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.


Mango Honey Cupcakes with Lime Curd; My Turn on Baking for the Cause

Wow, it’s been awhile since I’ve checked in here. I am honored today to be blogging for Frosting for the Cause! When a friend shared the information on Frosting for the Cause, I was thrilled to be able to do something tangible to deal with this insidious disease. Baking cupcakes isn’t going to stop cancer, but raising awareness will!

Breast cancer. Let me begin by saying those words make me angry. REALLY angry! In the past six months alone my dear sister-in-law Stephanie, my sweet funny friend, Tami, my dog-walking partner, Judy, and my lovely friend Mary Lou have all gotten the diagnosis of breast cancer. Really?! I just want to scream, REALLY!? It’s the year 2011 and still these wonderful women are getting breast cancer.

Each time I heard this diagnosis I thought, “Damn it!” and then I give a prayer of thanks for the invention of the mammogram, which has caught all of their cancers at a very early stage making them very treatable. (I want to know what government yutz thought that women didn’t need mammograms at age 40 last year? Remember that stupidity? ) Nobody likes to go for a mammogram. It’s uncomfortable and it always brings that little bit of worry; that “What if” moment, but I also know that each of my friends has a good prognosis because the cancer was found early and treated before it could invade the rest of their bodies. Sadly, we haven’t found a cure, but we’ve been blessed with a really good way to detect breast cancer before it’s too late.

My first exposure to breast cancer was when I was about 11 years old. My aunt had breast cancer. We didn’t live close so I wasn’t aware of her treatments or how the cancer affected her, but for an 11 year old girl, hearing ‘cancer’ was scary, and then knowing she survived it taught me that breast cancer is indeed treatable. My aunt Carol had a recurrence about 12 years later and she is a two-time survivor.

Almost 10 years ago as a young mom, my friend Barb, also a young mom, got her diagnosis. She was only in her late 30s when she was diagnosed and it was shocking and very frightening to hear that she had cancer. Barb went through her treatments with great humor and courage, but watching her family, and particularly her two young daughters, who were the same ages as my daughters, struggle and worry about her cancer and her treatments was hard. And yet, here we are 10 years later, and Barb is a survivor!

So I guess that is the theme of my post here: SURVIVORS! I am humbled by all these women who have faced the big C with such braveness, grace and strength. For my friend Tami who has spent the better part of the last 4 months feeling like she has a “belly full of melting green apple Jolly Rancher candies” yet still manages to make me laugh with her smart alec humor, for my friend Judy who was diagnosed for the second time in December and just had her mastectomy, to Mary Lou going through radiation and Steph who is done with her treatments and declared cancer-free, to Barb who will celebrate 10 years of living without cancer and Aunt Carol who is over 20 years cancer free; to Aunt Janet, Sue, Cathy and Karen, all who have been diagnosed with a form of female cancer and have survived. You are all strong, fun, funny and inspiring women!

And finally, I could not write this entry without remembering Molly, the niece of one of my dearest friends who at the age of 16 was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of cancer that she battled valiantly for many months until she could battle no more. She went to heaven in 2009. She and her family endured her illness and her death with such love, faith and grace. The members of her large loving family are the wounded survivors of cancer.

My wish for the future is that in the next 20 years as doctors get smarter about treating cancer, they will figure out less horrific and uncomfortable treatments! We’ve figured out how to diagnose it and how to kill most of it, but I pray that someday soon the treatments will be more targeted and less draining to the people who have to go through it!

And now for the yumminess! The weather here in the Northeast has been frigid and snowy for way too long now and I decided it was time for a little tropical sunshine in cupcake form! Today’s recipe is for Honey Mango Margarita Cupcakes with Lime Curd and Sea Salt.
The original cupcake recipe was shared with me by a fellow personal chef and can be found on the National Honey Board website, but of course, I’ve tweaked it and made it better!

Honey Mango Margarita Cupcakes with Sea Salt
– Makes 12-14 cupcakes –

2 cups cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup ripe mango purée
Zest and juice (1/4 cup) of one lime
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup Butter, softened
1/2 cup orange blossom honey
2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350° F. Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and sea salt; set aside. In a small bowl, combine mango purée, lime zest and juice, and buttermilk; set aside. In a mixing bowl, cream butter until fluffy. Add honey; mix well. Add eggs, one at a time. Add half of the reserved dry ingredients to the butter mixture; mix on low until just combined. With mixer running on low, slowly add the mango mixture. Add remaining dry ingredients until just combined. Fill paper-lined muffin tins 2/3 full. Bake 18-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center of a muffin comes out clean. Remove to wire rack; cool. Frost with Mango Lime Buttercream frosting (below).
*Any mild-flavored honey such as Wildflower or Clover may be used

These are delicious on their own, but I added a lime curd filling to “gild the lily” a bit with delicious results!

