.