Pucker up: Thursday is national lemon meringue pie day

August 14, 2013 10:34:09 AM

Jan Swoope - jswoope@cdispatch.com

 

In case you hadn't noticed, Americans are (ahem) gluttons for national food and drink holidays. Oatmeal, wheat bread, Irish coffee ... you name it, and it's got designated day. Lucky for us, tomorrow is National Lemon Meringue Pie Day, and who wouldn't relish a tangy, sweet slice topped with pillowy peaks of airy meringue? 

 

Since medieval times, we've loved our lemon pies and custards. Meringue came along in the 1600s. But it reportedly wasn't until a Swiss baker named Alexander Frehse had the bright idea in the 19th century of combining the two that lemon meringue pies swept onto the culinary landscape.  

 

 

 

A bit tricky 

 

Homemade lemon meringue pies are hard to beat, but they can also be temperamental. To achieve a dessert with buttery, flaky crust, a luxuriously smooth lemon filling and light, fine-textured meringue, it helps to know that these pies hate humidity, or to be overmixed, undercooked or overcooked.  

 

The most common complaints are soggy bottom crusts, fillings that don't set properly and beads of moisture forming on top of the meringue (commonly called "weeping"). There are several schools of thought out there on how to avoid these vexing problems, and some contradict each other. We've gathered some advice from several sources, however, that may be helpful. 

 

 

 

Cool off? 

 

Award-winning chef and author Nick Malgieri says at dashrecipes.com, "Usually a difference in temperature between the meringue and the filling causes the meringue to "weep" and leak sugary liquid, which might be happening if your crust gets soggy. The meringue and the filling should both be at room temperature when you spread the meringue on the pie. That said, the meringue will only hold up on the day the pie is baked." 

 

Baking expert Carole Walters at finecooking.com agrees.  

 

"Many meringue pie recipes call for the filling to be hot so it cooks the bottom of the meringue and helps it adhere. However, this creates steam between the meringue and the filling, which can break down the filling and cause the pie to fall apart. Both meringue and filling should be at room temperature," she recommends.  

 

Walters helps ward off soggy crusts by sprinkling gingersnap crumbs over the bottom pie crust before filling it; the crumbs act as a moisture shield and subtly complement the lemon flavor. 

 

Answers.yahoo.com suggests we pick a cool, dry day to make our pie.  

 

"If it's humid or rainy, the sugar in the meringue will absorb moisture from the air, making it sticky or spongy and encouraging the beading of sugary syrup on the surface." About eggs, "Start with cold eggs, which are easier to separate. Even a speck of yolk in the egg whites will keep the whites from achieving the volume needed during beating," the site advises.  

 

Some cooks recommend letting egg whites stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before beating, for better volume.  

 

 

 

Other suggestions 

 

  • Using plastic bowls, or wet or greasy bowls will likely prevent meringue mix from becoming peaky. Wiping the bowl with a wedge of lemon to remove any traces of grease can often help.. 

     

  • Sugar substitutes aren't useful in meringue; the sugar is necessary to the structure. 

     

  • Spread meringue over the filling right up to the crust, with no gaps, so it "seals" to reduce weeping or oozing of liquid after baking. 

     

  • Once it's baked, make sure the pie cools away from drafts, to keep the meringue from "shrinking" as it cools. 

     

    Lemon meringue pies are best eaten the day they're made, says Walters, but leftovers can be loosely tented with aluminum foil and refrigerated for up to three days. (Never cover with plastic wrap, she cautions; too much condensation will form under the wrapping.) 

     

    The world of lemon meringue isn't limited to pies, of course. You can make individual tarts in pick-up pastry shells, or sunny, lemony dessert shooters in small Mason jars or elegant parfait glasses. Today's food pages even include recipes for lemon meringue fudge and a lemon meringue martini. Why not pick one and add it to your menu for a late-summer soiree on the patio -- maybe Aug. 31, National Eat Outside Day! 

     

     

     

    NICK MALGIERI'S LEMON MERINGUE PIE 

     

     

     

    Pie dough for a 1 crust pie, about 10 ounces 

     

     

     

    For the filling: 

     

    2 cups milk 

     

    2/3 cup sugar 

     

    3 to 4 medium lemons 

     

    1/4 cup cornstarch 

     

    4 egg yolks 

     

    2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened 

     

     

     

    For meringue topping: 

     

    4 egg whites 

     

    2/3 cup sugar 

     

    Pinch salt 

     

     

     

  • To make the filling, combine milk and sugar in a nonreactive saucepan, preferably enameled iron. Strip the zest from the lemons with a sharp vegetable peeler, making sure you remove the yellow zest but none of the white pith beneath. If you do remove some of the white pith, scrape it off the strips of zest with the point of a paring knife and discard it.  