Lime Curd
Makes 3/4 cup

1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons grated lime zest (about 2 limes)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (about 2 limes)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Combine sugar, eggs, lime zest, and juice in a medium nonreactive saucepan, and set over medium-low heat. Cook, whisking constantly, until mixture begins to thicken and holds the mark of the whisk, about 15-20 minutes.
Remove pan from heat, and whisk in butter, a piece at a time, until well combined. Strain mixture through a sieve into a glass bowl. Lay plastic directly on surface to prevent a skin from forming. Chill 3 hours.

Take each cupcake and using a small melon ball scoop or round teaspoon measure, scoop out a small circle from the top of each cake and reserve it to “plug” the hole. Scoop out another spoonful of cake to make a nice tunnel and then fill each cavity with lime curd using a piping bag or small spoon.

Replace the top of the cupcake and then frost.

Mango Lime Buttercream Frosting

1/2 cup Butter, softened
1/2 cup ripe mango, puréed
Zest and juice (1/4 cup) of one lime
2 Tablespoons Wildflower honey
4 to 5 cups powdered sugar

In a mixing bowl, cream butter until light and fluffy. Add mango purée, lime zest and juice, and honey; mix well. Add powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, until desired spreading consistency.

I topped mine with some candied lime peel and a sprinkle of Maldon Sea Salt. Fabulous!

Gourmet Pop Tarts!

OK, maybe not gourmet, but homemade and oh so much better than the ones from the box! These are a little labor intensive, but fun to share and really tasty so I think worth the effort for a special occasion!

Last weekend I enjoyed my yearly “chef retreat” with some of my dearest friends. Each year a new person or two joins the mix to add to the fun and this year I was so excited to meet chef Coco Jacobs from San Francisco. She always cooks the most amazing ethnic foods for her clients so I love her recipes, and she loves to bake!
While at the lake, she made these home made pop tarts to share for breakfast. They were adorable, and DELISH so I made my own for my family this week.
Coco uses an all butter pate sucre recipe, but I used the famous Foolproof Pie Dough, made with vodka that I discovered from America’s Test Kitchens. Love that dough! Make sure all the ingredients are really cold and that the pastry rests in the fridge for at least 30 minutes since it is a soft dough. It will be much easier to roll and pick up!

Coco suggested using a nice fruit conserve or cool jam vs. using fresh fruit like you do for a pie or tart because the fresh fruit is too juicy and needs to cook awhile to thicken which would be messy!

With the bounty of local blueberries, I made my own conserve and cooked 6 cups of blueberries with 1 heaping tablespoon of cornstarch, about 3/4 cup of sugar, a dusting of cinnamon and a good squeeze of lemon juice over medium heat for about 20 minutes until the berries had melted down and the sauce thickened. (This was enough for a double batch of pop tarts or a single batch and a family who cannot keep spoons out of the bowl, and some sundaes made with said filling over vanilla ice cream…) I let it cool while I made and chilled my pastry dough.

To assemble, divide the pastry into two rounds as you would for a pie, roll one half into a rectangle about 8″ x 16″ on a well floured board. You want the pastry thin because you will have two layers of it and you want to taste the filling!
Cut the rectangle into 4, 4″ strips (4″ x 8″) and transfer to a Silpat or parchment lined baking sheet. (This was the tricky part as my pastry was soft, and I considered rolling it directly on the parchment or Silpat next time.)
Place 2 Tb. of filling on the lower half, flip the top of the strip over to cover and then using a fork, crimp and seal them all the way around.

Bake at 400º for about 20 minutes or until the pastry is nicely golden brown. Remove to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

To glaze, mix about 1 c. of confectioners sugar with 1/2 tsp. of almond extract (this flavor MAKES them!) and then a little dribble of milk to make a thick glaze. Coat each tart with glaze when they are cool and I used some colored sprinkles on mine, well, because Coco did! They are really cute!
Pop Tarts!
This is really a “concept” recipe with plenty of room for creativity with fillings. I am hoping Coco may chime in here with suggestions to improve my technique, but I have to say thanks to one very cool lady for sharing such a fun and delicious treat with me! My family thanks you!
Please visit Coco’s website to learn more about her business!