Lemon meringue pie

June 2, 2013 § Leave a comment

What a delicious thing a carefully made lemon meringue pie can be. With its combination of crisp shortcrust pastry, sharp lemony filling and pillowy meringue it proves a worthy rival to a French tarte au citron.

For the past 11 months I’ve been helping out one day a week at a café staffed by learning-disabled students from local charity Stockdales. My speciality slot has become “dessert of the day” and at the conclusion of lunchtime service we decide on what next week’s “dessert of the day” will be.

During winter and early spring We’ve run through the gamut of crumbles, steamed and baked puddings, pies and tarts until finally, as spring turned towards summer the challenge of lemon meringue pie came up.

What could be simpler, I thought. After all, this was a dessert my mother used to whip up back in the 1970s. How wrong I was! It’s one of the most technically challenging things I’ve been asked to cook recently and, what with broken blind-baked bases, a filling that didn’t set and weepy meringue it took 3 attempts to perfect.

What are the secrets to success?

1) A sturdy blind-baked pastry case without cracks.

2) Carefully measured filling ingredients with the ratio of liquid to cornflour strictly observed. It’s a good idea to let the filling cool completely before topping with meringue and baking.

3) Italian meringue prepared in advance gives a reliable, stable meringue to work with.

Here’s star student Elaine piping the Italian meringue in place. It’s the first time she’s done any piping work and as you can see, she’s a natural!

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Recipe for Lemon Meringue Pie

My own recipe compiled by scouring recipe books for different versions and choosing the best of each. Serves 6.

8 inch flan ring

Ingredients

Shortcrust pastry made with 180g plain flour, 90g fat (I like to use half butter and half lard) and sufficient cold water to bind

For the lemon filling

200ml lemon juice
100ml orange juice or water
175g caster sugar

30g cornflour
3 egg yolks
30g unsalted butter

For the Italian meringue

3 egg whites 30g each
180g granulated sugar (double the weight of the egg white)
70g water (1 and ½ tablespoons ie 22.5g per egg white)

Bake the pastry blind for 25 minutes at 180 degrees C fan, remove the beans and foil, reduce the oven temperature to 170 degrees C (fan)then bake for a further 15-20 minutes until an even biscuit colour and thoroughly cooked through.

Slake the cornflour with a little of the orange juice taken from the measured quantity. Put the lemon juice and rest of the orange juice, sugar, yolks in a saucepan, add the slaked cornflour and whisk until smooth. Heat over a moderate flame, whisking and stirring frequently and when the mixture becomes warm, add the unsalted butter and bring to the boil, stirring often. Allow to bubble whilst stirring for a good 30 seconds or so. Spoon the filling into the tart case (there should be a gap at the top of 1/2 cm or so) then leave to cool until completely cold.

Meanwhile make the Italian meringue. Heat the sugar and water in a small saucepan to form a syrup. Heat to 118-120 degrees C. Whilst the syrup is boiling, whisk the egg whites in a medium grease-free bowl until stiff.

Pour the boiling syrup over the egg whites at the same time as whisking with a hand held electric whisk. Keep whisking until ther meringue is cool.

Fill a piping bag with the meringue and pipe as much as required onto the cooled pie filling. Start at the outside edge and pipe partly onto the pastry to anchor. You may not need all the meringue.

Bake at 150 degrees C (fan) for a 20-25 minutes. I find it best to bake rather than blowtorch the meringue to make sure the meringue is fully cooked to a safe temperature. Also it catches fire when blowtorched leaving unattractive little black wicks on the piped meringue peaks!

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