     

  • Add the zest to the milk and sugar and bring to a simmer over low heat. Remove from heat and allow to steep for five minutes; remove the strips of zest with a slotted spoon or skimmer and discard them. 

     

  • Squeeze lemons to make 1/2 cup strained juice. Place juice in a mixing bowl and whisk in cornstarch, then yolks. 

     

  • Return milk and sugar mixture to a boil over low heat and whisk about a third of the boiling milk into the lemon juice mixture. Return remaining milk and sugar mixture to a boil once more and whisk the lemon juice and yolk mixture back into it, whisking constantly until the filling comes to a boil and thickens. Allow to boil, whisking constantly, for about 30 seconds.  

     

  • Remove from heat, whisk in butter and pour into a nonreactive bowl. Press plastic wrap against the surface of the filling and chill until it is approximately 75 degrees. (If you prepare the filling in advance, let it come to room temperature before proceeding.) 

     

  • Set a rack at the middle level of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Roll out the dough to make bottom crust and arrange in pan. Chill crust until firm. 

     

  • To bake the crust, pierce it all over with the tines of a fork at 1/2 inch intervals. Line it with a disk of parchment or waxed paper and fill with cherry stones or dried beans. Bake about 20 minutes, until lightly colored. Remove paper and beans and continue baking until the crust is a deep golden brown. Cool crust on a rack. 

     

  • Spread the cooled filling evenly in the cooled crust. 

     

  • Set a rack at the middle level of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees. 

     

  • To make the meringue bring a small pan of water to a boil. Lower heat so that water simmers. Combine egg whites, sugar and salt in the bowl of the mixer or if you are using a hand whisk another heatproof bowl.  

     

  • Place bowl over pan of simmering water and whisk gently for about two minutes, until egg whites are hot (about 140 degrees) and sugar has dissolved.  

     

  • Whip meringue on medium speed until it has cooled and is able to hold a shape, but it should not be dry. Distribute spoonfuls of the meringue all over the top of the pie, then use the back of a spoon or a small offset metal spatula to spread the meringue evenly. It should cover the top of the pie and touch the edges of the crust all around. Here and there, bring up the surface of the meringue so that it is swirled.  

     

  • Place the pie on a cookie sheet and bake for about five to 10 minutes, until the meringue is colored evenly. Cool on a rack. 

     

    (Source: foodnetwork.com) 

     

     

     

    LEMON MERINGUE FUDGE 

     

     

     

    18 ounces good quality white chocolate chips 

     

    1 bottle pure lemon extract 

     

    1 can sweetened condensed milk 

     

    2 cups miniature marshmallow 

     

     

     

  • Line a glass 8-by-8-inch casserole with wax paper.  

     

  • In a Pyrex bowl mix chips and condensed milk. Microwave for 30 seconds. Stir; depending on your microwave continue to heat at 10 second intervals until chocolate is almost completely melted. Take out and stir until all chips are melted. 

     

  • Add whole bottle of extract and mix until fully incorporated (yes, it will smell alcohol-y but this will dissippate as it sits) 

     

  • Add the 2 cups of the marshmallows and fold in. Place mixture in prepared dish and let sit three to four hours before cutting and serving. 

     

    (Source: grouprecipes.com) 

     

     

     

    LEMON MERINGUE PIE MARTINI  

     

     

     

    2 ounces good-quality vanilla vodka (e.g., Absolut, Stoli, Svedka) 

     

    1 ounce of Limoncello (a lemony Italian liqueur) 

     

    Squeeze of fresh lemon juice from 1/4 lemon wedge 

     

    Splash of simple syrup 

     

    Meringue cookie for garnish 

     

    Lemon zest for garnish 

     

     

     

  • Chill a martini glass while you mix the drink. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice cubes. 

     

  • Pour the vanilla vodka, Limoncello, squeeze of fresh lemon juice and splash of simple syrup into the cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously to combine and chill. Strain into your chilled martini glass. 

     

  • Top the drink with one meringue cookie. Top the meringue cookie with lemon zest. 

     

    (Source: themodernjewishwedding.com)

    Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.