I feel that there isn’t quite a pretty site as much a slice of pie is. There are so many different styles, colors, looks, designs, rustic, clean, edgy, safe. Pie is so pretty that it is like fashion. But we don’t wear pie. Well, your hips do, but as clothes, no. But I think that, out of the entire baking world, pie is like couture, haute couture, French Vogue, Italian Vogue. Not really, but you get the picture. Pie can look so pretty, yet ugly, but that ugliness is a sort of pretty ugly. Sometimes you look at a rustic pie and go “Oooh…no…well, I’ll have a slice though.”, and sometimes you look at a rustic pie and go, “…Mother…”
What do I think is the prettiest pie? I think that the prettiest pie, but also the safest (but oh so much my favorite), is the Lemon Meringue. A cooked lemony custard topped with a meringue and torched until golden. But what do we know about the humble lemon meringue pie? I love the stuff. A soft, lemony custard. A cloud of light and fluffy meringue, torched to a pretty golden on top. A flaky, slightly salty crust. Everything about the gosh darned thing is delicious, but let’s think here. All of the lemon meringue pies that I have had are not quite tart enough. Being a child of my father, everything has to be sour when it comes to lemon [em]anything[/em]. Our lemon bars, our lemon drops, our lemonade, lemons. Everything short of our vehicles. We don’t want those to be sour lemons. In fact, we don’t want those to be lemons. That wouldn’t be good at all.
But I’m not on the subject of cars here, that isn’t something that I established this blog on. So, let me get started. When we want something to be more tart, we add more lemon juice and less sugar, which is what I did. I had a supremely LARGE lemon (I mean, almost the size of a small orange!), and a regular sized one. This, combined, yielded about 2/3 cup of lemon juice. Also, I zested the small one, and zested half of the large one. By doing this, we add a significant amount of lemon flavor (and ZING!) to the custard. I added 2/3 plus 1/4 cup of Sugar to sweeten it (only a bit!) it out. And, of course the cornstarch!
Let me explain the science of the starch of corn (or kerrrrn, as I always say). First, we dissolve it into the liquid. At this point, the starch granules are just hanging out, they won’t really have anything to do with the water molecules at this point. This is why the liquid is an opaque white color, instead of a translucent, yellow-y tone that we are familiar with. This is when heat comes into the picture. We heat the mixture to basically activate the starchy molecules, so that they will basically turn into sponges and absorb the liquid around them. When they absorb the liquid, they get bigger. They get bigger and bigger with the more liquid they take in, until they POOF, explode! Sending their magic starchy innards all through the solution. They bind and do all sorts of natural chemistry-type stuff, resulting in the thickening of the concoction. Ka-chow! Gel! Immediately after this happens, the yolks are added and as a result, cooked, then butter follows promptly.
Then you pour it into your prebaked pie shell. I don’t know how this crust recipe manages to work every time, but it does, and its just wonderful. My secret here in this specific recipe (for the lemon meringue) is that I add just a LITTLE bit extra salt. Not too much. Instead of a scant 1/2 tsp, I add a full 1/2 tsp, this makes the crust just slightly salty, which makes it sour and sweet and salty all at the same time. It’s a mind game, I’m tellin’ ya! A MIND GAME.
So many complimentary flavors, so little time!
Since I formed the crust in a more rustic-looking manner (I’ve never been able to adequately do the pinched crust-dealio, so I just kept it rough looking), I decided to go purty with the meringue. I made a seven-minute frosting (basically a cooked meringue, no raw egg whites for me, please) and piped it on using a Wilton #1M tip.
I’m so obsessed with this torch, its not even funny.
Imagine now the legendary actor Jack Nicholson, hide the pie in the bathroom, shut the door, and give him an axe.
That didn’t make me happy at all.
Almost-Puckeringly-Tart Lemon Meringue Pie
1/2 Recipe Seven-Minute Frosting
1 1/4 C. All-Purpose Flour
1/2 tsp. Salt
2 tsp. Granulated Sugar
6 T. Unsalted Butter, cold and cut into chunks
1/4 C. Vegetable Shortening, cut into chunks
2 T. Ice Water
2/3 C. Lemon Juice (about 3 small lemons)
Zest from 1 & 1/2 lemons
1/4 tsp. Salt
1/3 C. Corn Starch
2/3 plus 1/4 C. Sugar
3/4 C. Water
3 eggs, separated (use the whites for the meringue)
3 T. Unsalted butter, cut into cubes
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
1. Combine flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl, whisk together to combine. Add in butter and shortening, and blend using a pastry cutter until mixture resembles cornmeal. Add in water, one tablespoon at a time, until dough clumps together. Combine into a ball and allow to sit for about five minutes, wrap with plastic wrap first.
2. Roll out into a 10″ round, and gently transfer and press into a 9″ pie pan. Dock the bottom of the crust with the tines of a fork, and on the sides. Gently press tin foil along the bottom and sides of the crust and fill with pie weights/rice/dry beans. Bake in preheated oven for ten minutes, remove beans and foil, bake for 12 minutes longer, or until crust is lightly golden. Allow to cool completely.
3. Prepare filling. Combine water, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, and corn starch in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisking occasionally, bring the mixture to a boil. Once the mixture has thickened into a gel, remove from heat.
4. Whisking vigorously, add egg yolks, one at a time, making sure to get each incorporated thoroughly before adding the next addition. Once egg yolks are in, add in butter and whisk until the butter is melted. Pour mixture into cooled pie crust.
5. Prepare seven-minute frosting according to linked recipe. For a rustic look, spoon frosting on top of pie and spread all around, being sure to cover the filling completely along the sides. Smooth or make spiky on top. Alternatively, you can pipe decoratively.
6. Torch the meringue until golden, or bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 5-7 minutes, until the meringue is golden. Allow to cool to room temperature, then chill until cold.