National #Pie day! Lemon Meringue Pie!

Today is a #Pie day! Because…well, who doesn’t love pie? The past few days we’ve done a lot of celebrating and visiting with friends and family which included a great deal of eating, which meant a great deal of cooking as well. I found myself with four lemons in my fridge that had been stripped of their zest for a few different dishes, so today’s pie seemed like a pretty simple choice. It’s one of my favorites; a gorgeous lemon meringue pie!

One trick to a lemon meringue pie is being able to “blind bake” a crust. Blind baking is the process of baking an empty pie shell, which isn’t difficult, but does require some knowledge to be successful. ( I used my favorite pie crust from Cook’s Illustrated that uses vodka to make the dough very easy to work with and gives a great result each time. )

To blind bake a crust, you have to make sure your dough is well chilled (20-30 minutes) before AND after you roll it out so it doesn’t slump down into a sad greasy mess in the bottom of the pan. Make sure that after you put it in the pan that it is in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes prior to baking. Also, make sure you make nice high, fluted edges so your meringue has something to cling to!

Once the pastry is chilled, gently cover it with a double layer of foil and make sure the edges are covered a bit so they don’t brown too much. Then fill the shell with dry beans or rice, and I mean FILL it! If you only cover the bottom of the crust, the sides will slip down, so fill it like you are filling it with fruit or custard to bake it. (By the way, you can’t cook the beans or rice after you’ve used them for baking, but you can use them over and over as pie weights, so put them in a jar and save them.)

The next “trick” is proper treatment of the eggs. They should be at room temperature before you start, so put them out on the counter for a couple of hours or you can put them in a bowl of very warm water for about 30 minutes.

You need to separate your eggs, yolks for the lemon curd and whites for the meringue. I suggest using three bowls for this process, because even if you are an expert, every once in awhile, you’ll get a broken yolk, and once it’s broken into the egg whites, the whites are useless for a meringue. Any hint of fat in the whites (or in the mixing bowl or beater) will prevent the whites to whip up. The procedure is to crack the egg over one bowl and separate the white, then dump the yolk into a bowl and transfer the white into a third bowl where it will remain safely fat free. Repeat the process, egg by egg, don’t get cocky and think you can skip the first step! In the end, you should have beautiful golden yolks in one bowl ready to become lemon curd, pristine egg whites in the second bowl to be whipped into fluffy meringue and a third bowl that is empty and ready for the dishwasher!

Making the lemon curd to put into the pie isn’t difficult, but it does take some time and patience. Make sure you cook the curd on medium heat so you don’t scorch it or scramble your eggs! This recipe uses cornstarch so you begin with cold water, sugar and cornstarch mixed together in a slurry. It will be white and strange looking, but as it comes to a simmer, it turns from white to an opaque, thick mixture. (If you start with boiling water and try to add your cornstarch, it won’t dissolve properly.) Then you add your yolks a couple at a time, whisking constantly so that they don’t scramble, but become part of the silky lemon filling. Finally add lemon juice, zest and butter and you have a delicious lemon curd! I can eat it with a spoon!

For the meringue, keep your bowl and beater clean and dry, and whip the whites at low to medium speed; faster isn’t better! Add your sugar about a tablespoon at a time so it dissolves into the egg whites and continue whipping for several minutes until you reach the “stiff peak” stage. You know you’re there when you take the beater off the mixer, tap it off and then turn it over, the remaining whipped whites on the beater should stand up straight. If they are still too soft, the peak will curl over, just whip them for another minute. Be careful not to over-whip the whites or they will “break” and they start to look spongy and wet.

Assembling the pie also requires a little knowledge, though it’s not difficult at all. 1.)Make sure your pie crust is cooled to room temperature.
2.) The lemon curd should be warm (not hot).
3.) When you put the meringue on, dollop it in large scoops all over the pie and then use your spatula to meld the dollops together. Don’t spread it like frosting across the whole pie.
4.)Additionally, make sure the meringue touches the ridge of the pie crust so it attaches to it while it bakes (Otherwise the meringue will pull away from the crust and the results aren’t nearly as pretty!) and then use a large spoon to make some gentle craters in the meringue, pulling up as you draw the spoon out so it makes some nice peaks which look so nice and golden when they are baked!

Then pop the pie back into the oven for about 20 minutes or so or until the meringue is a gorgeous golden brown! Cool to room temperature before cutting into it.

Today I made one large pie for my family and two small (6”) pies for my parents and my in-laws since everyone loves lemon meringue! I also had extra egg whites so I made more meringue and will use those to serve fresh berries with later this week! Plus after a killer Zumba class, I can eat it almost guilt free! Happy #Pie day!

Mom’s Lemon Meringue Pie

1/3 c. cornstarch
1 1/4 c. sugar
1/4 t. salt
2 c. cold water
4 egg yolks, room temperature
1 Tb. grated lemon rind (about 2 lemones)
Juice of 2 lemons
2 Tb. butter

4 egg whites, room temperature
1/4 t. cream of tartar
1/2 c. sugar

1 9″ pie shell, baked and cooled

To make lemon curd:
Mix cornstarch, sugar, salt and water in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly until it comes to a boil. Cook one minute. Add about 1/4 cup of the hot mixture to the egg yolks to warm them slightly (temper them), and then add the yolks back into the cornstarch mixture in the saucepan. Cook for two minutes, stirring constantly, remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice, rind and butter.
Pour into cooled pie shell. (You can also hold this off heat for a short time with a piece of plastic wrap pressed to the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Heat gently over low heat before pouring into the pie shell.)

Making sure the mixing bowl and beaters are very clean, begin to beat the eggs on low speed until frothy. Combine the cream of tartar and sugar and then add to the frothy egg whites a tablespoon at a time. Turn the mixer to medium and beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Dollop on top of the warm lemon curd and using a rubber spatula or a large spoon, gently spread the meringue to cover the pie. Make sure that the meringue is sealed to the fluted edge of the crust.

Bake at 350º for 15-20 minutes or until the meringue is golden. Cool before serving.